Tuesday, 29 March 2011

#12 Night of the Comet: 80sest Apocalypse Ever?

A return to form this week- I watched a zombie movie, now I’m going to write about the zombie movie. In the process I may make dick jokes. In case you haven’t worked out how this works yet: This blog will contain spoilers.

It just so happens that this week, 27 years ago, a special star shone down on the Earth, angels gathered over a certain expectant mother, and shepherds were told to visit a certain hospital, but decided not to. For that was the week I was born, and to mark such a momentous occasion, this week we’ll be looking at a movie from the year of my birth: Night of the Comet.

So, let’s trek back to a decade when shoulders were padded, videogames were 8-bit, hair was big and there wasn’t a problem in the world that couldn’t be solved with a power ballad.

Does Looking for Freedom count as a power ballad?
The 80s was kind of a weird time for horror movies. On the one hand, this was the era that gave us the phrase “Video Nasties” (which referred to a medium for watching films stored on clunky cassette tapes roughly the size of a paperback book), it saw the release of true classics such as Romero’s Day of the Dead, The Shining, Evil Dead, Hellraiser and Poltergeist (which one day I’m going to see all the way through without switching the telly off and going to bed with the lights on), it also arguably perfected the “Teenagers getting picked off one by one” genre with Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th (incidentally- am I the only person in the world who is genuinely excited by Scream 4?).  Then there was this bizarre sub genre of horror movies.

I’m talking about your Gremlins, your Lost Boys, and this one, Night of the Comet. These were undeniably horror movies, seeing a Gremlin shoved into a blender, or a young Jack Bauer convince someone to eat maggots were gross enough to ensure that. Night of the Comet doesn’t shirk either on the gruesome zombie make-up front. Each of these films received a 15, 18 and 15 certificate in the UK respectively.

And yet, there is something undeniably family friendly about each of these movies. It’s not just that the special effects have aged, or that we’ve become desensitised enough to let our eight year-olds play Splatterhouse.
The eighties got there first
There is something about these movies that makes them feel like they’re part of the same world as E.T. and The Goonies- where everything from government conspiracies, to treasure hunting gangs, to, yes, the undead, can be defeated by plucky kids with BMXs and an extensive comics collection. These are the kind of movies that you probably wouldn’t take your kids to see, but if you had to pick something for them to sneak a look at behind your back, these would make a good choice.

In Night of the Comet, we know from the very start that Reggie is a badass, not just because she has a boy’s name, but because she clearly rules the high scores of a video arcade machine. Sure, later we learn about the army dad who, like all responsible parents, taught his girls to know their way around an automatic weapon, but the association between video gaming and real life badassery is already there- despite the fact that videogames lacked the high definition graphics, realistic physics and open world/sandbox gameplay that makes videogames such effective post-apocalypse training tools today. The main characters, sisters Reggie and Sam, have normal, eighties teenager problems, slacker boyfriends, uptight bosses, bitchy stepmoms.
Also, that sweater cost $80
Now, looking at the material we’ve reviewed over the last three months, I think I’ve adequately demonstrated that, although being one of the pulpier genres, the zombie apocalypse movie is also an excellent platform for talking about politics, human nature, and social issues. This isn’t one of those movies.

The zombies aren’t an unexplainable horror, or the dreaded consequences of the atom bomb, genetic engineering or consumerism. They’re brought about by Earth passing through the tail of a comet. If there is a deeper meaning to this movie, it is that sunglasses are only ever worn by badasses, or evil people.

It plays fast a loose with the zombie rules in ways that even Peter Jackson would think was a bit much- the disease is progressive, but zombies are seen who can talk, fire guns, and (Spoiler) although it is in a dream sequence, two zombies are even seen riding motorcycles. At the same time, the film digs into the box of tropes normally associated with the genre- we have the “Hey everything in the mall is free!” montage, we have military scientists who start out as a rescue party but turn out to be the bad guys, and although they’re never really under siege, they do spend an awful lot of the movie holed up inside that radio station.
If your zombie survival compound doesn't have this much neon, you're practically dead already
This is also a great film for one liners, and I think everyone should watch it just so we can bring “I’m not crazy! I just don’t give a fuck!” into the common parlance.

And, intentionally or not, it does bring up perhaps the most frightening question posed by the zombie apocalypse. If the entire human race had been reduced to dust twenty seven years ago, alien archaeologists would have judged our entire civilisation by what we were like then.
Thank God we've come so far in the mean time!
It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve had a round of the drinking game, so here goes. They’re not exactly under siege, but since it’s been a couple of weeks I’ll let you take a shot for them being holed up in the radio station. The people coming to rescue the heroes are dangerous (they want to drain their blood) and incompetent (they all got infected because they left the ventilation system on their bunker open) so two shots for that. As an addendum to that mankind is the real monster (one shot). And Robert Beltran, still years away from donning a facial tattoo and joining the crew of Star Trek: Voyager, does run into a kiddy zombie, although in a fun twist, he doesn’t kill the kid to show how brutal you have to be to survive after the apocalypse (two shots).

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