‘Night of the Comet,’ ‘Buffy,’ Black Widow: Butt-kicking heroines

With “The Avengers” coming up on May 4, it’s interesting to note that one of the first clips from the movie officially released, a couple of weeks ago, was one of Black Widow, the non-superpowered, female member of that particular boys club, easily escaping from some bad guys and demolishing them in the process.

It’s a pretty good action scene, if mild compared to what we’ve subsequently seen involving Thor, Iron Man and particularly the Hulk.

But there was some nice symmetry to the clip’s release considering that “The Avengers” was directed by Joss Whedon, creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

There’s been some backlash to Whedon’s signature use of petite female characters as ass-kicking heroines, including Buffy and other slayers from that series and “Angel” as well as River, the programmed killing machine in “Firefly.”

But it’s interesting to note that Whedon has cited in at least one interview “Night of the Comet” as one of the influences on the creation of “Buffy” the lame movie and terrific 1997-2003 TV series.

Not long after the series ended, Whedon told IGN:

So, you know, when I hit on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was right around the time when Revenge of the Bimbos, or Attack of the Killer Bimbos or something – there were a lot of movies coming out that were proto-silly ’50s style titles. They were on the video store shelves. I worked at a video store. I would watch them, and I’d be like, “You know what? This is just another bimbo movie. These women aren’t empowered at all. They just made up a funny title.” I was like, “I would like to make a movie that was one of these crappy, low-budget movies, that like the Romero films, had a feminist agenda, had females in it who were people, and had all the fun, all the silliness. Night of the Comet was a big influence. That actually had a cheerleader in it. With a title that would actually make people take it off the video store shelves, because it has to sound silly and not boring. 

“Night of the Comet,” released in 1984, was the story of two Southern California teenagers, sisters Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart), known as Reggie, and Samantha (Kelli Maroney), known as Sam, who survive the end of the world, brought on by global exposure to a comet that reduces most of the world’s population to red dust and turns the rest into zombies.

Reggie and Sam, after a moment of shock and loss, quickly set out to survive in the post-apocalyptic world and connect with other survivors.

Although they’re teenagers — and the movie was released during the “Valley Girl” craze — Reggie and Sam are level-headed, even matter-of-fact, about the end of the world. There’s the customary all-you-can-shop scene, played to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” set at the mall, but George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” succumbed to the same idea a few years earlier.

And even though Sam is a cheerleader, the sisters are hardly pushovers. Raised by a career military man, the two quickly find supplies — although Sam is scornful of Reggie’s choice of automatic weapon, noting, “Daddy would have gotten us Uzis” — and are more than capable of defending themselves and other, less capable strays they come across.

Director Thom Eberhardt’s movie is amiably low-budget. You know they filmed the deserted downtown L.A. street scenes on a Sunday morning, for example, and you admire their ingenuity.

Whedon — who I’m pretty sure is an outspoken feminist — is a fan of empowered women. Even if they’re five feet tall and a hundred pounds. As long as they can wield a mean Uzi, kung-fu vampires into the afterlife or hold their own with the likes of Captain America and the Hulk, Whedon believes that size doesn’t matter — and neither does gender.

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