Tue 29 Dec 2009
? MURRAY LEINSTER – The Monster from Earth’s End. Gold Medal s832, paperback original; 1st printing, January 1959.
? THE NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS. Realart Pictures, 1966. Mamie Van Doren, Anthony Eisley, Billy Gray, Bobby Van, Pamela Mason. Director: Michael A. Hoey.
Interestingly, a couple decades after “Who Goes There?” John W. Campbell’s story which was the basis for The Thing from Another World (reviewed here ), Murray Leinster visited that neck of the woods for The Monster from Earth’s End, which is a splendid book despite a cover that looks like a naked blonde in the clutches of a giant booger.
It’s set on a remote Antarctic island serving as a way station for people and things going to and from the South Pole, and Leinster starts off splendidly, with the creepy arrival on the island of a plane carrying a mysterious cargo; most of the crew has vanished, and the pilot kills himself on landing.
From here on the tension never lets up, as Leinster takes up the mood Campbell established in his tale and sustains it for nearly two hundred pages of solid chills. I particularly like the way he draws his characters as individuals — like those in the Howard Hawks film — and lets them carry as much of the story as the monsters do. And trust me, these are some very creepy monsters indeed.
The Monster from Earth’s End was filmed (rare for a paperback original) as The Navy vs. the Night Monsters in 1966 by Michael Hoey, son of the fondly-remembered Dennis Hoey and a busy movie-maker in his own right, though never a very distinguished one: he worked on a few Elvis Presley movies and a lot of Television and that’s about it. Navy may mark some notable point in his career, high or low, depending on your tolerance for schlock.
As such, it’s … well … let’s be charitable and say it’s not completely successful. There’s some lurid photography by Stanley Cortez (Night of the Hunter), some of the characters are a bit deeper than usual, and there was obviously an attempt to re-capture the ambiance of Hawk’s The Thing, with spots of banter and sexual repartee among the principals (Mamie Van Doren, Anthony Eisley, Bobby Van…)
Unfortunately, it all falls terribly flat in Hoey’s oven-mitts. Where The Thing benefited from Hawks’ overlapping dialogue and relaxed mise-en-scene, the characters in Navy/Monsters look like they were stood up in front of a camera handed their lines and that’s it. The comedy relief is very clearly labeled: “Comedy Relief” with posed pratfalls; love scenes are marked: “Love Scene” with syrupy underscoring, and the scary bits…
…well, there’s another problem. Where Leinster could toss off a line like “Half the plane now was filled with monstrous, moving, incredible horrors,” and let the reader’s imagination do his work, and where Hawks tingled our spines with brief glimpses of some big nasty-looking Thing, Hoey has to trot out a few silly-looking rubber monsters and let them flop their limp tentacles about rather aimlessly while the actors try to look scared.
It’s all a bit disappointing, and the resolution comes off as particularly lame, as if at some point they decided to just end the damn thing. Too bad they didn’t do it 90 minutes sooner.