Night of the Comet

A foundational influence on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so obviously I watched it when it came up on Netflix. It's a 1980s horror-comedy which isn't particularly scary and where the comedy is partly about the film's own knowingness about the genres it's operating in. So you can see why Joss Whedon might have been into it. The film starts off in a cinema and has several key scenes in a radio studio, and both the movie posters that decorate the sets and the brash pop music soundtrack (mostly diegetic) provide a metacommentary on the unfolding plot. That distancing effect crosses into the dialogue. There is some (unconvincing) acknowledgement of the trauma of having the world end, but for the most part the survivors react to the situation with a healthy amount of ironic detachment.

Eberhardt's inspiration for the script came from joking around with teenage girls about what they would do in a zombie apocalypse, and reflecting the fact that his respondents were mostly worried about not being able to date anymore. The sense of possibility inherent in a largely automated world where the adults have disappeared is at the heart of the film and is highlighted by its ending, where the guns are put away and a new and happier family unit is established amidst the ruins of the city. The apocalypse purifies the world of absent fathers and abusive mothers, and allows for the creation of something new. You can see the impact on Whedon when he describes most of his projects as being about the formation of alternate families.

Part of the film's purpose is to demonstrate that typical California girls are tougher and more resourceful than the horror movie stereotypes would have you expect. They can be sexually active, obsessed with arcade games or on the cheerleading squad and still fight off zombies. The big twist in the film is also gendered, in that the government agent you expect to be evil but who ends up saving the kids is a woman overruled by her male superiors. The film has a refreshingly uncondescending approach to its hard-bitten female characters. It's yet another thing Whedon will have picked up on when creating Buffy.

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