Friday, May 30, 2014

The Navy vs. The Night Monsters

The Navy vs. The Night Monsters
Michael A. Hoey

A military expedition to the Antarctic brings back some strange trees to a South Pacific island . A scientist decides to plant them in order to keep them alive. Soon enough people are getting burned by acid or disappearing all together. The base has lost contact to the outside world as these strange trees begin to edge closer to the camp.

The Navy vs. The Night Monsters seems much more interested in lame comedy routines then delivering any horror. You don’t have to look further than Evil Dead (1980) and Evil Dead II (1987 ) to see that the idea that you have characters who are trapped in a place where the very trees want to kill them is a pretty potent idea (Lets the pretend The Happening (2008) doesn't exist).  The Navy vs. The Night Monsters makes a few pathetic attempts to utilize the idea, but it’s all hampered by some very sad looking tree monsters and far too much time spent with unpleasant human characters.

The film trots out just about every 1950’s B-movie cliché you can think of, which is a problem when it is 1966. It opens with that 50’s B-Movie mainstay, narration set over endless stock footage. We’re told all about the military’s projects in Antarctica, which includes collecting ancient trees. Soon after this we are introduced to a less popular but no less prevalent 50’S B-Movie trope, the endless (and cheap) cockpit scene. Here we’re introduced to some of our leads, in a scene so rote, that if you have even passing knowledge of any  genre film from the era, there is a good chance you could turn off the sound and accurately recite the dialogue. These elements might have worked a decade prior, but by 1966 they feel worn out. A more competent production might have been able to pull it off, but if you’re looking for competence, The Navy vs. The Night Monsters is not the film to choose.

Mamie Van Doren and Anthony Eisley play the leads, neither has much material to work with, but I feel they acquitted themselves as well as possible. The rest of the cast is reduced to interchangeable soldiers and scientists. The movie almost never misses a moment to shoehorn in a weak joke, mostly sexual innuendos that go nowhere. It’s not funny and deadens any tension or unease that might have been building.

Normally, I try not picking on questionable special effects, especially in a low budget film made nearly fifty years ago, but even by 60’s B-Movie standards the killer trees in this film are comically terrible. They stand barely taller than a person and shuffle along the ground so slowly that actors have to hurl themselves into the monster's awaiting branches and then act surprised when they become so much fertilizer. The tree attacks definitely provoke a response but probably not the one the creators intended. There is a surprise moment of gore late in the film but  its too brief a flash of liveliness to do much good. There is some miniature work near the climax that is supposed to represent a squad of jets attacking swarms of killer trees, but instead looks like someone blowing up toilet paper tubes for five minutes.

In retrospect, that sums this movie up perfectly, perhaps it is secretly brilliant after all.

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