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Killer plants had long been a staple in genre movies. Prior to the 1960s, however, they mostly appeared as cameo performers in sci-fi or, occasionally, jungle flicks, generally menacing the busty yet singularly unperceptive starlets who inevitably blundered into their wire-manipulated tentacles. The amusing Voodoo Island (1957), starring Boris Karloff, has a pretty typical example of this sort of scene, as does the lost world dinosaur favorite The Land Unknown (1957) and the similar but more obscure Untamed Women (1952)
However, fatal flora moved onto center stage with the success of 1962’s The Day of Triffids. Despite being hampered by a low budget (albeit one significantly larger than that of most other killer plant films), and removing the political content from John Wyndham’s provocative source novel*, the movie managed to grab attention with its genuinely creepy mobile killer plants. These hunted the handful of humans left after a worldwide cataclysm, in which the vast majority of humanity was rendered blind.
*Said political content mostly dealt with the various factions, generally authoritarian, that might arise to grab power in the wake of a complete societal breakdown. This material was covered in much more depth in a superlative 1981 BBC Day of the Triffids mini-series, and obviously informed events in the recent British film 28 Days Later, which is nearly a direct adaptation of Wyndham’s novel, only with zombies rather than alien killer plants.
Day of the Triffids made a decent amount of money, and so inspired similar movies. Killer plants also turned up in numerous episodic TV programs, especially the decade’s rash of sci-fi tinged spy shows. John Steed and Emma Peel faced some (“The Man-Eater of Surrey”) and so did even Maxwell Smart (“What’s It All About, Algie?”). Morticia Addams of TV’s The Addams Family, meanwhile, had a carnivorous plant named Cleopatra that she often was seen feeding hunks of meat.
Again, though, if The Day of the Triffids somewhat successfully depicted a global disaster on a limited budget, most of the films that followed in its wake were true shoestring cheapies. In recognition of this, most featured a single killer plant or two instead of Triffid’s herds of them, and tended to be set in a lab where the killer plant had been installed by your run-of-the-mill Mad Scientist. Indeed, from this standpoint, The Navy vs. the Night Monsters is one of the few subsequent films to center on a widespread killer plant infestation.*
*Actually, although the rampaging—if poorly realized—tree monsters of Navy vs. the Night Monsters call to mind The Day of the Triffids, the action of the film more closely resembles the seminal 1951 sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World. Both depict the staff of an isolated military installation battling a vegetable menace threatening to wipe out all human life. And although the Gow Island setting of Navy is almost diametrically opposite to the frigid North Pole setting of The Thing, both also feature ancient plant menaces preserved through the ages in arctic ice.
The scientist-created killer plants, unsurprisingly, typically preferred to victimize busty women. The progenitor of the breed is the aptly titled The Woman-Eater (1957). A rather tepid and woefully cheap British entry, it didn’t make much of a splash. After Triffids came out, though, a few more such flicks were produced, including 1967’s Island of the Doomed (a.k.a. The Man-Eater of Hydra), with the ubiquitous Cameron Mitchell feeding gals to his carnivorous plant, and The Double Garden (a.k.a., The Revenge of Dr. X), which bears the distinction of being scripted by none other than Ed Wood, Jr.
The most famous of the breed, however, aside from Triffids, is ironically probably the cheapest of them all. Filmed solely because he finished another movie early and had a few days before the standing sets would be torn down, infamous skinflint Roger Corman commissioned an instant script from his pal Charles Griffith. The result was Little Shop of Horrors, a film that somehow managed to be pretty damn good, although it’s primarily a comedy. Aside from the off-Broadway musical inspired by the film, which itself was brought to the screen by Frank Oz in 1986, Corman’s two-day wonder was also remade as a soft-core porno film in 1973’s Please Don’t Eat My Mother.
Meanwhile, the previously cited The Thing From Another World (1951), Jabootu Favorite From Hell It Came (1957), lackluster comedy Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) and its sequels, and the Druid-themed horror flick The Guardian (1990) all centered on killer plants of one sort or other. Other plant monsters of a sort are found in The Green Slime. Killer seaweed makes a cameo in Hammer’s magnificently goofy The Lost Continent (1968).
Even more off the mark, although technically featuring a plant menace, are the various versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, whose giant alien peapods replicate and replace sleeping humans. Seeds of Evil (1974) depicts a gardener who grows killer trees and who ultimately becomes a tree himself. The Philippine Island of Dr. Moreau knock-off The Night People, similarly, features a tree-woman amongst its stable of freaks. Meanwhile, the unpleasant Brit flick The Mutations (1972) features another Moreau-like scientist (Donald Pleasance) who turns a guy into a half-human Venus Flytrap man.
Over in Japan, survivors of a shipwreck found themselves doomed to a similar vegetative transformation in the 1963 Toho flick Matango, Fungus of Terror (a.k.a. Attack of the Mushroom People.) Other menacing fungi appear in the anthology film Creepshow (1982), 1957’s obscure Unknown Terror, and even threaten a space station in Mutiny in Outer Space (1965).
Killer plants also continued to show up as supporting players in films ranging from the killer ape epic Konga (1961) to the anthology pictures Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965; vines), Tales that Witness Madness (1973; killer tree), and, as noted before, Creepshow. Among the menacing products of radiation in the Philippine horror flick Brides of Blood is a briefly-seen mutant tree that decapitates busty actress Beverly Hills (!).
We open with credits appearing over a barren arctic landscape, a seeming nod to the film’s (and presumably the source novel’s) probable inspiration, either John W. Campbell Jr.’s novella Who Goes There?, or the film adapted from it, Howard Hawks’ 1951 The Thing from Another World. The initial credit is fairly revealing, as the viewer is informed that “Standard Club of California presents a JACK BRODER PRODUCTION”. Much of what follows is indeed ‘standard,’ at best. Meanwhile, a ‘club’ is something that generally imparts a headache to one it’s deployed against. So at least things start out honestly. However, such candor quickly flies out the window, as credits for such misleadingly monikered entities as MASTER FILM EDITORS OF HOLLYWOOD and Special Photographic Effects by MODERN FILM EFFECTS make an appearance.
Again, though, things definitely do start out in a ‘standard’ fashion. Like numerous sci-fi movies of the ’50s, things kick off with a wad of pompously narrated stock footage. These images consist of icy wastes and then heroic and onerous arctic exploration and investigation at the South Pole. Accompanied by narration, this sequence calls to mind specifically the beginnings of such films as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Deadly Mantis and The Giant Claw.
However, as this was made in a period not quite as fraught with Cold War concerns, the narration is more of the Eternal Mysteries sort. “Antarctica,” a measured, scholarly-sounding voice begins, over ‘eerie’ music. “The frozen continent at the bottom of the world. A continent as mysterious and unknown as the other planets of our solar system. [Not really.] Or, a world in deep space, a million light years away. [OK, that’s just silly.] For untold millennia, the secrets of this glacial wasteland were held frozen from the rest of the world, buried beneath a treacherous, icy canopy.”[Cut to stock footage of dog sleds traversing the ice.] “Then came the early Antarctic explorers. Wilkes. Scott. Shackleton. Omanson. Bird. Intrepid men of great purpose and endurance, searching for the icebound secrets of the unknown, unearthly frozen continent.” (This last sentence appears over footage of some cute little penguins, which seem sort of prosaic given the whole “unknown, unearthly’ thing.) [Cut to modern earth-moving equipment, etc., moving across the icy tundra.] “And following them, modern-day explorers. Mechanized taskforces of scientists and engineers from many nations, working together to uncover the secrets of Antarctica. Operation High-Jump. The International Geophysical Year. Operation Deep Freeze.*”
*These were real survey missions, with Operation High-Jump, a U.S. Navy mission, commencing in 1946. Although putatively an exploration undertaking, it is generally conceded to have been more concerned with preparing for a possible war with the Russians.
Operation Deep Freeze began in 1955, and did indeed contain members from forty countries, including the Soviet Union. The U.S. Navy here was tasked with supporting the American scientific members. Subsequent Operation Deep Freeze operations continued for years.
“And now, after more than a year of exploration and research, a team of these scientists are
We cut to stock footage of a cargo plane, then inside the ‘cockpit.’ This setting too was a favorite gambit of low-budget filmmakers, because the tight quarters meant there was no reason to move the camera. You’d build an economical set, stick a couple of actors in it, place the camera directly in front of them and shoot about as cheap a scene as possible. (Even so, of course, the cheapness sweepstakes was handily won by Plan 9 from Outer Space, via a cockpit set constructed largely from a piece of dry wall with an entryway cut into it, which was covered with a shiny shower curtain.)
Following the traditional paradigm, we have a stolid boss-man pilot, the second banana co-pilot, and a comic relief character. Sometimes this is a stewardess (Plan 9 from Outer Space), but in military-themed films, it’s usually a comic relief serviceman. Their inevitable banter nearly always follows the example set by The Thing from Another World, of a strong, masculine alpha male leader (in these cases, the pilot) who allows a certain amount of jocular mock insubordination from his underlings, because he knows they’ll snap to when need be.
Here the pilot, whose names we find out waaaay later is Miller, is so very much in the mold of Gregory Walcott’s character from Plan 9 that I actually checked to see if Walcott’s name appeared in the credits. And sure enough, his co-pilot is impertinent, and then (shudder) there’s Chief petty officer who arrives bearing the inevitable coffee and ‘comically’ bad food, leading to the inevitable ‘funny’ grousing.
Here the Chief—who pops his eyes in a manner indicating that the plane is undergoing explosive decompression, while at the same time affecting a ‘comic’ accent of some sort that cuts into the listener’s brain like a knife—waves about a covered plate and announces as he peeks under the napkin over it, “Well, uh, we got roast beef with mashed potatoes, turkey Marco Polo, southern fried chicken, or, if you want something really special, how about Swiss cheese on white, or American cheese on white.”
Needless to say, he really only has the latter, and we are further subjected, er, entertained by the subsequent grimaces from Stevens the co-pilot after he bites into this sorry fare. Now please give me a moment to wipe these copious tears of mirth from my eyes before I attempt to proceed.
Miller and Stevens proceed to captivate the Chief with tales of the wonders to be found at their upcoming fueling destination, the small U.S. Navy base on Gow Island. The Chief instantly kens that they are talking about women, and seeks further details. “What a doll!” Miller signs. She’s what you’d call a ‘blond bomber’!”
Given the opening credits, the audience can be pretty sure he’s referring to lead, er, actress Mamie Van Doren. Having recently checked Ms. Doren’s filmography, which includes such seminal titles as High School Confidential, The Las Vegas Hillbillys (where she played Boots Malone, a role assumed by actress Joi Lansing for the sequel, Hillbillys in a Haunted House), Sex Kittens Go to College and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, I certainly can’t gainsay Miller’s description of her as a ‘bomber.’
For those not up on there sex symbols of the late ’50s and ’60s, the taste was for spectacularly pneumatic blondes. The queen of the hill, of course, was Marilyn Monroe. However, if you didn’t have the sort of budget that would allow you to hire so expensive a star, you might make do with Jayne Mansfield, the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe. Even Mansfield was too pricey for some, however, and in that case there was Mamie Van Doren, the poor man’s Jayne Mansfield. For all I know, there was also a poor man’s Mamie Van Doren. Her name, however, would only have been known to hobos.
Ms. Doren’s thespic range was, shall we say, limited, and to boot she wasn’t really especially pretty. Even so, apparently mountainous masses of peroxide blond hair and a couple of extra large boobs shoved into an assortment of tight blouses and sweaters were enough to satisfy prurience-seeking audiences of the time. In any case, she receives (appropriately enough) top billing here, opposite male lead Anthony Eisley.
Being a man of rather finer tastes, Stevens demurs. “I go for the brunette,” he sighs. “What a shape!” (He’s referring to the rather more photographic Kaye Elhardt, here playing WAVE nurse Diane.) The ‘comic’ chatter among the three continues on from there. To our growing horror, there appears no end in sight for the trio’s desultory badinage. However, like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, tragedy strikes. The plane shudders, and a crashing sound is heard on the cargo area. Miller sends the Chief back for a look. Meanwhile, Stevens is told that the cargo consists of animal and plant samples taken from the Antarctic expedition.[By the way, hats off to the production manager. In a film lasting an apparently pithy—although it doesn’t seem pithy when you’re actually watching it—87 minutes, nearly the first six minutes are eaten up by credits, narrated-over stock footage, and three actors on one cheap set. That’s a fair achievement of frugality right there.]
Here we belatedly cut away from the plane, to some obvious stock footage of an island. Then we cut to a woefully cheap-looking ‘outdoor set.’ On hand are Dr. Beecham, a crusty-yet-wise old scientist—we call tell from his pipe and white lab coat—civilian meteorologist Bob Spaulding*, and a callow young Seaman Apprentice wearing his service dress whites, i.e., the white jumper outfit with the black neckerchief.
Spaulding will prove to be the film’s Designated Asshole, the character who walks around in a perennial unmotivated rage, and who you just know will eventually come to blows (unsuccessfully, of course) with the movie’s hero. To be fair, though, at least Spaulding’s not actually a rapist, too, like the DA played by Grant Williams in the same producer’s later and far more inspired Jabootu masterwork Doomsday Machine.[*The IMDB identifies the actor playing Spaulding as Phillip Terry. This is incorrect. Edward Faulkner plays Spaulding, and Terry plays, I believe, the unnamed and only occasionally seen base doctor.]
In a particularly infamous instance of odious comic relief, the Seaman is filling a weather balloon off an air tank for Spaulding. As the balloon fills, the at first slow ‘navy’ music playing under the action starts playing faster and louder until the inevitable moment when the balloon slips free and flies off, causing Spaulding to explode in a “GILLIGAN!!!”-esque fashion. The Seaman, meanwhile, dashes forwards, scooping up the now flaccid balloon in mid-stride and running just past the camera as he exits the shot.
Folksy Doc Beecham—you just know he’ll be called ‘Doc,’ he’s that sort of character—decides to yank Spaulding’s chain a bit. “Well, Mr. Spaulding,” he announces, “if your face were a weather report, I’d say there was a typhoon brewin’!” Spaulding, being a sneerer—almost but not quite as in the class of the championship one played by Corveth Ousterhouse in Larry Buchanan’s It’s Alive—sneers in response. “I’ve got more on my mind than just weather!” he, well, sneers. He is, we learn, fed up with being stuck on the remote Gow Island with its small handful of naval and civilian inhabitants.
Then, in a moment that has you both honestly appalled and reluctantly admiring the sheer, shameless balls of the filmmakers, the Seaman runs back into shot with the deflated balloon. “Now let’s see if you can do it right this time!” Spaulding barks.
The Seaman sure enough starts filling the balloon up again, and the music starts up again and quickens in pace, and just as you sit there slack-jawed with disbelief, thinking, “You can’t tell meâ€¦”, they do, and repeat the exact same ‘balloon flying free’ gag all over again. Adding to our amazement is the fact that they shoot this iteration of the gag from an angle that allows us to actually see the guy playing the Seaman using his thumb to push the balloon off the nozzle at the appropriate juncture.
The Seaman leaves shot again, and thankfully does not return for a third go of it. Meanwhile, bleeding hunks of exposition are served forth. Beecham is in fact a scientist, Spaulding is a “civilian meteorologist,” the latter’s term on the island is just about up, etc. Moreover, we learn of the only reason Spaulding has hung around this long: Nurse Nora, the aforementioned Blond Bomber.
Just then, horror strikes. Not via the monsters, sadly, but in the form of the film’s official Odious Comic Relief figure. This is Ens. Rutherford Chandler, as brought to the screen in the terrifying personage of Mr. Bobby “Doomsday Machine” Van. As if that weren’t enough to strike fear in the hardiest of hearts, Chandler has also been assigned a yipping little Poof Dog. Watching Chandler wackily interacting with his ‘dog,’ Spaulding notes, “Well, at least my interests are normal.” I hear you there, brother.
The ghastly potential represented by the appearance of Bobby Van does not go long unfulfilled, as he immediately bends down to talk to his ‘dog.’ Apparently aware of Mr. Van’s comedic limitations—although, to be fair, it would be difficult for Groucho Marx to overcome the material supplied here—the soundtrack pumps up the comedy music, so that we ‘get’ how this is meant to be humorous.
In case you’re wondering, the bit involves Chandler using food in an attempt to bribe the pooch into doing a trick. In response, the ‘dog’ sits stoically ignoring him. (Much like the audience, I might add.) After pathetically failing to get his pet to roll over or bark or even wag his tail, Chandler ineffectively just admits defeat. This is one of the scenes where the actor’s humiliation is so profound that you feel dirty just watching it.
Just then, matron scientist Marie and aforementioned brunette Nurse Diane stroll by. They appear amused by Chandler’s hijinx, which is easily the second most farfetched thing in this movie. (The first isn’t the mobile, man-eating plants, it’s that Diane will later prove romantically interested in Chandler. The killer plants come in a distant third.)
They note that Chandler looks hung over—uhm, OK, if you say so—and Diane suggests that he was so drunk the night before that he probably doesn’t remember anything that happened. To our dismay, they apparently consider this situation ripe with *shudder* comedic possibilities. Therefore they go over and drive Chandler into a most mild and unfunny tizzy with implication and innuendo regarding his behavior the previous evening.
Meanwhile, the dog eats the distracted Chandler’s brownbag lunch. Which, it must be said, looks rather more enjoyable than what I’m doing at the moment. The sandwich half consumed, the dog begins yipping, whereupon Chandler ‘quips,’ “Do me a favor—don’t talk with your mouth full!” (Them’s the jokes, folks) Following the delivery of this killer line, he pauses to roll his eyes heavenward before hopping in a Jeep and driving off.
And here’s the thing: That’s his funniest line in the picture.
In a minimally dressed office with flashing red lighting (?) and a bank of electronic equipment in it—I guess this is supposed to be the base’s radar center—the enlisted man on duty reports a blip on his scope. It’s the incoming cargo plane, and Miller is issued landing instructions so that they can refuel before heading on to the States. Chandler (dammit, I thought we were rid of him for a few minutes) appears, and learns that the approaching plane is “a Gooney Bird coming in from McMurdo.” (WOW!) Chandler takes this report and then (yay!) leaves.
We cut to an establishing shot of a flight tower, one with the usual glass-enclosed topside control center. Then we now cut to a set that pretty obviously itself is supposed to represent the control center interior. This, to a sizable lack of surprise on my part, proved not to even remotely match the exterior stock footage seen seconds ago either.
Sadly, Chandler can be found here, too. Amid some painfully ‘comic’ banter, we learn that “the Old Man”—that’s how they talk in the military, you know—i.e., the base commander, is off-station at the moment. “That means ‘Charlie Brown’ is in command,” Chandler responds gleefully. He then phones this luminary. “Hello, Charlie Brown?” he says into the receiver. “This is your faithful companion, Tonto.” (Huh?)
We cut to a desk sign, one that seriously looks like a small piece of slate with the name written on it in chalk, identifying this as the office of one LT. CHARLES BROWN USN. EXECUTIVE OFFICER. This is Our Hero, and apparently the script assigned him his name solely as to provide Odious Comic Relief Chandler with a running gag. Yep, that running gag indeed consists of Chandler calling his superior “Charlie Brown” every time he gets the chance. Get it? ‘Charlie Brown’? It’s like the comic strip character. See? It’s funny. Right? Right?
Following the hilarity of the ‘Charlie Brown’ bit, Chandler relays info about the incoming flight, as well as the latest weather report. “You idiot!” Brown barks (what, he’s just noticing this now?), and hangs up so that he can call the landing station. Chief Warrant Officer ‘Holly’ Hollister answers, and Brown informs him of the imminent arriving flight. “We’re going to be hit by bad weather tonight,” Brown explains, “so I’d take it as a personal favor if you’d get that plane airborne again as fast as possible!” Holly promises he will.[Just to be fair, they do get a lot of the terminology and jargon right. (Although they may have taken some of this from the source novel. I haven’t read it, so I can’t say.) Brown refers to the Miller’s plans as an R4D. This is the model nicknamed the Gooney Bird, although the U.S. Air Corps labeled it the C-47, and it was also known as the DC-3. On the other hand, this was back in the day of widespread compulsory military service, so filmmakers of the period got such details correct more often than not.]
Meanwhile, we cut to the infirmary, where Spaulding has tracked down Nora. Hey, since Nora is played by Mamie Van Doren, maybe this should be called the infir-mammary. Get it? Ha, too bad Bobby Van didn’t get to use that one. He’s trying to cadge a goodbye kiss out of her, but she plays hard to get. One gets the idea that he’s more interested in her than the other way around, leading to such rejoinders as “Cool off your imagination, son. I don’t own [a bikini].” After Spaulding bitterly asks whether she might prefer the attentions of “that tinfoil Lt.”, Nora stalks off.
Outside, Beecham and Marie (she’s a scientist too, but only a chick, so we never learn her last name) are strolling around the base. “Maybe the scientists [on the incoming plane] can make Congress realize the importance of Operation Deep Freeze,” Beecham muses. Personally, I’d say suggesting they build a new ice tractor plant in their home district would bring that importance across a lot faster, but then I’m a cynic.
The two arrive at the mess hall and enter to get some coffee. Having obtained a cup, Beecham steps a few feet down the hall to Brown’s office. (The XO’s office is right next to the base mess? We also soon learn it’s also about three feet away from the infirmary. Quite a cozy base they’ve got here.) He enters without knocking, which seems a protocol violation, especially since Brown is currently the base CO.
Conveniently, Brown knows nothing of “The Hot Lakes business,” allowing for Beecham to provide a little more exposition. Grabbing a rolled-up map (how did he know what it was a map of?) already sitting right at hand on Brown’s bookcase, Beecham lays it across Brown’s desk. Hot Lakes, turns out to be an area, discovered in the middle of the Antarctic icepack, “heated by underwater
The Hot Lakes area was found to sport “a unique kind of vegetation that must have been there since before the last ice age.” [*Jabootu Proofreading mage Carl Fink notes, “… since before the last ice age”? Central Antarctica has been frozen over for MILLIONS of years longer than the last glaciation. What on earth are they talking about?] The cargo plane is currently carrying samples of this vegetation, and some penguins, too, presumably because they are really cute and look like little people in formal dress. I imagine their plan is to detail their years’ worth of hard won scientific data before a bored, stony faced Congress, to absolutely no effect, and then march in the penguins, in single file and wearing little top hats, providing photo ops for the Congressmen and ensuring funding for another year or two.
On the plane, co-pilot Stevens is alone in the cockpit, when Miller returns from checking out things in back. Stevens reports that they are cleared to land at Gow, and they begin their descent. “Where’s the Chief,” Miller asks, and Stevens replies, “I thought he was with you.” Come on, fellas, you’re on a plane. How many places could he be? “I haven’t seen him since he went back to check the cargo compartment,” Miller asserts. Oddly, they actually refrain from putting in a music sting there.
He sends Stevens back to fetch him, and radio in to Gow. Stevens pauses in the plane’s middle passenger compartment (such as it is), and on past the scientists, two of whom are playing, what else, chess. Then he enters the cargo bay, whereupon we wear the honking of the penguins and Steven’s panicked shouting. The scientists run back, and then everyone tumbles out, including a bloodied and insane-looking Chief. He tussles with the others, and somebody shouts, “He’s trying to get out of the plane!” I’m not sure how they deduced that at this point, but it proves accurate. Shrugging them off, the Chief throws open the outside hatch and jumps to his death, taking one of the scientists with him.
Downside, the Gow radio operator notes that the R4D is seriously off course. Meanwhile, panic has set in on the plane, for reasons yet unseen, as the scientists try to fight their way into the cockpit. The radio operator hears shouting and shots being fired before the transmission cuts off. The operator alerts the Tower, and they try to contact the plane. Brown is alerted and heads off, and everyone is put on emergency standby.
Their follows a patently budget-impaired attempt to suggest an imminent crash. To fair, though, I’ve seen worse. Meanwhile, however, it does provide confirmation that the majority of the ‘base,’ including the exterior of the mess/officer’s quarters/infirmary, is built on a set. This is demonstrated by the fact that the lighting there clearly doesn’t match the footage of Hollister and his men, who actually appear to be on an airstrip of some sort.
The scene becomes a montage of plane stock footage, the actors ‘arriving’ out on location and set-bound stuff. Again, for the resources director Michael Hoey presumably had to command, I can’t really beat on it too much. Moreover, it must be said that a plane crash is kind of a dramatic incident, and footage of a few speeding vehicles and such that actually looks to have been shot for this film, it seems like that they spent a good portion of their meager budget here. (However, it also highlights the artificiality of the rest of the picture, which was all shot on soundstages.)
Given that monster movies of this period typically kept their beasties offstage for much of the film’s first half, I’m sure wide-eyed kiddie matinee audiences happily chowed down on their popcorn during this sequence. And hey, at least they weren’t stuck watching Aeon Flux or Van Helsing. Stuff like that makes an era in which you could plunk down a quarter and spend an afternoon watching junk like Navy vs. the Night Monsters in an actual theater seem like a veritable golden age.
We cut to shots of a plane skidding across the tarmac—and oops, it’s clearly a different model of craft altogether from the other two types of craft we’ve seen already. The landing is represented with what looks to be authentic but incredibly grainy stock footage of such an incident (which also appears to have been darkened, presumably to help disguise the skidding plane and background area’s non-matching configurations) as well as some really not very credible sound effects.
Emergency vehicles approach the plane, and we see that the propellers are fouled up with thick vines of some sort. (This doesn’t really make sense in terms of anything else that happens, but anyway.) Brown and Chandler arrive on the scene and jump in through the still open side hatch, which from some reason now opens up into the cargo area. They find the main section of the plane empty, except for the crated penguins and plant specimens. Chandler steps towards the cockpit and calls Brown to join him, and then we jump to a shock cut of the pilot, who is expressionlessly staring forward into space.
We cut to Nora hooking up an I.V. to Miller in the infirmary. Brown, to whom the importance of the scientists and their mission was especially emphasized, is needless to say eager to learn what the hell happened on the plane. Unfortunately, Miller continues to be completely unresponsive. “He’s in another world,” Nora says. Hell, if he’s lucky, he’s in another movie.
Brown stalks out in frustration, and in intercepted by Spaulding in the mess hall. He wants Brown to order him up transport off the island, since his contract ran out the day before. Brown (who, it should be said, is kind of a stuffed shirt, and is only saved from looking like an asshole by the fact that Spaulding is a somewhat bigger one) replies that he’ll have to wait a while, which makes sense. You don’t special order up a plane to deliver a civilian employee back to the mainland. Aside from that, the shattered R4D is currently blocking their one runway. Spaulding was on the scene, actually, and would know that. So this is really just a way to let us in the audience know that the island is for the present cut off from the rest of the world.
Per Brown’s orders, Beecham is soon supervising the removal of the plane’s cargo, which is being moved to a base warehouse. Brown and Chandler are also on the scene, trying to figure things out. Meanwhile, to explain why they don’t just drag the plane off the runway, Hollister tells Brown that he thinks he can repair the damage and make it flyable again. (This means that they’ll want to be careful moving it to forestall further damage.) “That Hollister,” an impressed Chandler quips after Holly leaves. “Ambitious, ingeniousâ€¦. I’ll bet he’s a lousy dancer.” And yes, that’s the movie’s idea of a quip.
Meanwhile, Beecham sees something leaking under a tarp, and discovers a slimy residue of some sort. He calls Brown over to take a look. “Some sort of liquid,” Beecham explains, “strong enough to eat into the flooring.” He puts some in a sample bottle and makes off for the lab, but doesn’t bother to warn the crewmen unloading the crates to watch out for a substance capable of eating through metal. Meanwhile, they draw our attention to an empty penguin crate with one side all smashed off. Bum bum bum.
Back in the plane, Chandler calls Brown over (you’d think maybe Brown could find the time to obverse something himself) to look at eight bullets holes* in the fuselage. How do they know they’re bullet holes? Got me. Anyway, the two are bewildered at the fact that a gun had been emptied in such a tight space and yet no traces of blood are evident.[Why eight? I’m guessing, since we never actually see a gun. However, that’s a full complement of rounds in a standard military issue Colt 1911A1 .45 automatic. “Somebody emptied a whole clip in here,” Brown muses. That’s wrong, actually. The magazine of a 1911A1 .45 holds seven rounds. The gun only holds eight shells if you keep a shell chambered in the pipe, which I don’t think would be standard military protocol. Also, Miller earlier had referred to the pistol as a ‘revolver,’ which is incorrect.]
Suddenly we cut away to stock footage of a major Naval base, and then into the office of Admiral Knight. [These scenes were a source of much contention on the part of the filmmakers. More on that later.] He is meeting with, among others, Commander Simpson, the previously eluded to “Old Man” of Gow Island.
I should note that the guy playing the Admiral was presumably picked for his deep, stentorian voice, although his nearly robotic lack of inflection as he delivers his lines remains a source of hilarity throughout. He actually looks familiar, but I couldn’t place him, and his name didn’t appear on any cast lists I could find. Simpson, meanwhile, is played by actor Biff Elliot, who provides stiff line readings and awkward movements of a sort that actually had me wondering if he weren’t basing his performance on Officer Toody from Car 54, Where Are You? Given all this, I’m assuming the scenes set in Knight’s officer were shot without taking time for fancy luxuries like rehearsals or blocking.
The meeting is interrupted to deliver to Simpson a communiquÃ© from the island. It’s from Brown, and tersely describes the mystery surrounding the plane and its missing complement of scientists. He hands the Admiral the telegram, and the latter reads sections of it aloud, sounding not unlike Stephen Hawking’s voice box. From the discussion that follows, that wire must have been jammed packed with info, although Simpson seems to absorb its contents with a glance.
The admiral orders them to verify the message. “I’d-hate-to-notify-Wash-ing-ton,” he robots, “and-then-find-out-it-was-a-hoax.” Yeah. A ‘hoax.’ That sounds likely. Simpson urges him to take the message seriously. “If [Lt. Brown] says he’s confronted with a mystery,” Simpson exclaims, “you can believe him!” That’s probably a more politic response than, “A hoax, Admiral? What are you, a moron?”
Back on Gow, a large heap of canvas adorned with fuzzy tentaclesâ€¦er, I mean, large, bizarre plant specimensâ€¦is being loaded into warehouse. “Look at these root fibers,” Beecham says, referring to the fuzzy tentacles. “Looks like fur!” Hollister replies. “It suggests the possibility of an exposed root system,” Beecham states wondrously. I’m not sure why that’s so weird, but anyway. The penguins are to be stored in the warehouse too. Wouldn’t they need to be in a cooled environment?
Brown and Chandler, apparently joined at the hip, show up for a report. Beecham explains that the plants might die, as they are “subject to shock just like animals.” This is a concern, of course. “The botanical society will have us up for murder,” Chandler ‘quips.’ I’d get those plants someplace safe, stat. If being kept in the warehouse doesn’t kill the plants, Chandler’s jokes might. In any case, presumably to approximate the conditions they came from, Beecham suggests planting them around the Gow Island hot springs.
Hollister reports finding a penguin’s tail feather in the plane, not in the rear cargo area, but ‘mysteriously’ up by the pilot’s compartment. Brown is confused as to what it ‘means.’ (Why should it mean anything? They had a rear hatch open, maybe it blew back there, or stuck to somebody’s shoe and was carried forward, or a dozen other explanations.) Still, with one more, er, mystery on hand, he decides to play it safe and post a 24-hour guard around the now-emptied plane. Well, that at least makes sense.
Oh, wait. No it doesn’t.
Back in the infirmary, Diane and Nora are tending to the still apparently comatose Miller. Diane is freaked out by his open, unfocused staring eyes, though. (I presume this bit was stolen from The Thing From Another World, in which a soldier on watch complains about the spooky open eyes of a ‘dead’ alien being encased in a block of ice.) “He just keeps staring, like a zombie,” she notes. It’s true. He just stares forward with no visible response at all. Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we’ve found our audience identification character.
Nora sends Diane off to get a cup of joe and calm down. As she leaves, Spaulding, wearing an eye-scalding red cardigan sweater, enters the room. “Where are you off to?” he barks at Diane. The proper response would seem to be, “To put my foot up your ass,” since he’s in no position to making demands of her. In fact, as a civilian, I’m not even sure why he’s allowed to just walk around the infirmary at will.
Spaulding walks over to Nora and immediately begins, well, continues, acting like a dickhead. He believes that the pilot must have murdered the scientists and crew—how, he doesn’t say—and doesn’t care who he mouths off to about it. “I don’t like the idea of you being left alone with him!” he sneers, apparently under the impression that anyone, either in the movie or in the audience, gives a hoot. Nora, however, is a steely, or at least stone-faced, professional, and she isn’t concerned. (Actually, Miller does ultimately prove a menace, so Spaulding is at least partly right. However, as the film’s Designated Asshole, he will be afforded no credit for this.)
Spaulding immediately tries to make her, but she rebuffs him. “What brings on all this affection?” she asks. This really doesn’t make any sense, since it’s been established that he’s been panting after her for some time now, but anyway. Plus, oh, yeah, we saw him proposing marriage to her earlier. I know Spaulding is a dick, but Nora’s passive, “Maybe if I ignore him he’ll go away” technique might not be the fairest to him. She should just flat out tell him that she’s not interested. (Part of the problem, of course, is that we can’t tell if they’ve actually been involved during Spaulding’s term on the island. The entire situation could have been clarified a bit more.)
Instead, she ignores his interest and refers again to her lack of concern over Miller. “Nothing is going to happen to me,” she retorts, “unless you start getting ideas.” “You’re safe,” he responds. “There’s something too anti-septic about an infirmary for romance.” Except, I guess, when he tried to shove his tongue down her throat a moment ago. “Actually,” she finally informs him, “you shouldn’t be in here. It’s been placed off limits.”
This starts another argument about Brown. “Why do you always belittle him?” she mews. “I don’t like the way he looks at you!” he sneers. And again, maybe Nora should just tell Spaulding to his face that she has no interest in him. Orâ€¦does she? Again, have they been going out? If so, then Spaulding’s jealously at least has a bit of justification. Looked at objectively, Nora seems to be stringing him along, so he actually has a bit of an excuse for acting the way he does.
Cut to that night. A guard is pacing outside the plane. Inside, a nervous Diane sits in the darkened infirmary room, watching over Miller. (Since he’s in a coma, I’m not sure why the lights have to be off. I guess it’s all spooky and stuff, though. ) Still freaked out by his continuing stare, she goes and opens the door to the hallway, which allows her to hear reassuring murmurs from the mess hall. Then she closes the door again. Why? I don’t know.
Oh, it’s so she can be startled and yet fail to raise an alarm when Miller suddenly looms from the darkness and attacks her. He begins strangling her, because that’s exactly the sort of thing you do when you’ve been driven mad by seeing plant monsters eating scientists on your cargo plane. (Oops, sorry. Hope I didn’t blow anything there.) He also rips her blouse to reveal a very small portion of her bra, which I guess constituted ‘sex’ in 1966. Hubba, hubba.
Meanwhile, Brown and Nora are walking down the hallway a few feet away. Nora is wearing a too-tight blue sleeveless dress with white piping that mostly serves to emphasize her hips. Brown steps into his office. (He also fails to turn on the lights; so maybe the power to the interior sets was faulty that day.) Nora follows and shuts the door behind her, that hussy. “What a mess!” Brown says, musing either on the burdens of command or on this movie. “You won’t fail!” Nora responds. “I know you won’t!”
“I’ve got to get back to the infirmary,” she says, but she puts her hand on his shoulder and the soft music informs us that this is a ‘moment.’ Apparently the timing hasn’t ever been right for the two of them, or something. Also, isn’t Nora a WAVE? Or is she? She’s never in uniform. But Diane is definitely a WAVE, soâ€¦. Sigh. Anyway, assuming she is in the Navy, there’s the whole fraternization thing, too. Anyhoo, she leaves.
She enters the darkened infirmary and somehow spots the unconscious Diane on the floor. With her blouse ripped, we can actually see her bare shoulder. (Woo-woo.) “Chuck!” Nora yells. “Come here!” Does anybody on this base actually call him ‘Lt. Brown’? He’s the base’s acting CO, for Pete’s sake.
Out on the tarmac, the sentry hears noises in the dark. Suddenly, Miller again walks slowly out of the shadows, and stops for a second before launching another attack. (You know, it’s one thing for a nurse to get jumped, but an armed sailor on guard duty? That guy’s definitely going on report.)
The sentry apparently doesn’t see him until the last moment, despite Miller’s blinding white PJs, because this is one of those situations where a character isn’t allowed to see somebody until they enter the camera shot. This allows Miller to get within about five feet of the guard before he’s spotted. And oh, yeah, the barely-glimpsed plane seen in the background clearly isn’t a cargo plane. Even so, after an exciting tussle—it must be exciting, given the crashing music—Miller is subdued with Ye Olde Punch to the Jaw.
Brown is with Nora and Diane in the infirmary—either they still haven’t turned on the lights, or the place is equipped with 25-watt bulbs—and demanding to know where the pilot is. Then a guy runs in and reports that something is moving around in the warehouse. Chandler then appears and reports the same thing. Brown, presumably thinking it’s Miller in there, grabs the spare gun belt Chandler’s brought and runs to investigate.
The group, with Beecham having attached himself somewhere alone the line, arrives outside the warehouse door. Guns drawn, Brown and Chandler enter the building. Miraculously, when they enter the warehouse, and despite having a flashlight, Chandler reaches over to a switch and turns on the lights. Maybe he should be the acting CO. In any case, the place looks mildly disheveled (not to mention pretty small for a warehouse). “Man, this place is a wreck!” Chandler quips—OK, maybe that one isn’t a quip, but seriously, how am I to tell?—just so we get that this is the case.
After they spread out maybe five feet apart, Chandler calls out, “Come here!” Again, couldn’t Brown notice something on his own one of these days? Chandler points out a small trail of slime, like that found in the airplane. Brown calls Beecham in, who confirms it’s the same, acidic substance. Meanwhile, Brown does actually perceive something on his own. Good for you, sir! In this case, it’s that the penguins haveâ€¦disappeared. Bum bum bum!
Back in the infirmary, the base Doctor announces that Miller has been sedated and won’t be talking any more strolls. “How did a guy in his shape get out of bed in the first place?” Chandler quips. (I guess the safe thing to do is just assume everything he says is a quip.) “Reflex action?” the Doctor shrugs. (!!!) Between that and his lighting up a cigarette in the patient’s room, I’m just going to have to assume he’s not really a doctor. “Aside from being weak physically, he’s sound,” the ‘Doctor’ continues. Seriously, somebody ask to see this guy’s diploma.
Spaulding bursts into the room—which he previously was told was off-limits—and immediately begins to spout off. “I demand this maniac is locked up before he attacks somebody else!” he shouts. Nora replies that the man “is ill,” and Spaulding sneers, “He’s as healthy as I am! He’s faking!” Everybody gives a ‘There he goes again!” look, but really, isn’t Spaulding exactly right? Let’s see, Miller already attacked a nurse and an armed guard. Clearly he’s dangerous.
Perhaps to disguise this fact, Spaulding grabs the again comatose Miller and prepares to slug him one. This leads to a totally unexpected, never could have been predicted fistfight between him and Brown. I don’t want to blow the suspense for you, but Brown wins. “Put a man with a rifle on that door [the one to Miller’s room],” a triumphant Brown spits to Chandler. Not to guard the possibly homicidal Miller, however. “If [Spaulding] tries to get in there again,” Brown clarifies, “shoot him!” Yeah, that will look good when Cmdr. Simpson returns to resume command.
Brown again steps into his office to slump his shoulders and reflect on how hard stuff is. And Nora again follows to comfort him, and apparently excited by having seen him beat up the other man she’s been leading on a string, leaps into Brown’s arms. That’s some good naval decorum there, I’ll tell you.
Chandler, without bothering to ask permission or anything, just wanders off. Isn’t anyone going to type up the reports on all this crap? I mean, seriously, can you imagine the paperwork? Plane crashing. Missing scientists. Warehouse trashed. Attacks on naval personnel. The base (acting) CO getting into a fistfight with a civilianâ€¦. This movie would be scarier if it were called The Navy vs. the Incident Reports.
Anyhoo, Chandler wanders outside, where he is met by his yipping little ‘dog.’ You know, at least his dog and his jokes have something in common—I can barely recognize them for what they supposedly are, much less take them seriously. Scratch, that, actually. It’s all too easy to take his jokes seriously.
The ‘dog’ (who clearly is highlighted with a spotlight) is barking, supposedly at something in the veritable jungle that apparently begins ten feet away from the mess hall’s front door. The ‘dog’ runs into the set, er, jungle, and the beleaguered Chandler inevitably trails after it. What a life that guy has. I mean, I don’t have a life either, but you’d expect something better from a character in a movie.
He tracks the ‘dog’ down, but doesn’t grab it—c’mon, dude, the thing weighs like two pounds—and it runs off again. “The next time I get a ‘dog,’ it’ll be a vegetarian,” he ‘quips.’ Sure enough, he sets off after it again. This time he grabs the pooch when he finds it. He then pauses to look around at his dark, verdant surroundings. “I don’t know why I let you get me into these things,” he ‘quips’ to the ‘dog.’ (Perhaps the ‘dog’ is Van’s agent? It would explain a lot.) Then he turns around and returns to the base.
Meanwhile, in the lab—we can tell from all the conical flasks filled with mysterious colored fluids—Beecham and Marie work into the night. Peering into a microscope (Science!), Beecham calls Marie over. Lots of people call lots of other people over in this movie. They exchange some comments to let us know that the corrosive liquid found earlier is all weird and stuff.
Meanwhile, Diane leaves the infirmary, apparently little the worse for wear after nearly being choked to death and having her clothes ripped apart by a maniac she’d been forced to watch over all day and night. She nearly jumps into Chandler and starts with fright. Apparently she didn’t see him until he was a foot in front of her because, again, he was off camera. However, I should note that starting with fright upon finding Bobby Van in front of you is an entirely understandable reflex action. I mean, it’s alone, dark outâ€¦ What if he decided to try to perpetrate some comedy?
However, things quickly go down on the Believability Scaleâ„¢ when she and Chandler share a romantic moment. It is less than credible because:
1. She’s hot
2. He’s Chandler, as played by Bobby Van
3. He’s not the only man on the island (there’s the creepy guy who attacked her, for instance)
4. He’s Chandler, as played by Bobby Van
Amazingly, to say the least, he looks he’s going to score. I’ll spare you the details of their ‘banter,’ since I’m not the Marquis de Sade or anything. Let’s just say that it’s full of ‘quips.’ They kiss, and it quickly turns into a light make-out section. I think I can clearly state now what the titular “night monsters” are. (And I can only imagine the response this got from the film’s primary audience of pre-teen boys.) Still, I have to admit, the term, ‘gut-wrenching horror’ did come to mind during this.
After they finally broken their clinch, and I’ve scrapped my eyeballs clean with sandpaper, she gasps, “Wow! I think we better have a cigarette.” Chandler indeed produces a couple (sadly, these don’t come with the blindfolds and firing squad I was fantasizing about), and sticks them in his mouth as he prepares to light them.
Meanwhile, Diane leans up against a hut wall. She screams and her sweater begins smoking. Chandler must be a better kisser than I thought. But no, it turns out that some of the corrosive slime has gotten on the doorjamb somehow. (Oddly, considering that they’ve established that it eats through metal and concrete, the paint and lumber of the jamb look unmarked.) He rushes her into the mess hall, rips open her blouse—that woman has definitely used up her uniform allowance today—and uses the sink to douse her shoulder. I’m not really sure that a few handfuls of water would counteract such a strong corrosive liquid, but than I’m not a scientist.*[*Carl Fink notes that dousing with water is the correct first aid for chemical burns, but the amount of water applied here falls far short of a ‘dousing.’]
Brown, hearing the ruckus, runs out. Good thing this building serves about every purpose on the base. He sends Chandler to have the wall hosed down and then escorts Diane to the infirmary. Again, it’s handy having everything about five feet away from everything else.
Back to the plane, which is still being guarded by that one sentry. Hearing something, he steps forward and peers into the darkness, and eventually sees something that inspires a look of horror. (Chandler? Chandler’s ‘dog’?) He screams in terror and….
The next morning, a party prepares to take the plant specimens from the warehouse and plant them at the hot springs, per Beecham’s suggestion. Brown, meanwhile, is organizing a search—I guess—for the missing guard. “Don’t forget the [also missing] penguins,” Chandler ‘quips.’ Good thing Brown has that guy to rely on.[By the way, and I guess I could have asked this anytime, if the plants secrete this awful acid-like enzyme, then why don’t trails of the stuff lead back to them. And how could what are more or less trees stagger around the base without being seen?
And on a simpler point that goes to pretty much all of these films, what’s the point of playing up this ‘mystery’ stuff for most of the movie—we’re a good 40 minutes into this one, and the characters still don’t even know what’s going on, much less what’s causing it—when either the movies’ titles or advertising poster (as in this case) would inevitably blow the whole thing anyway?]
Cut to the springs (a set, of course), where sailors are planting the trees. Marie, meanwhile, enthuses over this exotic greenery. “They’re a living fossil,” she tells Brown, “based on a structure that’s unknown in present vegetation.” She also points off that some of the plants’ leaf stems are freshly broken off (bum bum bum) and muses that perhaps something is eating away at them. Ah, the irony.
Chandler and a party of men arrive to report that they’ve found no trace of the missing guard, scientists or penguins. This is a great scene, because Chandler calls his superior ‘Charlie Brown’ again, which he hasn’t done in, like, minutes. Wait, that doesn’t make it a great scene. It makes it a horrible scene. Never mind me, I’ve been working on this review for something like nine straight hours and my head’s a bit off.
Brown notes that he doesn’t want people walking around after dark, and Chandler suggests having Hollister string lights up around the base. “Good idea,” Brown replies, since as we’ve established, he just doesn’t really think in terms of electric lights.
Suddenly, a horrible woman’s scream rings out. Oddly, this has nothing to do with someone noticing Chandler’s presence, but comes from further into the springs. Our Heroes run over to investigate, and finds Marie standing over a disfigured manikin. Er, corpse. It’s the seemingly charred body of one of the missing scientists.
Back at the infirmary, the Doctor and Nora are attempting to rouse Miller by speaking to him. Yes, I’m sure that will work. By the way, it’s only here that we finally learn Miller’s name. Up until now he’d remained unidentified, and I had been using an ‘XXX’ tag for his name until they finally spilled the beans here. Stupid movie. After failing to bring him around, the Doctor uses a stethoscope before passing it to Nora. “Listen to his heartbeat,” he tells her. “That’s the heartbeat of a man in mortal terror!” (Wow!)
Nora, who is wearing a horrible, shapeless white dress with a blue bow under her dÃ©colletage (like she needs to emphasize it) that matches another bow in her hair, gets up to answer the phone. Phones! Lights! This base is way ultramodern! After she hangs up, she tells the Doctor about the body they’ve found out by the springs.
Later, Brown is meeting with the Doctor and Beecham to go over the autopsy report. This confirms that the body’s tissues had been corroded by the same, mysterious substance they keep coming across. Brown continues to wonder whose body it is, whereupon the Doctor notes “the clothes are the type that are worn in sub-zero temperatures.” (Did I mention that although the corpse’s head and hands were horribly seared, its clothes were untouched? Weird, huh?)
Brown finally gets that it might be one of the missing scientists. (Well, duh, jackass.) However, he then can’t figure out how the body got out by the spring. Geez, what a moron. “He fell out of the airplane,” Beecham ‘theorizes,’ “through the open cargo door.” Yeah, wow, it’s like the brilliant solution to a really great CSI episode. Even so, I have to say I laughed at the Doctor’s perplexed reaction to this. So he did an autopsy, and couldn’t tell the body had fallen out of an airplane?! Again, this goes back to the whole “I don’t think he’s really a doctor” thing.
We cut to stock footage of a radar receiver, and then inside the supposed radio room. “If anything’s moving on the island, it should show up on radar,” Brown say. Yeah, if it’s Godzilla. That’s like using an observatory telescope to look around the island. Yeesh.
That night, Hollister is finishing stringing up the lights. Good thing they had like a zillion extra light bulbs lying around. Meanwhile, Chandler’s ‘dog’ (and how the hell did he get that thing on the base, anyway?) is still barking like crazy. “For heaven’s sake, stop it!” she says. For once I’m on her side, although she’d score more points if she just picked up a rocked and bashed the damn thing to death. Actually, she could probably just step on it with her shoe.
Spaulding shows up—he seems to have quite an array of various color cardigans—and apologizes for his behavior. “I guess it was just a case of feeling helpless,” he admits. Well, that justifies trying to beat up a guy in a coma. “There’s just no logical explanation for what’s happening,” he says. “Unlessâ€¦”
At this point Brown overhears the conversation, and breaks in. “Unless, what?” he asks. However, he sneers when Spaulding mentions UFOs. Actually, that’s kind of interesting. He’s wrong, of course, but in a movie with prehistoric killer plants, he’s at least in the right ballpark. “You think I’m a fool, don’t you,” Spaulding bitterly responds. “In a word,” Brown agrees, “yes.” I have to admit, though, that I thought Spaulding’s willingness to broach his theory, with this being the sort of reception it was bound to get, was sort of admirable.
Spaulding presses forward with his next idea. “Bullets haven’t worked,” he observes, “but there’s no creature living that can’t be burned.” So saying, he shows them a Molotov Cocktail he’s made, one designed to go off on contact. (I’m not sure how that would work, but anyway.) Brown sneers at this, and Spaulding stalks off. This doesn’t make our putative hero come off any better. Considering the job he’s done so far, he should be grateful for any hand offered him. Even Nora points out that Spaulding was just trying to help, and Brown spits, “If you feel so sorry for him, go hold his hand!” Then he too takes off. Why is he our protagonist again?
Out in the jungle, we hear some eerie noises. Hopefully this means a monster or two will show up, as we’re now about 50 minutes into things. Then Chandler’s ‘dog’ comes into view, and I began wondering if I were going to suddenly start liking this movie a whole lot more. In any case, we do now get a look at Our Beasties. It’s one of the plants, no surprise there, as realized with a straight rubber trunk with rubber fronds sticking out of the top of it, like Sideshow Bob’s hair. A guy shoved up into this thing—it must have been grossly hot in there—wiggles back and forth to make the thing ‘move.’
The ‘dog’ comes forward to look at a little rubber plant bulb on a string. Back at camp, Marie hears it barking and decides to venture into the jungle after it. Man, a character that dumb just can’t be killed off fast enough. So she plunges in several dozen yards, completely out of site of the base, and despite the scary sci-fi monster sound.
Meanwhile, Brown steps outside just in time to see the strings of lights begin working, and soon the camp is a good, oh, nine percent brighter. Hollister comes over to see what he thinks. “I’ll see that Santa puts something special in your stocking, Holly,” Brown tells him. “That little brunette Diane’d do me fine!” Hollister responds, and they share a hearty, manly chuckle. Ah, nothing like good times with a couple of complete pigs.
Marie continues into the brush, and manages to catch sight of the still barking ‘dog.’ Then it continues forward and out of view. Hesitantly, she sets forward again, until she literally walks right into the tree monster, which grabs her with two arm-like appendages. (And when I say arm-like, I mean arm-like.) This happily alerts us that the monster trees in this thing are so poorly constructed that the ‘victims’ will have to pretty much thrown themselves into the creatures’ grasp, following in the trail blazed by such inert menaces as The Creeping Terror and the *cough* giant octopus in Bride of the Monster.
Marie screams as she flails around in the thing’s rubbery grasp, and Hollister and Brown, hearing her, break off their discussion of who they’d like to nail and spring into action. Seconds later, an entire armed party follows from the mess hall. (Perhaps that’s the military version of cops hanging out in doughnut shops.) Even Spaulding follows, after scooping up a Molotov Cocktail or two.
When Spaulding reaches the others, they’ve paused, as Marie’s screams have been cut short. Since flashlights, like all artificial lighting in this universe, shed jack squat’s worth of illumination, Brown tells him to toss one of his Cocktails into the brush before them. (That’s right, without his knowing where Marie is!!) Soon a nice fire is lighting things up nicely. Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if this started a forest fire that burned the whole base down?
Brown tells Chandler to cover him, and advances forward. Chandler doesn’t move, and seconds later we see Brown alone again in all but pitch darkness, so I’m not sure the ‘cover me’ thing is going to work. Then Hollister joins him and Brown nearly shoot him. Boy, I’d like this guy in charge in any monster movie.
They continue forward. Back where they started, Spaulding asks, “Can you see them?” Chandler admits not. “No, they’re covered by the trees.” I’m telling you, that guy does not get the whole ‘cover me’ concept. Soon Brown and Hollister return. (Well, that was an extensive search.) They admit that they couldn’t find her. “All we found was this,” Brown says, handing them some ragged pieces of Marie’s lab coat.
“Do you think we should post another guard?” Chandler asks. Yeah, probably, given the whole ‘looks like someone else is dead’ thing. Then Brown is called to the radar shack. Before he leaves, Chandler calls him Charlie Brown again. Man, that bit never gets old.
Amazingly, the radar watch has actually born results. Something has disturbed the island’s bird colony, which normally never flies around at night. Not doing anything particular with the information, Brown head back to the mess hall.
Meanwhile, in the ‘jungle,’ Chandler is blundering around looking for his ‘dog’ again. (The good thing is that they’ve established a precedent that people dumb enough to do this get killed. Cross your fingers.) As he stumbles forward, the electronic monster whine—rather like the one heard in The Creeping Terror, fittingly enough—begins sounding. And sure as shooting, Chandler manages to blunder close enough to the tree monster to get grabbed by it. “Arghhh!” he ‘quips,’ and struggles in its grasp, but it’s too late.
Have I mentioned that this is The Greatest Movie Ever Made?
(I will admit that, as a kid when I first saw this film, I was really weirded out by seeing the film’s comic relief character getting whacked. Usually those guys made it through the picture)
Brown and Hollister again run forward, and somehow manage to immediately find the right spot. However, only Chandler’s rifle and flashlight are left to be found. “How many more people are going to die before we stop this killer?” he asks bitterly. I don’t know. How many more people intend to head into the jungle looking for that damn ‘dog?’ He then sulks off, leaving Beecham to come across one of the moving bulbs. Hey, maybe he’ll follow the string it’s being pulled on back to the monster andâ€¦. Nope, he just scoops it up into a sheave of papers and takes off with it.
Meanwhile, the lights begin flickering and go out. (Actually, they just seem to flicker, but I think the idea is that they go dead.) A guy comes up to inform Brown that “something got into the generator shack. All the wires have been torn loose.” OK, that’s a direct steal from The Thing From Another World. Only in that movie, the power system was targeted by an alien being from an advanced technological society. Here, it’s been targeted by prehistoric tree monsters.
See the difference?
The next morning, a reeling (drunk?) Brown appoints a new XO, but fails to tell him not to go into the jungle in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, the generator is reported to be irreparable. Given this, Brown orders fuel drums to be converted to “flare beacons.” I think he means barrel fires, which is a good idea, so I’ll let his weird phraseology go. He also wants more Molotov Cocktails made up, and wood collected for bonfires.
In the mess, Beecham suggests sending somebody out to the bird’s nesting area to see what stirred them up. Brown demurs, noting that he’s short of men due to all their weird tasks they’re doing. At this Spaulding pipes up and volunteers. “I want to help,” he says plaintively, and I have to give the movie points for letting the guy become less of a jerk when the crap hits the fan. Brown accepts his help, which also makes him look a little less dense. Brown even warns Spaulding to be back before dark.
Now if he could just remember to order people not to chase stuff into the jungle at nightâ€¦.
Brown notices that Beecham is holding a large specimen jar, and asks what is in it. Suddenly a bulb pops up from the inches of soil in the jar. (Even the kids in the audience must have figured that this was basically a thumb puppet manipulated by Beecham squeezing the jar.) The scientist admits that he doesn’t have a clue as to what it is, or how it could have a connection to what is happening.
We cut to some beach stock footage, and then see Spaulding and the electrician’s mate (useless at base because the generator is dead) walking along an extremely fake looking papier-mÃ¢chÃ© rock face. If I had to guess, I’d say it was one of the same ones used in producer Jack Broder’s Women of the Prehistoric Planet. [Future Ken: An interview with director Michael Hoey I found on the web indicated the films were shot back to back, so score one for me.] Looking down, the men see a bunch of dead birds littering the ground below.
Brown is conferring with Hollister out on the airstrip when Nora arrives in a jeep. Brown goes over for a chat, and I’m glad he can find some time for his squeeze during all this. She has brought him coffee, and seems pretty chipper, considering that her beau’s best friend was presumably murdered earlier that same morning.
Or wait, I’m sorry. That’s why she is so chipper. Indeed, who should curse another man’s name, when Chandler’s death should mean a joyous celebration for all? Hazzah!
Brown issues a half-assed marriage proposal, and Nora replies, “Careful, we’re not alone.” We cut to footage of a bunch of men working on the fuel barrel and making firebombs. “They’re too busy to notice us,” Brown answers dismissively. What a keen grasp of human psychology that fellow has. Yes, guys working their asses off are always going to be too busy to notice their nearby boss sitting on his ass, slurping coffee and flirting with his chippie, who just happens to be one of only two women (living women, anyway) on the island. You bet.
Blech. This leads into a romantic exchange, accompanied by syrupy string music, about what they mean to each other. Again, I see theaters full of kids, sticking their fingers down their throats and blowing Bronx cheers and hurling popcorn at the screen.
Hilariously, even with death staring them in the face, Brown can’t make a commitment. “We’ll have to talk about later after we make sure there is a later,” he dithers. At this juncture she wisely blurts out that she loves him. He gazes meaningfully into her eyes, and responds, “Give me some time, baby.” Yeah, at this point I’m really pushing for Nora to start exploring the Spaulding option again.
That night, Brown is conferring with Beecham and Spaulding in his office. The latter explains that he found several “paths of destruction” through the nesting area, leading him to believe that their must be more than oneâ€¦whatever. (Remember, at this point they still have no clue as to what is happening.) In fact, he posits that there might be up to a dozen of them.
Suddenly, they hear a scream from the adjacent mess hall. (Luckily, “emergency power” is sufficient to light the mess hall for “three hours a night.”) The men rush to the room, and one of the men lying unconscious on the floor. Beecham flicks one of the mobile bulbs off him, and they discover a bad burn on his hand. This isn’t much of a discovery, as the guy’s hand is actually smoking. (Actually, a poorly composed close up reveals that the smoke is issuing from under his shirt, presumably from a hose.)
Beecham warns that nobody must touch the crawlers directly, and a Seaman bends down to collect one from the floor. Spaulding, who quickly is proving smarter than pretty much everyone else in the movie put together—which, admittedly, isn’t much to boast about—hands the guy a ceramic plate while keeping one himself. Between the two of them, they get the crawler trapped between the dishes.
Noting that the wounded man can’t be moved (we never see what she does with the still active burn, other than wrapping a bandage over it—yeah, that’ll help), Nora requests blankets from the infirmary. Spaulding runs to fetch them, but when he opens the door, is shocked to find Miller’s bed empty.
In the most hilarious Off-Camera Invisibility Moment yet, a shocked Spaulding looks slightly to his right and notices Miller standing literally a foot away from him. Miller, who at this point must be adjudged a full-fledged ninja, slugs Spaulding and, that’s right, begins choking him. The commotion brings Brown in running, and because he’s the hero, he fells Miller with a single punch to the jaw. You know, that punch. The one they always use in movies.
Back to Admiral Knight’s office, where the officers are working late into the night, waiting for word from Gow. Simpson comes in with the latest report, noting that Doctor Beecham has labeled the probable killer to be “an animal like plant that secretes a deadly fluid.” Knight then orders a report on which Navy vessel is currently closest to Gow Island. Frankly, you’d think he’d have done that earlier. That’s true also of his threat to evacuate the island if “the situation becomes critical.” Good grief, it’s not critical now?
By the way, the report Simpson brought in contains more info than we’ve seen the characters come by yet. This suggests (as does the fact that these scenes off the island really have no direct connection with anything else in the movie, not to mention just how weirdly awkward they are) that these were among the sequences shot and added by producer Broder after principal photography wrapped. More on that later.
Back on Gow, Brown informs Beecham that a destroyer is on the way to the island and should arrive the day after tomorrow. (Presumably this could evacuate the base via helicopter if need be.) However, he worries that this might be too late. “We’ve found a dozen more of those monsters in the last two hours,” he sputters. And remember, he’s referring to the crawlers. They haven’t learned about the big ones yet. In any case, he vows to evac all women and civilian personnel. Which is about four people, but it’s a start, I guess.
There are bigger issues, though. The crawlers are multiplying so quickly that Beecham worries the whole island will be literally overrun with them in no time. The only thing they’ve found that stopped them is a line of fuel oil, which apparently is lethal to the little buggers.
That night, a sailor is patrolling the jungle (and in his service dress whites!), and very casually at that. I guess he’s on Red Shirt Patrol. I certainly can’t think of any other explanation for it. Sure enough, we soon hear the humming Monster Noise. Eventually he walks right into a killer tree’s fatal embrace, and to the shock (and, no doubt, awed delight) of those young popcorn-munchers back in 1966, frees himself at the cost of leaving an arm behind. The effects work here isn’t very convincing, but it is surprisingly grisly for the time period.
The man’s cries bring Spaulding, Brown and Hollister running. Suddenly, the victim bursts from the brush before them, his rent shoulder stump gruesomely exposed, and collapses dead at their feet. Spaulding admits he left the man alone on the beach earlier, and mutters that he’s to blame. “It’s not your fault,” Brown retorts. “It’s not anybody’s fault.” No it really isn’t, I guess, when these morons continue to insist on walking alone through the jungle at night. Seriously, what’s it going to take to get people to stop doing that? Good grief, people in Friday the 13th movies are smarter than this.
Well, OK, maybe not.
Back to the warehouse where everyone is now staying. There Nora is seen wearing tight blue slacks and a hideous sleeveless yellow pullover shirt. She might be thinking it will keep the crawlers away from her, and she might be right. She takes a patient’s temperature with (thankfully) an oral thermometer, and he grimaces:
Surly Patient, grumbling: “You ought to put flavor on those things.”
Nora: “What would you prefer? Chocolate?
Surly Patient: “No, Scotch!”
Nora leaves to grab a cup of coffee. Seeing a depressed-looking Brown, Spaulding and Beecham sitting nearby, she makes to join them. Beecham starts talking vaguely about legends and things that are “inevitable from a standpoint of biology,” and suggests heading back out to the nesting grounds the next day. Asked what he expects to find there, he answers, “You wouldn’t believe me!” Uhm, a better movie?
At this juncture, Diane runs over to report that Miller has gone AWOL again. At this point, Brown should probably just asked to be updated on when the guy is where he’s supposed to be. In an case, he calls for the guys to grab some guns and firebombs and they head out after him.
Miller is seen running through the jungle, with Brown and Beecham chasing after him on foot. They end up at the nesting site. Meanwhile, Spaulding has grabbed the weaponry and will follow in a Jeep. (A Jeep? Through the thick jungle? And how would he know where the others had headed? He was in the warehouse then they set off.) To his consternation, Nora insists on coming with.
At the decimated nesting site, Brown spots a mysterious-looking—well, all right, goofy looking—tree standing alone in a clearing so that it stands out nicely. This seems a radical departure from the plants’ usual tactic of hiding amongst other greenery, but, you know, we’re heading into the end of the movie of the movie here, so I guess they just decided to cut to the chase.
Realizing what it is, Brown surmises that this is what Beecham had begun to suspect. Beecham admits he began to suspect the existence of these things after dissecting one of the crawlers. I don’t know, it seems like maybe that would have warranted a mention. I’m not sure about why he thought “You wouldn’t believe me” about his theory, as he stated earlier. Let’s see: “Lt., I think there are larger versions of the crawlers out there, and that these are responsible for the mysterious deaths.” Whoa, slow down there, crazy man!
Perhaps to avoid this observation, Beecham steps forward to examine the creature, gets close enough to reach out and touch it (!!!!) for several seconds, only to beat a hasty retreat when the thing starts shakings its fronds. We also get a close-up of one of the main tentacles, which emphasizes again the peculiar parallel evolution that had them so resembling where arms on a man (or a man in a rubber tube) would be. This is a bit of a Hero’s Death Battle Exemptionâ„¢ moment, since no one else has gotten this close to a tree before without being immediately trapped in its grasp.
The tree rouses and starts slooowly shambling forward. However, the fact that the guys haven’t just heaved themselves into its feelers (although Beecham actually more or less did exactly that) leaves it at a bit of a disadvantage, attack-wiseâ€¦.
Hilariously, just as I typed that, Miller bursts from the surrounding brush andâ€¦heaves himself into the monster’s feelers. Once again, this stratagem proves ineffective, at least on Miller’s part. And so Brown and Beecham just stand there and watch in horror as Miller is liquefied and absorbed into the creature.
The thing shambles forward again*, and Brown finally goes for his gun, which proves predictably ineffective. Things look grim, especially since some for reason the two don’t show any inclination to just run away from the slowly creeping menace. However, at this moment Spaulding shows up on the papier-mÃ¢chÃ© rock ridge and heaves down a firebomb (damn, dude, the guys are like, what five yards away from the thing?), immolating the beastie.[*It’s easy to be cynical about these things today, but in an age where bad special effects were the norm, and in which more forgiving viewers were more apt to let their imaginations fill in some of the weak spots, I can imagine that more than one youngster got nightmares from the image of the smoking, acid-spewing tree monster murkily seen shambling around in these dark, foggy surroundings.]
Spaulding and Nora step down to join the others. (Humorously, when the burning tree monster topples, its frond-laden headpiece falls off like some fibrous toupee.) They pause to fill in the details on the monsters, lest we haven’t been following things. They can walk. They are, according to Beecham, “Not carnivorousâ€¦omnivorous, all devouring. Our bogie has no class at all. [Actually, ‘omnivorous’ is a class, unless he means that they are just lowbrow and tacky.] He’ll eat anything, even other trees.” Uhm, if you say so. They also remind us that they had planted five trees at the springs.
He further explains that in the Antarctic, the tree are normal during the daylight months, but seeks out food on their ambulatory roots during the nighttime months. The darkness of the cargo plane activated them, and take it from there.
Suddenly, Brown spots some other, even cheaper looking tree monsters. (I think they had one ‘good’ one, so you can imagine what the rest of them look like.) He tosses Spaulding some of the firebombs (which, remember, are designed to explode on contact!), and the two pitch them at the remaining tree monsters. Sadly, this proves a defective batch—damn union workers—and they merely bounce off the monsters’, er, rubbery trunks. Brown orders them to shoot at the dormant bombs (duh), and this sets them off. This visibly destroys three of the monsters, but I think it was meant to be all of the remaining four. I guess we’ll find out when somebody eventually releases a widescreen DVD of the movie.
Cut back to Knight’s office. An aircraft carrier is now near Gow (uh, wasn’t it a destroyer a bit agoâ€¦we’ll get to that), and the Admiral orders the imaginatively named “Operation Pick-Up” to commence. Simpson enters with yet another new radio report from Brown. He informs the Admiral that thousands of the crawlers are swarming the island, and growing to boot. I’m not sure what’s on the island that could support such a huge population of the things, especially since we never see any sign later that the regular trees in the jungle have been touched.
The report says that fire will be used to keep the monsters off the base, but of course they only have so much fuel. “Wait a minute!” Simpson exclaims. “There’s a combat ready air group on the Hudson Bay, isn’t there?” Due to the poor scripting, they don’t confirm this to be the case, but the only thing that makes sense is that the aircraft carrier is the U.S.S. Hudson Bay. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense that planes “on the Hudson Bay” would be “within striking range of the island” by dawn.
“There’s your answer, Admiral!” Simpson preens. The Admiral doesn’t get it, though. “Napalm!” Simpson explains. “Of-course,” Knight robotically responds, smacking his fist into his palm. “Firebombs!” Well, yeah. Yeesh, how did this guy become an Admiral?
Back on Gow, a patrol spots via binoculars an army of half-grown tree monsters on the move and call it in. Astoundingly, these are rankly cheaper-looking than their predecessors, and the story has it that they were basically constructed from spray-painted toilet paper rolls. That might just be a bit of fancy, but looking at the things, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Simpson, it’s been established, has flown in take command of the bombing run. He (with Beecham at this side) acknowledges the report. There follows a few minutes of awkwardly Frankensteined jet plane and napalm test bombing stock footage, intercut with images of some of the paper roll monsters, and what look to be some cactus, going up in flames. I have to say, the mismatch of stock footage here makes the island look a lot bigger than I would have thought previously.
The stock footage of the plane pilots doesn’t match the in-studio inserts, which is especially noticeable because the real footage features opaque, face-covering helmets, while the insert shots feature what look to be gold spray-painted football helmets.
Luckily, I guess the island full of crawlers have congregated into a few big batches, allowing for them to be easily eradicated by the stock footage napalm bursts. Then, after success is declared, we get a special moment. It’s not every bad movie that sends us off with a final, last second little Jabootu-ish touch, but this does. As the ‘bombers’ fly away from they island, they begin trailing streamers of different colored smoke from their wings. (!!) That’s right, it’s stock footage of a performance by the legendary U.S. Navy Blue Angel squad. (Different model of planes, too, but why be picky.)
The Director vs. the Producing Monsters
Rumors have been floating around for some time that Image is planning to eventually release a Navy vs. the Night Monsters DVD. Assuming they is true, hopefully they will allow director Michael Hoey to provide a commentary track for this. The man has a lot of complaints, and it could be both instructive about the perils of low-budget film making back in the ’60s, as well as a hilarious thing to listen to.
The invaluable B-movie historian Tom Weaver interviewed Hoey (son of actor Dennis Hoey, who played the dense copper Lestrade in the old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies) at some length about the subject. This appeared in issue #60 of Midnight Marquee, which I know I owned at one point.*[*The interview is also reprinted in one of Weaver’s numerous interview anthologies, I Was a Monster Movie Maker, from McFarland Press. Meanwhile, a Tom Weaver interview with a similarly complaining Anthony Eisley can be found in Fangoria #66.]
Sadly, anyone who’s visited my home knows it’s a rat’s nest of books and videos and so on. I rifled dozens of stashes and umpteen hundreds of magazines, and of course that was the one issue I couldn’t find. So I apologize for not having the full review at hand. Apologies especially to review sponsor Mr. Eric Balzar. I really should have hunted down a copy of the interview, and perhaps of the source novel as well. Let that be a warning to any prospective sponsor regarding my shoddy work habits.
Although I don’t have the full interview to draw from, a truncated version of it can be found at the superlative B-Monster website. From that, and other comments from Hoey found sprinkled around the web, we can glean the following.
Hoey’s complaints are wide-ranging, even extending to the film’s title. The director had been interested in adapting sci-fi novelist Murray Leinster’s The Monster from Earth’s End for several years. He had optioned the rights to the book for $4,000 and written a script. Several years later, a company popped up that was interested in producing it. Hoey wouldn’t have any control over the end product, and he made a paltry sum from all his work and his rights to the material, but he got what he most wanted, which was a chance to direct the movie.
However, he thought the novel’s title too exploitive, and wanted to call the film The Nightcrawlers. If he thought Leinster’s title was too garish, though, you can imagine how he felt about the title producer Jack Brody ultimately give it, The Navy vs. the Night Monsters. Hoey: “Jack Broder, who was the executive producer, retitled it The Navy vs. the Night Monsters, which is an abominable title. I remember the day when I was rehearsing and Broder walked in and announced what the new title was going to be. The entire cast was ready to walk out—they were furious that he would give it that title. Such an exploitative, dumb title.”
Although sympathetic to Mr. Hoey’s thoughts on the subject, I have to have the story about the “entire cast” being ready to “walk out” seems a trifle hyperbolic. Considering some of the other movies those particular actors appeared in, I doubt they were much troubled by the gaudy moniker of this particular ten-day cheapie.
Mr. Hoey continues to chaff under the changes Broder made to the film. However, while the director is no doubt correct that the end result would have been far less insipid had Broder been constrained, this was never going to be that great of a movie. Still, Hoey wanted it to be the best it could be, and it most definitely isn’t that.
One big problem, and really, Mr. Hoey has to cop to his share of blame for this, is that Broder stepped in after filming and added 12 minutes—the worst 12 minutes, barring Bobby Van’s contributions—to the film. That’s because the movie had to be a certain length to be sold to television. Hoey had been informed of this, but shrugged it off and delivered a 78 minute feature. “I didn’t really believe that it had to be 90 minutes [for him] to sell it to television, which is what he was maintaining,” Hoey told Weaver.
However, Broder was probably correct in this. Moreover, given his filmography, Broder doesn’t strike one as somebody who’d lay out additional funds, no matter how meager, to lengthen a film if he didn’t have to. In any case, as Hoey directed his movie, Broder had schlock director Arthur C. Pierce simultaneously shooting the even more laughable Women of the Prehistoric Planet, which even utilized some of the same sets.
In other words, chances are that Broder did indeed have a contract to deliver two 90 minute films. While Broder’s added scenes certainly detract from the film, the fact is that he needed a film of a certain length more than he needed a film of any particular quality.
The most obvious candidate for what Broder added (shot by Pierce after Hoey wrapped principal photography) is the stuff with Simpson and Knight, as these characters and scenes are patently discrete from the rest of the movie. Part and parcel with that, the entire jet bombing climax was added, which is why we see Simpson commanding it rather than Brown. Apparently actor Walter Sande, playing Beecham, was still around, as he is seen standing next to Simpson during the end. However, both of the film’s stars, Eisley (Brown) and Van Doren (Nora), are notably absent from the picture’s finale, save for a few briefly seen stock close-ups that were actually reproduced from earlier in the movie.
Hoey is predictably apoplectic about Broder’s revised climax. (His version, obviously, would have more or less ended with the immolation of the tree monsters at the nesting grounds, presumably followed by a coda explaining that the crawlers had subsequently died or were killed off in some manner.) “What Arthur [Pierce] did,” Hoey told Weaver, “was not just shoot added scenes, but change the whole premise. He added all those scenes of those navy officers in that base on the mainland. It completely ruined the premise of what I had in mind.”
Aside from the ludicrous bit with the jets at the end (Hoey: “The picture ends with a stock shot with the four Blue Angels, with multi-colored streamers going out the back. No combat plane in its life ever did anything like that! It was footage from an air show. The logic that went into it was almost non-existent!”), and the dreadful inserts of the woeful-looking crawlers armies seen therein, the director also blames Van Doren’s hideous blue dress on the reshoots, as well as the infamous ‘comedic’ weather balloon sequence.
Even during shooting, Hoey had his bones to pick with Broder. For example, as you can imagine, he was less than pleased with the hilarious-looking monster suits the producer provided. Noting that “Broder hired some guy who did them for $1.98,” Hoey described his and cinematographer Stanley Cortez’ panic over how to film the patently bogus monsters:
“They brought in one tree where a guy could get inside and wiggle his arms, and two other ‘dummy’ trees which just stood there. Stanley Cortez and I looked at each other and said, ‘How are we gonna shoot this?’, and I said, ‘How ’bout no lights?’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s probably the only way we can do it.’ So we literally tried to light it so that it was so dark that the only time you would see the trees was when the Molotov cocktails were exploding around them. Well, Broder didn’t like that and he had that scene ‘printed up’ [brightened] so that the trees are vividly lit. But that was never our intention of how we would show ’em.”
By the way, on TV broadcasts and on the VHS video release, at least, the scenes with the monsters (save Broder’s daytime crawler army inserts later on) remain quite dark. If Broder did lighten the film, he didn’t do it as much as Hoey indicates.
Hoey’s had arguments over the trees from the start. To his credit, perhaps, he wanted to make a Val Lewton-esque movie. “The premise that I functioned under was ‘less is more,’ and if you don’t show it, the audience’s imagination would create a much more vivid monster than we could ever create visually.”
As part of this, and to make his characters look less stupid, he also wanted the tree monsters to look more like, well, normal trees. However, aside from the fact that Broder obviously didn’t want to spend a lot of money on the monster suits, I’m assuming the producer wanted the trees to look more obviously monsterish.
Again, I really think you have to respect Broder’s take on this. From an artistic standpoint, it’s pretty dumb. From a commercial standpoint, though, the decision was dead on. When audiences of the time went to see a monster movie, they wanted to see, you know, monsters. They accepted cheap and crappy looking ones, but woe betide the filmmaker who refused to provide the viewers what they had paid to see.
I admire Hoey’s artistic ambitions, but the fact that the film has become a cult flick indicates that Broder might have had the right of things on this issue. Not that better crafted monster suits wouldn’t have been appreciated. However, especially given the lack of screentime they received, you can understand Broder not wanting to blow a huge wad on the things. And it’s not like they had a lot of money to spare. According to Hoey, the film was shot in 10 days for $178,000, a paltry sum even back in the day.
Hoey also commented on Mamie Van Doren’s, er, contributions to the film. (Roger Corman apparently had some background involvement with the film, and according to Hoey, foisted Van Doren on him.) When first seen, Nora is actually wearing a nurse’s outfit. However, that’s the last time we see her in it. According to Hoey:
“Mamie wanted us to come to the house ’cause she’d like to discuss wardrobe. Okay, fine, up we go — and Mamie has had all these costumes made. And they look like pinafores! She came out in this one outfit with these deep pockets on this pinafore and she said, “See, it’s very functional. I can keep all my thermometers in here.” I was biting my tongue. I was not angry, I was absolutely ready to burst into laughter! It got to a point where she said, “I will not wear the uniform.” So we eventually arrived at a compromise where I said, “We’ll make her a civilian.” I wasn’t a fool, so I put her in a tight sweater and a pair of slacks for about 50 percent of the time.”
If I had to guess, I’d say Ms. Van Doren didn’t like the shapeless nurse’s uniform because it deemphasized her boobs. Say what you will for her acting ability, she knew how to put, er, her best foot forward. In any case, Hoey otherwise only had praise for Van Doren’s efforts on the film, and is, if anything, rather too generous regarding her performance.
A Good Cast and Crew is Worth Repeatingâ€¦
(And so is this oneâ€¦)
Mamie Van Doren (Nora Hall) was, was earlier discussed, a particularly ’60s-ish sexpot. She’s not the worst actress I’ve ever seen, but she’s not that great, and frankly she’s not all that pretty. Basically, she rode to stardom on her boobs. She wasn’t Jayne Mansfield big, but she was pretty chesty, and this was enough to garner her roles in such films as High School Confidential, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, The Las Vegas Hillbillys, Sex Kittens Go to College and Girls Town.
Anthony Eisley (Lt. Charles Brown) first achieved a level of fame starring on TV’s Hawaiian Eye, opposite a young Robert Conrad. After that, he transitioned into a busy B-movie star. Given his filmography, Eisley should be a celebrated name amongst B-movie aficionados, as his list of starring credits is simply jaw-dropping: Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss. The Navy vs. the Night Monsters. Dracula vs. Frankenstein. The Mighty Gorga. The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals. The Doll Squad.
So why does he remain so obscure? If I had to guess, and having seen quite a few of him films, I’d say it’s because while he’s a technically competent actor—by which I mean, he delivers his lines and hits his marks—while exhibiting a nearly total lack of screen charisma. Few actors more fully deserve the terms “stiff” and “wooden.” Eisley makes John Agar look life Crispen Glover.
Bobby Van (Ens. Rutherford Chandler) started out as a supporting song and dance man and light comedian in the dying days of the MGM musical. The Navy vs. the Night Monsters was the first of two sci-fi flicks he made for producer Jack Broder, the second being the staggeringly awful Doomsday Machine. He also appeared in the 1973 musical remake of Lost Horizon, one of Hollywood’s most renowned and epic turkeys. In the ’70s he guest starred on such genre shows as David McCallum’s The Invisible Man, Wonder Woman and Battlestar Galactica. He is best remembered by some as the host of the incredibly cheap syndicated standup comic game show Make Me Laugh. Mr. Van died tragically of brain cancer in 1980 at the too young age of 52. He had been happily married to actress Elaine Joyce for 12 years at the time of his death.
Edward Faulkner (Bob Spaulding) is remembered primarily as a member of John Wayne’s repertory company in the late ’60s, such as Hellfighters, Rio Lobo and The Green Berets. Mr. Faulkner was also a busy character actor doing guest roles on episodic TV shows in the ’60s and ’70s.
Pamela Mason (Marie) was a British actress once married to actor James Mason between 1941 and 1964. Her first role was in the notorious German 1934 antisemitic film Jew SÃ¼ss. She also appeared with Ms. Van Dorn in Sex Kittens Go to College.
Biff Eliot (Cdmr. Simpson) earned a note in movie history for being the first actor to play homicidal private eye Mike Hammer in 1953’s I, The Jury. He remained a busy movie and TV actor until the mid-’80s. Genre credits include the gillman movie Destination Inner Earth and The Dark. He also appeared in the classic Star Trek episode “The Devil in the Dark.”
Director Michael Hoey worked in a variety of roles on TV and movies, including directing, writing, producing and editing. The Navy vs. the Night Monsters was his second, and final, theatrical film as a helmer.
Cinematographer Stanley Cortez remains most famous (luckily for him) for his work on such films as Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, The Night of the Hunter and The Three Faces of Eve. However, his career went all over the place (although he continued to work steadily) and he also lent his talents to such dubious fare as The Neanderthal Man, The Angry Red Planet, Dinosaurus!, The Madman of Mandoras (eventually reedited into They Saved Hitler’s Brain) and, most pathetically, Doomsday Machine.
Jack Broder produced such movies as Bride of the Gorilla, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla and Women of the Prehistoric Planet.
Director Arthur C. Pierce, who did the insert material after Hoey had wrapped principal photography, helmed such winners as Mutiny in Outer Space, The Human Duplicators, Women of the Prehistoric Planet and The Las Vegas Hillbillys. He also scripted The Cosmic Man, Cyborg 2087 and Destination Inner Space.
One-time beefcake star Jon Hall worked on the movie in various capacities behind the scenes. As an actor he appeared Cobra Woman, The Invisible Man’s Revenge and the schlock classic The Beach Girls and the Monster. He also directed the latter film.