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07 May, 2012

DVD Review: THE NAVY vs. THE NIGHT MONSTERS


Title:  THE NAVY vs. THE NIGHT MONSTERS

Year of Release—Film:  1966

Year of Release—DVD:  2010

DVD Label:  Cheezy Flicks



For every Horror fan, there is that one movie that started it all; the first movie that scared them, gave them nightmares.   For most, that would be an unpleasant memory, but for Horror-philes, that was merely the planting of a seed, a seed that would grow into a life-long love affair with Scary Movies.

For the child that would one day grow into the Unimonster, that seed would be planted when I was barely three years old, sitting between my older sisters at a Drive-In in Jacksonville, Florida.  The movie was Michael A. Hoey’s THE NAVY vs. THE NIGHT MONSTERS, the first movie that ever gave me nightmares.  In the past I’ve written of my quest to track down this movie, barely remembered from my (ever-more) distant youth [Childhood Terrors Recaptured, 20 October 2007].  I had one clear image in my mind to aid me in that search—a sailor, arm torn off by a tree-like monster, staggering, screaming, through the jungle.  An image that was sharp in my mind forty years later.

As I related in that article, I eventually tracked down a copy of this movie … an average-looking transfer to DVD-R from the 1997 VHS release.  It was certainly watchable, and I was overjoyed to add it to the collection, but I also hoped that at some point that it would get the DVD release that it deserved.  One can easily imagine my joy when low-cost distributor Cheezy Flicks announced that they would be releasing it on DVD in 2010.

Starring Mamie Van Doren, the former girlfriend of billionaire recluse (and one-time head of RKO Studios) Howard Hughes, along with Anthony Eisley, Bill Gray (who, as ‘Billy’ Gray, was familiar to 1960s audiences as Bud, the son on Father Knows Best), and former musical star Bobby Van.  The story, based on Murray Leinster’s novel The Monster from Earth’s End, concerns a cargo flight from Antarctica, carrying scientists and their biological specimens.  The transport crash-lands under mysterious circumstances at a remote refueling outpost of the US Navy.  Upon searching the aircraft, the sailors are shocked to find only one survivor—and no bodies.  The rest of the crew, as well as the passengers, have simply disappeared.  The only evidence of unusual activity is traces of a highly corrosive substance found in the cargo compartment.

For lack of a better explanation, Lt. Charles Brown (Eisley), temporarily in command of the station, determines that the lone survivor most likely murdered the rest, and disposed of their bodies over the ocean.  As the suspect is in a catatonic state, there’s no one to refute the hypothesis, and he’s placed under guard in the infirmary.  The station’s chief scientist, Dr. Beecham (Walter Sande), plants the botanical samples found in the wreckage to preserve them until transport can be arranged.  Soon however, station personnel begin disappearing.  Can it be the plane’s co-pilot, continuing his murderous spree?

Complicating Lt. Brown’s problems are his girlfriend Nora (Van Doren) and Bob Spaulding, the station’s civilian weather forecaster (played by Edward Faulkner).  Spaulding, whose contract is up, and is due to leave the island, is in love with Nora, creating a conflict with the naval officer.  For her part, Nora, though she has feelings for Spaulding, is holding out hope for Brown.
It soon becomes clear to the officers and men of Gull Island that something unexplained is happening, something which goes beyond what one man, even a lunatic, would be capable of performing.  Can the Navy find the solution to the question in time, or will the station be wiped out by an unknown horror?
Though Michael Hoey is listed as the film’s writer-director, he reportedly had deep misgivings over producer Jack Broder’s vision for the movie.  The final straw came when the ‘night crawlers’ were delivered to the production.  The creation of Jon Hall (the director and star of THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER), Hoey thought the creatures laughably ridiculous, and refused to shoot the scenes with them.  Broder simply brought in Hall to shoot the scenes with his creatures, and Arthur C. Pierce, who had an uncredited assist on the screenplay, to shoot some additional material.  Frankly, I’d have to agree with Hoey … as long as the monsters remained unseen the film was pretty effective at building and maintaining the suspense.  However, as with most movies of this period, once the creature was revealed it lost all ability to frighten audiences—at least, those whose members weren’t three years old.
As I said earlier, I was eager to see what a decent DVD release of this movie would look like, whether or not it would improve upon the rather poor quality of the transferred VHS tape.  That it does, though the bar it had to clear wasn’t an exceptionally high one, and it didn’t exactly soar over it.  The Cheezy Flicks offering is one cut above the dollar store discount bin, but for a movie like this, that’s not too bad.  I would have liked to see the print used cleaned up some, even if it was only digitally.  Still, it was hardly unwatchable.  The only bonus feature on the disc was an “Intermission Reel,” composed of concession stand ads from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.  Enjoyable enough, but something specific to this movie would have been much better.

When I consider the recommendation of a movie, either to see or to avoid, all I (or anyone) can do is offer my opinion on whether or not I think the DVD in question is worth your hard-earned money.  Even a movie that I enjoy as much as I do this one might not make the cut, given that my tastes can be somewhat—peculiar.  I want to give THE NAVY vs. THE NIGHT MONSTERS my wholehearted recommendation … if only to validate those long-ago nightmares.  But I can’t.  If you grew up watching the Sci-Fi creature features through a car windshield, as did I, then I say give it a shot.  You just might enjoy it as much as I did.

But keep those expectations low.






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