WTFW: The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (1966)

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

WTFW: The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (1966)

A rather odd, meandering novel in the "killer plants" genre by a guy named Murray Leinster, a.k.a. William Jenkins which was the basis for an even more meandering 1966 Michael Hoey film with the silly title of The Navy vs. the Night Monsters.

The Monster from Earth's End concerns a small US Navy radar outpost on Gow Island, an island off the coast of South America.  In Antarctica, some scientists have discovered specimens of prehistoric trees in the hot lakes region, and are flying them back to Washington, D.C., intending to stop off at Gow en route to refuel.

Commanding officer Drake (no first name or rank is ever given; he is simply "Drake") is fairly uninterested in this, as he has his sights set on secretary Nora, who he is having an affair with.  Since fraternizing is frowned upon in the Navy, the two have to keep their relationship secret, especially from supply officer Spaulding who it is suggested also has a bit of a thing for Nora.  Love triangle ahoy!  Spaulding is also slowly going stir crazy from too long of a stay on Gow, and Drake is intent on getting the poor bastard off of the island on the incoming plane.

Then something goes wrong, as they are wont to do in novels of this sort.  The cargo plane begins flying erratically. The pilots won't answer Gow's hails, and dump their cargo before making an impromptu landing without lowering their gear, thoroughly crippling the plane and blocking the runway.  Rescue crews rush out to the airfield but of the ten people aboard, only one of the pilots, Brown, is found alive and he promptly shoots himself with his service revolver.  Drake and company can find no sign of the other pilot, crew members and the scientist passengers, and all but one of the tree specimens got dumped.

Everything from the plane, including Brown's corpse, is moved to a warehouse for safekeeping whilst the engineering crews begin attempting to move the plane off the runway.  Drake's report to Washington is scoffed at; none of the top brass wants to believe that nine people can simply disappear off of a plane midflight (amazingly, that they fell out when the cargo got dumped never seems to occur to these idiots).  All of Gow's personnel are instructed to write their own individual accounts of what they witnessed.  Unsure what this is supposed to accomplish.  Half of the reports will be some variation of "the plane flew wildly and then crash landed."

Drake and Nora's tepid romance continues uninterrupted.  Spaulding becomes increasingly unhinged, suggesting wild theories like aliens or even giant birds as the culprits.  Drake mostly just humors him.  The tree specimens are discovered to be still alive.  Head biologist Beechum has them planted near the island's hot springs to keep them viable until their trip to Washington after the runway is cleared.  That night, though, mysterious things begin happening.  First the dead body of Brown disappears!  And something slaughters some dogs and destroys the nesting site of Gow's native seagull population!

Drake, proving to be pretty quick on the uptake, begins suspecting something nasty got brought back from the Antarctic aboard the plane, which killed the people on the plane and is now loose on the island.  But can he and his men along with Beechum solve the mystery before living human begins begin disappearing?  And can Drake's romance with Nora get any blander?  You bet it can!

Michael A. Hoey read the original novel in 1959 and thought it could make a good science fiction film along the lines of The Thing From Another World (1951).  He optioned it and wrote a screenplay, originally called The Nightcrawlers.  Producer George Edwards read it and agreed to finance the film; because of the limited amount of money available, Hoey was hired to direct.  He says he was paid $10,000 for the script and his services, $4,000 of which went to Murray Leinster, $2,000 to the Directors Guild and another thousand to his agent.

The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (also known as Monsters of the Night and The Night Crawlers) is a 1966 American science fiction film, produced by Jack Broder (and Roger Corman, uncredited), written and directed by Michael A. Hoey, and distributed by Realart Pictures Inc.

The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (1966)

  • Genre: Sci-Fi – Horror
  • Directed:
    • Michael A. Hoey 
    • Jon Hall 
    • Arthur C. Pierce
  • Produced:
    • Jack Broder 
    • Madelynn Broder 
    • George Edwards 
    • Roger Corman
  • Written:
    • Murray Leinster (novel "The Monster from Earth's End") 
    • Michael A. Hoey 
    • Arthur C. Pierce
  • Starring: Mamie Van Doren, Anthony Eisley, Billy Gray, Bobby Van, Pamela Mason, Walter Sande, Edward Faulkner, Phillip Terry, David Brandon, Kaye Elhardt, Taggart Casey, Russ Bender, Mike Sargent
  • Music: Gordon Zahler
  • Cinematography: Stanley Cortez
  • Editing: George White
  • Studio: Standard Club of California Productions Inc.
  • Distributed:
    • Realart Pictures Inc.  
    • Peerless Films  
    • Englewood Entertainment  
    • Entertainment Programs Inc.  
    • Cheezy Flicks Entertainment  
    • MediaOutlet.com  
    • Paragon Video Productions
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 19 May 1966
  • Running Time: 87 minutes
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English

A group of scientists with Operation Deep Freeze1 discover frozen prehistoric trees and other specimens in the Antarctic dating back to the first Ice Age; the scientists collect samples for further study and load them aboard a C-47 transport plane.

The dull, workaday life at the Navy weather station base on Gow Island in the South Pacific is interrupted when that same transport plane, on a routine approach for re-fueling, experiences some kind of unusual trouble and crash-lands on the island's single airstrip, blocking its further use.  The seven scientists and crew who were aboard the cargo plane when it left the Antarctic are now missing; the only one found aboard is the plane's pilot, who is traumatized and in a state of shock, unable to speak.

Unloading the prehistoric cargo from the crashed plane, local scientist Dr. Arthur Beecham recommends planting the trees to ensure their survival in the island's tropical conditions.  Awhile later, Gow Island's bird population becomes disturbed by something unknown; at the same time, the weather station's scientists try to figure out a connection between this event and a corrosive residue that starts turning up at various island locations.

It slowly becomes clear that the planted prehistoric trees have quickly grown into acid-secreting, carnivorous monsters that move about Gow Island at will during the night.  They reproduce fast and eventually cut off the island with their growing numbers and nocturnal assaults; the Navy personnel's only available weapons prove largely ineffective against the monsters.  Lt. Charles Brown, in temporary command, has to hold together his dwindling Navy personnel and the coterie of scientists and civilians and figure out a way to stop this prehistoric onslaught.

Eventually, the weather station is able to radio the mainland for help.  In response the Navy sends in multiple aircraft strikes from their nearest base; the naval fighter jets drop both napalm and fire air-to-ground missiles at the slow-moving night monsters, blowing then up or setting them ablaze.  As a result, the prehistoric threat to Gow Island's surviving personnel is quickly eliminated.

The executive producer was Jack Broder, with Roger Corman providing some uncredited assistance.  Hoey says that during rehearsal Broder announced the film's new title would be The Navy vs. The Night Monsters.  "The entire cast was ready to walk out," says Hoey.  "They were furious that he would give it that title."

Broder wanted to make the movie back to back with another film, Women of the Prehistoric Planet, using the same crews and George Edwards as line producer on both.  Hoey thought highly of Edwards, claiming "he was really a creative producer... a good producer who tried to keep things away from you while you were on the set; keep the picture moving forward smoothly; keep oil on the waters.  And at the same time make creative decisions that made sense, which was the antithesis of what Jack Broder did."  Shooting took just ten days.

Broder had requested a 90 minute film so he could sell it to television and Hoey's original cut went for 78 minutes. When Hoey left the film, Broder hired Arthur Pierce, director of Women of the Prehistoric Planet to shoot additional scenes.  Hoey later claimed these scenes would "change the whole premise" of the film.  "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."

Behold! Tree Monster!

 

Notes:

1.  Operation Deep Freeze (OpDFrz or ODF) is the codename for a series of United States missions to Antarctica, beginning with "Operation Deep Freeze I" in 1955–56, followed by "Operation Deep Freeze II", "Operation Deep Freeze III", and so on.  Given the continuing and constant US presence in Antarctica since that date, "Operation Deep Freeze" has come to be used as a general term for US operations in that continent, and in particular for the regular missions to resupply US Antarctic bases, coordinated by the United States military.

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