NIGHTBEAST. Science fiction horror from Troma
Today, we land in such muck that unusually we’ll start with curiosities. The music for Nightbeast was composed by 17-year-old J.J. Abrams, marking the beginning of his journey into cinema. In Mandy, Nicolas Cage indulges himself in this film before hell descends upon him. That’s about it for the well-known names in and around Nightbeast and associations with the Dream Factory. The rest is anti-Hollywood. It’s Troma. And if any element of the film starts resembling a “normal” movie, it automatically gets baked into cheap, greasy cheese with bad taste. Pleasantly bad.
It starts like Predator. A spaceship crashes in rural areas (old-school special effects reminiscent of Sigma and Pi and Mr. Kleks in space). An alien armed with a deadly laser emerges from the disaster and begins slaughtering locals. The police, led by the fearless sheriff, step up to confront him.
Nightbeast, a 1982 production by Don Dohler, a contemporary of Blade Runner, has every right to confuse viewers who enjoy blockbusters. We’re watching a film as cheap as borscht, spectacularly unimpressive, and ostentatiously B-grade. Every element contradicts the presence of professionals on the set. Appearances! This is not a random flop like the infamous Samurai Cop. Even though I’ve seen both titles in a single screening at the New Horizons Festival, we’re dealing with two distinct film orders here. Samurai Cop was supposed to be good action cinema but ended up as tasty garbage. On the other hand, Nightbeast was planned as a cheap hybrid of sci-fi and horror, unapologetically joining the parade of Troma’s cinematic masquerades. While the legendary studio didn’t produce the film, it merely became its distributor, the movie perfectly resonates with the rest of its repertoire.
The plot is weak here. It boils down to running through the forest—either the monster is chasing someone, or it’s being shot at from behind the trees. The monster looks like a mix of a monkey and a thickened hot dog. It has claws and sharp teeth, eagerly tearing off the hands and rubber heads of the locals dressed in flannel. More often, it treats people with its laser. The cosmic weapon “pings” with cheap streaks of colors. Targets break down into strange structures, sometimes resembling crystals, and then completely dematerialize. The effects resemble cartoons or all those cheap monster movies from the ’50s (like Revenge of the Creature), which you probably need to know by heart to get a job at Troma.
Not much happens here, neither in quantity nor in an original way; Nightbeast is not particularly exciting in any special way. It’s more of a slow and low film. The first, because it’s slightly anemic (or delayed). The second, because the horror is composed of cardboard-latex-ketchup props. The actors are more present than they act; they certainly run a lot and use firearms. The sheriff’s actor proves that you can have negative charisma, along with gray hair, a belly, and a mustache, and still get in front of the camera. His romance with a colleague will provide us with a micro-promille of excitement when they stand naked opposite each other to express their long-suppressed passion. The scene is, of course, as exciting as watching pumice scrubbing pumice, but seriously, it has a certain natural charm. Nightbeast briefly introduces a subplot with scientists who somehow reside here in the countryside and also decide to resist cosmic terror—with the help of a clever trap set in the laboratory.
Close to twenty corpses during the screening is no small feat, and it can’t be denied that we mainly anticipate the “deaths.” This solid body count will help us endure the end of the screening relatively painlessly, making frequent breaks in the boring dialogues that burn the ears. Basically, all these revelries with pink laser shots, jumping over fences, and the nocturnal atmosphere (because the beast is nocturnal) make up a pleasantly “different” experience. Though, to be clear, laughter will smolder rather than wildly explode within us. Perhaps it’s also worth trying the method already tested by New Horizons and combining Nightbeast with a few other VHS-era “cheapies,” starting with this title and pushing the absurdity level with each subsequent one.
I’ve emphasized many times before that I prefer unintentional kitsch, but Nightbeast elicits sympathy. It’s a strong, solid Troma, happily confined within a not-too-long screening time. Not as captivating as The Toxic Avenger nor as lethally boring as Surf Nazis Must Die! Just a nourishing snack for those who enjoy dry humor dipped in mud.