Starring in a Comet's tale

Wit, style make for a memorable Apocalypse

Published: Dec 09 2013, 01:01:am

Friday, November 16, 1984
NIGHT OF THE COMET. Written and directed by Thorn Eberhardt. Music by David Richard Campbell. Running time: 95 minutes.  Mature entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: may frighten young children; some violence, very coarse language and swearing.
MAGGIE GORDON DIDN'T get to play. Earlier this year, in The Last Starfighter,  Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) was the girl back home, the love interest that arcade-game champion AIex Rogan (Lance Guest) put on hold when he rocketed off to save the universe.
    Regina Belmont plays to win. In Night of the Comet, Regina (actress Stewart again) is an 18-year-old video whiz who passes up a once-in-a-million years celestial light show so that she can pass a little intimate time with Larry (Michael Bowen), her movie projectionist boyfriend, in the confines of his steel-lined theatre booth.
    As it turns out, she makes the right choice. The passage of the comet reduces most of humanity to a fine red dust. Eighteen-year-old Regina and her younger sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) are  among the few survivors left to contend with the end of civilization as we know it.
    Thorn Eberhardt isn't a name known to fans of science fiction. A first-time feature filmmaker, writer-director Eberhardt developed his skills making After School Specials for PBS.
    In the process, Eberhardt learned to listen to kids. The result is a solid matinee hit, a 1950s plot with a 1980s sensibility.
    The comet's passage results in Apocalypse now. As in any number of fifties annihilation epics, innocent survivors are left to contend with the horrors of mankind's morning after.
    In this case, the principal survivors are a pair of self-reliant young women. Daughters of a Green Beret officer, both Reggie and Sam were brought up to fend for themselves.
    "By the sixth or seventh grade, it became real obvious that we weren't going to go to Ranger school," Reggie tells Hector (Robert Beltran), a handsome, if somewhat less adept, survivor.
    "Daddy would have gotten us Uzis," bratty Sam complains to her sister at another point  in the picture, when a machine pistol jams during some pre-combat target shooting.
    There's no doubt that Major Belmont would have been proud to see the way his weapons-wise army brats handle themselves against all comers, many of them mutated monsters.
    Credit Eberhardt with having a handle on current teen tastes and realistic priorities. Not only is he a screenwriter with an ear for  the way real kids talk, but he knew enough to spend more time on his script than on a special effects show.
    Fast and funny, his Night of the Comet combines nostalgia for some low-budget science-fiction classics with just enough contemporary action and original plot surprises to make it a mass audience treat.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1984. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: In a happy coincidence, Night of the Comet was released on Blu-ray on November 19, just after Comet ISON became visible in the night sky. Their appearances reminded us that Catherine Mary Stewart was first among Alberta-born performers embraced by the science-fiction community for memorable performances within the genre. (Others include Michael J. Fox, Marty McFly in the Back to the Future films; Nathan Fillion, Firefly's Malcolm Reynolds; Erica Durance, Smallville's Lois Lane, and Eric Johnson, television's Flash Gordon.) In her sixth feature (and first Hollywood starring role), Stewart was a take-charge woman. Her Regina Belmont spoke to teenaged girls in their own language, making it clear that Alien's Ellen Ripley might be special, but wasn't unique. Buffy Summers would follow in their footsteps. Now 54, Stewart continues to work in both theatrical and television features. She also maintains a website, where loyal fans can order her 2014 calendar. Images from Night of the Comet are featured on its November page.