Transmissions to Earth: NIGHTBEAST (1982)
After reviewing FIEND (1980) last time, I was curious about the other movies by Baltimore filmmaker Don Dohler. This led me to check out his 1982 flick, NIGHTBEAST.
Made on the same kind of shoestring budget as FIEND, NIGHTBEAST is the story of an alien monster come down to earth and terrorizing a small town. Right off the bat, you know what you’re in for. A small spaceship (about the size of a car) hurtles past the planets in our galaxy and crash lands on Earth. Nearby, a group of hunters have set up camp and are asleep, except for one guy who’s awake. When the crash occurs, causing a racket, the guy says “What the hell?” and then “Wake up you guys!” The other two guys are still asleep. Even when the ship’s occupant climbs out and destroys the craft – with lots of explosions and lights – those two hunters are still asleep! They only wake up when their friend shakes them awake to tell them he’s going to go investigate.
Of course, this is stupid move. The monster (who we see in shadows early on) is not only big with lots of teeth, it also has a ray gun which turns things glowing red (the same effect used in FIEND when the monster stole his victims’ life force – obviously this is an effect Dohler uses regularly), before they disintegrate. The two sleepy hunters grab their guns and go following their buddy, who gets vaporized in front of their eyes, leaving behind an outline of ashes on the ground! They don’t last much longer.
Local Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith) also does not hear the crash and explosions, but a citizen comes to tell him about it. (People in this town sure aren’t very attentive). Sheriff Jack calls his Deputy Lisa Kent (Karin Kardian, with a Farah Fawcett hairdo), to come to meet him at the scene. As soon as the police get to the crash site, the monster immediately starts firing its ray gun at them. It’s funny how the laser beam only disintegrates some things and not others. It vaporizes people and automobiles, but doesn’t do anything to a stone wall the sheriff uses for cover. No one stands a chance against this thing, since it is impervious to bullets! But an old sharp-shooter named Perkins is called in to shoot the ray gun out of the monster’s hand. It shatters to the ground and the alien flees the scene, only to appear when people least expect it, to murder and maim.
The NIGHTBEAST itself is another one of those rubber-suited monsters. It looks pretty good some of the time, but the fact that its rubber means it never changes expression and always comes at you with a mouthful of giant teeth. It is never explained where it came from or why it’s here. It certainly doesn’t seem to be shipwrecked, since it destroyed its own spaceship. And it immediately starts killing people. There just doesn’t seem to be any logical motivation at all for why this thing goes on a killing spree. The creature is just plain bonkers!
The Sheriff decides to evacuate the town. He goes to see Mayor Bert Wicker (Richard Dyszel), who has planned a pool party that day for the Governor, who is coming for a visit. The Sheriff tells him that he has to cancel the party and warn the Governor to stay away, but the Mayor just ignores him. The Sheriff also asks the Mayor to call in outside help for containing the monster (I have no idea why he doesn’t just call for reinforcements himself), but the Mayor conveniently “forgets.” It doesn’t help that the May0r constantly has a drink in his hands. His girlfriend, Mary Jane (Eleanor Herman) is always asking if people want something to drink, and the two of them act drunk for most of the movie. When they’re not arguing about who should get the other one a drink, he’s shouting at her, “Don’t call be Bertie!”
Mary Jane is actually my favorite character in the movie – she’s a complete hoot – and I love every scene she’s in. Actress Eleanor Herman seems like a shoe-in for a character from one of John Waters’ early films – but strangely she only acted in two movies, this one and Dohler’s 1979 film, THE ALIEN FACTOR. I really wish she had pursued more of an acting career because she’s so entertaining here!
Helping the Sheriff is Jamie Lambert (Jamie Zemarel), a civilian who must secretly want to be a cop. He assists the Sheriff and his deputy in evacuating the town. Jamie is also seeing Suzie (Monica Neff) on the side – a girl who just happens to be the girlfriend of local biker/troublemaker “Drago” (Don Leifert, who played the sinister Mr.Longfellow in FIEND). Drago is always taunting the police and causing problems. When he finds out about his girlfriend and Jamie, he slaps her around. When he leaves, the Sheriff and Jamie show up, so Jamie can warn Suzie to pack up and leave town. For some reason, she has to take off all her clothes before she can pack her suitcase, and she has some very obvious tan lines! Drago watches the Sheriff’s car pulls away and goes back into the house. He’s so made that Suzie is seeing Jamie that he strangles her to death. (Later on, Jamie confronts Drago for a pretty laughable fist fight scene.)
Meanwhile, the pool party goes according to plan, even though the Sheriff demanded that the Mayor and Mary Jane evacuate their home. Jamie fires off a gun and tells everyone that there’s a poison gas leak from a nearby mine – which is when all the bikini girls and everyone else in the pool finally gets up and runs away.
The monster shows up at the house of the local doctor (and coroner) Dr. Ruth Sherman (Anne Frith) and her assistant (partner?) Steven Price (George Stover, a regular in Dohler’s – and early John Waters – movies, who also played Dennis Frye in FIEND). Trapped in the basement by the vicious beast, Steven pours some water on the floor and drops a live electric wire on it. The monster howls and high-tails it out of there. So they finally find out this seemingly indestructible creature’s weakness – electricity! – but it gets away before they can kill it.
The acting is mostly bad, but fun to watch. There’s one scene where the Sheriff and Deputy Lisa finally realize that they have the hots for each other (this is after dealing with an attack by the monster, when they should actually be on their guard) and what follows is one of the most awkward love scenes ever put on film. The two of them slowly take their clothes off and then roll around in bed. Their performance is stiff and unconvincing, but at least this movie has some nudity!
Steven goes over to the Mayor’s house and finds that he and Mary Jane are still there! This leads to some very funny dialogue:
Mary Jane: Oh hi, Steven. Hey Bertie, Steven came to have a little drink with us.
Steven: Oh my God, he’s passed out! Dammit, Mary Jane, why aren’t you two out of town? Don’t you realize how dangerous it is here? Everyone else is gone.
Mary Jane: But you’re still here, Steven. And so is Bertie. And so am I. We can have a little party, just the three of us!
Then Steven goes across the room to a phone to call the Sheriff. When he’s done with the call, he walks back to the couch:
Mary Jane: There you are! I wondered where you went to. I’m so glad you’re back!
This is the kind of movie where people go down to the basement, look around, and don’t see anything, and suddenly the monster roars and appears to come out of nowhere. Just because we don’t have any peripheral vision, relying on the movie camera to be our eyes, doesn’t mean the characters have the same handicap, but they sure act like they do!
When the good guys figure out that a giant electric coil is the best way to get rid of the monster, they go to the local power station. Even though this is an emergency and they need the coil right away, the Sheriff finds the door locked and says “let me work on this lock,” instead of simply breaking the door down. While he’s taking forever to do this, Deputy Lisa, who always seems to be the one put on watch and left most vulnerable, is attacked by the biker Drago for no logical reason. He wrestles her to the ground and is trying to strangle her when Jamie shoots him through the back.
When the monster is finally shocked to death with electricity, poor Jamie gives up his life to save the town (and presumably the world). Considering that there never seems to be more than 10 people at a time in any given scene (and the biggest crowd is at the pool party), this sure must have been a tiny town that was in danger.
NIGHTBEAST is pretty awful, certainly not as good as FIEND, which at least had some good performances, especially from the terrific Don Leifert as Mr. Longfellow. The monster in NIGHTBEAST doesn’t have half as much personality as the FIEND, or any logical motive for what it does. By the way, Leifert is a highlight here as well, as the villainous Drago, but this time his character is much more of a supporting player.
NIGHTBEAST is bound to give you some good laughs, but don’t expect it to make any sense! Then again, that’s half the fun.
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares