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Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

The Navy Vs The Night Monsters (1966)

"Beware of the Night Crawlers ... their clutches will disintegrate you!"

Plot

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 The Day of the Triffids, The Navy Vs The Night Monsters belongs back in the 1950s, fitting right at home with its atomic monsters and schlocky Martian invasions. Being released in the mid-60s, the genre had long gone out of fashion and died a death of oversaturation, raising the question of just why this was even greenlit in the first place. Rightfully heralded as laughable and camp but, taken into consideration the troubled shoot it had, the end product isn’t as outright terrible as it should have been. Co-writer and director Michael A. Hoey had written a snappy seventy-eight minute affair but got into disagreements with the producer during filming. Once Hoey wrapped up his initial filming, extra scenes were shot and added by other directors to try and pad out the running time to ninety-minutes so it could be sold to television, leading to a jarring juxtaposition of tones and themes. In some instances, The 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, though the comic elements were not Hoey's input, so I'd have been interested to see how much better the shorter version would have been (note to self, probably not that much better).


Part of the problem with The Navy Vs The Night Monsters are the overly colourful sets and costumes which turn the film into a constant visual eyesore - someone really needed to have stepped in to tone it all down. 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 (and very 60s) 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, despite some silliness, were all filmed in black and white and all the better for it, and you get the impression that this may have worked by ditching the colour and going a bit old school.


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 on display 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 under-represented 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 with creating some convincing monsters. 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. The hot island location works well, almost a polar opposite to the snowy setting in The Thing from Another World.


The Navy Vs The Night Monsters uses the requisite amount of military stock footage to pad out the running time - whether that was Hoey trying to keep costs low for his initial shoot or whether that was included as part of the extra footage needed to beef it up for television is irrelevant. The finale involves little more than some fighter jets napalm bombing the island and the plants on it. As far as pointless, rushed endings go, it's right up there. But given what has happened in the film leading up to it, you'll not be surprised - hell, if you even made it to the end, you've done well.

 

Final Verdict

Made ten years earlier, The 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.



 

The Navy Vs The Night Monsters


Director(s): Michael A. Hoey


Writer(s): Michael A. Hoey (screenplay), Murray Leinster (novel "The Monster from Earth's End")


Actor(s): Mamie Van Doren, Anthony Eisley, Billy Gray, Bobby Van, Pamela Mason, Walter Sande, Edward Faulkner


Duration: 87 mins




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