There’s a moment in a movie when you question the size of the script. A talking film makes you imagine the cast had to blurt out the phone book in two hours. An comedy might be half that size as it breaks down pratfalls and slapstick routines. I’m going to guess Nightbeast probably was ten pages with the words “Alien and cops shoot each other” on every line. Writer-director Don Dohler turned a little part of Maryland into an intergalactic firefight that predated The Predator.
One night a spaceship zipping through the solar system gets thunked by a meteor. It crashes on Earth. Hunters see the busted up ship and quickly call the Sheriff (Donald Leifert) to see what it really is. They do the right thing. However when the Sheriff shows up, there’s no E.T. kindness bridging the galaxy moment. Instead the alien pulls out his laser gun and zaps away on the humans. This immediately leads a massive shoot out between humans and the alien. It’s not quite a fair fight since the alien can dissolve people. But the humans don’t quite give us as they find places to hide and pull the trigger in the Maryland countryside. Things get risky when the mayor refuses to declare a national emergency and call in the military since he’s having a pool party fundraiser that afternoon for the governor. Are the citizens of the area screwed for will the sheriff keep up the good fight against the lethal E.T.?
If you’re looking for a low budget alien encounter film that doesn’t bog you down with details and deep meanings, Nightbeast is perfection. The low budget film must have blown half the budget on the laser beam optical effects. Remember this is the early ’80s when you couldn’t make laser beam effects on your laptop for a digital computer. Don Dohler and his crew understood that viewers didn’t want to imagine the flashes of deadly light filling the screen and making people light up and vanish. The other half of the budget must have gone for the alien suit. It’s a menacing face that’s coming out of the night. The actors must have enjoyed fact that over half of them merely had to jump out of a pick up truck, aim their hunting rifle and act like you’ve been zapped. There’s not much heavy awkward “love” scene between the Sheriff and his female deputy that makes seems like it was commanded by the alien.
The big crew highlight of this film is that a 16 year old J.J. Abrahams scored the movie. The man who went on to direct Mission: Impossible, Star Trek and Star Wars movies provided the music for this intergalactic slugfest. As a composer, it’s probably best that he went into writing and directing. It’s a good effort for a teenager, but he wasn’t on the pathway to becoming the next John Carpenter.
Nightbeast is the perfect low budget treat to watch when you just want to think that there’s a reason we need to zap stray aliens. There’s not much script to get in the way of the four reels of action.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The new transfer brings out the laser blasts. This new scan was from the 16mm camera negative. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono. You’ll hear the blasts and bullets clearly. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentary with director Don Dohler and actor George Stover goes into how the film was originally abandoned when the original director quit. Dohler came back to it after completing another film.
Shooting the Nightbeast (19:05) catches up with Richard Geiwitz. He talks about what it was like to capture the mayhem.
Crashing the Set (14:30) has FX artist John Ellis discuss how he delivered the goods on a shoestring.
Trailer (1:57) hints that this isn’t a friendly alien adventure.
Visual FX Gallery lets you see what they did to make the movie magic happen on the screen.
Outtakes and Bloopers (6:40) proves not everything shot ended up in the film.
An Electric Performance (15:44) gives us time with actor Jamie Zemarel. He recounts the production and how the film has gained in cult status over the decades.
Nightbeast Returns (25:10) is a vintage piece that interviews the main cast and crew. The boy-ish J.J. Abrams is featured here.
DVD has film and bonus features.
Vinegar Syndrome presents Nightbeast. Directed by Don Dohler. Screenplay by: Don Dohler. Starring: Donald Leifert, Tom Griffiths, George Stover & Karin Kardian. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 81 minutes. Released: May 24, 2019.
Tags: Nightbeast, Troma, Vinegar Syndrome