You can trace a line from the unintentionally campy B-movies of the 50’s through to the knowingly campy movies of the 80’s to the completely meta movies of today. If you go back and watch a lot of creature features from the 50’s, they seem completely innocent; in a film like Attack of the Crab Monsters, no one seems to be aware that they aren’t making a serious movie. Now we have movies like Zombieland or Hot Fuzz where the characters have seen so many genre movies that the characters sometimes struggle to take the story seriously, never mind the audience. The missing link between those two extremes would be something like this movie, which is self aware enough to understand that it’s goofy, but not quite smart enough to say something about the genre it’s semi-spoofing.
Since that might sound a bit abstract, let me give you an example. A comet has passed over the Earth and turned anyone who wasn’t in a metal-covered shelter into red dust. When the two sisters at the story’s core realize that they are among the last people left in L.A. they do what they would have done even if the world hadn’t ended – they go to the mall. Why not? Everything is free now. The choice to set the shopping montage to a cover of Girls Just Want To Have Fun illustrates that the movie knows this is a joke, but it doesn’t expand what could have been a clever idea into a real set piece. It would be a great time to comically examine who these self absorbed people are, or to make a broader social statement about materialism, or to explore unexpected corners of post-apocalyptic life, but instead it’s basically used as a “women be shopping” gag. While I don’t find that gag to be as offensive as a lot of feminists do I also don’t find it to be original enough to be notable.
Night of the Comet is in a weird location between being a comedy and a straight genre movie; it has comedic touches and it seems to understand the kitschy-ness of it’s premise, but the jokes are always about how silly the teenagers are, not on the genre or it’s trappings, nor about society and it’s failings. It lacks the charming naivete of the old school movies and it lacks the layers upon layers that a modern meta movie can stack up. This is a good example of the awkward teenage years where B-movies started to become self-aware but hadn’t quite realized how to balance being smart and being dumb into a whole that was satisfying on both levels.