A scientific expedition to the deep Antarctic discovers unusual tree specimens and they are to be shipped back for further study. But the plane carrying them is involved in a mysterious crash on Gow Island, home to a small US naval weather station, and the trees are accidentally introduced to the soil there. The ‘trees’ soon reveal themselves to be acid-spewing monsters that live by night and soon the garrison on the island find themselves under attack.
A weird cross between The Thing from Another World and Day of the Triffids, Navy Vs The Night Monsters has rightfully been heralded as laughable camp but taken into consideration the troubled shoot that it endured, the end product isn’t as outright terrible as it should have been. Co-writer and director Michael A. Hoey got into disagreements with the producer during filming and extra scenes were shot and added by other directors as a result, leading to a jarring juxtaposition of tones and themes. In some instances, Navy Vs The Night Monsters plays the laughs for all it can with some ill-thought out comic relief. At other times, the film tries to be deadly serious with its gory content. You can tell that this was a film with more than one director as the film is all over the shop.
Part of the problem with Navy Vs The Night Monsters are the overly colourful sets and costumes which turn the film into a constant visual eyesore. The island (some unconvincingly small sets) is very garish and bright, adding an unnecessary level of loudness which makes it all the more cheerful and happy even when people are being killed. Hark back to some of the cheesier 50s sci-fi flicks like The Monster That Challenged the World and Tarantula which were all filmed in black and white and you get the impression that this may have worked better by ditching the colour to keep it serious.
Who am I kidding? This wouldn’t have worked in black and white either. The script is terrible, the film is slower than the walking foliage and the acting is more wooden than the trees. The cast of characters assembled are just bland military types whose names you’re likely to get mixed up, science guys who are there to provide the token explanations and a huge-chested nurse (the voluptuous Mamie Van Doren) to add some sex factor to the film as well as the requisite love triangle with two suitors vying for her affection (like they had anything else but her chest on their minds). It’s dull exposition but when you’ve got a low budget, you need to pad it out as long as possible before your money gets sucked out by special effects.
Killer plants aren’t exactly top of anyone’s ‘most feared’ lists but they’re an underrepresented enemy in the horror and science fiction genre and can be quite effective if used properly. You get the feeling that there was potential here but with the film only being shot in ten days, it was always going to be up against it. The acid-spewing plants like to dissolve their victims so there are plenty of scenes of corpses with melted skin and in the finale, one unlucky chap is melted away by wrestling with one.
Keeping the trees confined to attacking at night was a smart move too simply because they’re only men in tree suits and look every bit as silly as they sound. But, in one of the most brutal things I’ve seen for the era, the plants do get to rip one unlucky soldier’s arm right from out of his socket. The special effect is pretty pathetic but it’s the intent which is the shocking thing – I didn’t think these old school films showed that level of brutality! Plus the trees make this eerie whistling noise when they are nearby, adding a little bit more suspense to some of the scenes of the characters walking through the jungle.
Made ten years earlier, Navy Vs The Night Monsters might have gotten a pass by fitting in with the other 50s sci-fi monster movies. But this is one of those films where you’ll sit and keep watching in the hope that something good happens. Apart from the odd moment of brutal inspiration, nothing good happens. For 1966, this is too daft, incompetent and above all, dull, for it to work.