Michael Hoey was born in London, England, the son of character actor Dennis Hoey, best-known to film fans as Inspector Lestrade of the Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes films. "I grew up in Beverly Hills and pretty much just decided I wanted to be in the business," he recalls. "I started out in editing. Around 1959, I read a book called The Monster from Earth's End by Murray Leinster, which was the source for the film that became Navy vs. the Night Monsters. I was very taken with it and thought, 'Gee, this could be an exciting film.' Hoey noted the similarities between the story and Howard Hawks' classic The Thing From Another World, a film he greatly admired. "I managed to get an option on the book and I sat down and wrote a screenplay [The Nightcrawlers] and tried to peddle it around." Despite the post-production tampering of producer Jack Broder, this story of a beleaguered Navy crew and a handful of civilians, trapped on an island with a flock of acid-spewing, man-eating plants, has gone on to become a cult favorite.

MICHAEL HOEY: [Producer] George Edwards called me and said, "I've read your script and I think there's some interest in making it as a film. Would you be interested in selling it to us? We don't have a lot of money," and I said, "Well, what do you have?" And he said, "Let me just ask you one thing: Would you be interested in directing it?" And I said, "You just said the magic words!" I mean, if that was the case, they could get the film for virtually nothing! Which is about what they got it for. The whole "package" for the screenplay and my services as a director I think came to $10,000. Four thousand went to Murray Leinster, $2,000 went to the Directors Guild, another thousand went to my agent. I didn't exactly get fat on it! But it was my first picture, and I was excited about that. Jack Broder, who was the executive producer, retitled it The Navy vs. the Night Monsters, which is an abominable title. I remember the day when I was rehearsing and Jack Broder walked in and announced what the new title was going to be. The entire cast was ready to walk out. They were furious that he would give it that title.

Jack had enough money that he decided he wanted to make two films back-to-back. He had this script in mind and he had another project called Women of the Prehistoric Planet. They actually planned to shoot them literally with the same crews, back-to-back. George Edwards was hired as the "line producer" for the two films, but he really was much more than a line producer, he was really a creative producer. George was a terrific guy. He was a good producer who tried to keep things away from you while you were on the set; keep the picture moving forward smoothly; keep oil on the waters. And at the same time make creative decisions that made sense, which was the antithesis of what Jack Broder did.

Q: Why did Broder make so many changes and shoot so many extra scenes after you "wrapped"?

MICHAEL: Broder had said to me, "I need a 90-minute picture" and I delivered him a 78-minute film. I didn't really believe that it had to be 90 minutes [for him] to sell it to television, which is what he was maintaining. So, when I left the picture, he had Arthur Pierce, the director of Women of the Prehistoric Planet, come in and shoot added scenes. Well, what Arthur did was not just shoot added scenes, but change the whole premise. He added all those scenes of those navy officers in that base on the mainland. It completely ruined the premise of what I had in mind.

Q: Any memories of the cast?

MICHAEL: It was a terrific cast. After Father Knows Best, Billy Gray had sort of been having a tough time; he straightened his act out but was still having trouble getting back. So they made an offer and he accepted. Ed Faulkner I asked for; I thought he'd be very good playing the heavy. He was a big John Wayne co-star -- he did The Green Berets and a whole bunch of other films. There are also two "Memphis Mafia" guys in it, [Elvis Presley hangers-on] Sonny West and Red West. Sonny is the sailor who's standing guard on the plane when he's killed, and Red and Sonny both were a couple of the firemen who put on fire suits and go out to meet the plane when it crash-lands. Pamela Mason had a talk show in town at that point, and of course was James Mason's ex-wife. Somebody said, "We'll give her the part, and maybe she'll do a little publicity for the picture." It wasn't a big role, so I had no real strong feelings about it. She obviously felt that it was beneath her, but she was a pro and she did what I asked her to.

Tony Eisley [Lt. Charlie Brown] and I knew one another at Warner Brothers while I was producing there, and he was doing Hawaiian Eye. His name came up in a casting session. He was not our first choice, I was hoping to get a bigger name, but when it became evident that we couldn't and his name came up, I said I thought he would be an excellent choice. I knew he could do a good job, and I thought he did an excellent job.

Q: What about Mamie Van Doren?

MICHAEL: Roger Corman was a sort of a "secret partner" in this, and he had a commitment with Mamie, so he sold off the commitment to Jack Broader and I "inherited" Mamie. There was a wonderful incident: Mamie was supposed to be a navy nurse. When it came time to do the costuming, the wardrobe person, George Edwards and I got together and we looked at pictures of navy nurse uniforms and said, "That's fine." Then I got a phone call from George saying Mamie wanted us to come to the house 'cause she'd like to discuss wardrobe. Okay, fine, up we go -- and Mamie has had all these costumes made. And they look like pinafores! She came out in this one outfit with these deep pockets on this pinafore and she said, "See, it's very functional. I can keep all my thermometers in here." I was biting my tongue. I was not angry, I was absolutely ready to burst into laughter! It got to a point where she said, "I will not wear the uniform." So we eventually arrived at a compromise where I said, "We'll make her a civilian." I wasn't a fool, so I put her in a tight sweater and a pair of slacks for about 50 percent of the time. Actually, Mamie tried very hard. We worked hard on a couple of the scenes, to try to get a performance out of her, and she was terrific. She certainly did everything that I asked her to do.

Q: Were you satisfied with the trees?

MICHAEL: No. Jack Broder wouldn't hire the guy that we originally had meetings with, a guy who could have done a marvelous job. In 1965, we were certainly far more limited with our technology than we are today, but there were people around who were capable of doing decent jobs. I wanted the [monster] trees to look like the other trees, so that there wouldn't be the feeling that they stood out like sore thumbs, which is what those stupid things did. Broder hired some guy who did them for $1.98. When they showed up on the set the first day, I refused to film them, I was so upset. A lot of what happened at the back end of the movie, like the little stumps walking around in the sand, was stuff that Jon Hall shot. I had nothing to do with it.

Q: THE Jon Hall?

MICHAEL: Yes, the famous Jon Hall from The Hurricane [1937]. In later years, he had a production company, and apparently he made a deal with Broder and he went out and shot more stuff. The only tree that I worked with was the one that had the guy in it manipulating the limbs, which is the one that has the fight with the pilot. We shot it in pretty low-key light, to try to hide as much of it as we possibly could.

Q: There's a good segue into Stanley Cortez, whose photography and lighting of the picture were very good.

MICHAEL: Oh, he was marvelous. I thought, "Boy, how am I gonna relate with the guy who did The Magnificent Ambersons?" He never was anything but terrific.

Q: Between the time that you bought the rights to the story and the time you made the movie, a movie called The Day of the Triffids came out. What did you think of it?

MICHAEL: Well, that was a much more expensive movie than mine. You have to remember that Night Monsters in 1965, was a 10-day shooting schedule, with a union crew, and it came in for $178,000.

Q: You can definitely see the makings of a good science-fiction picture in the footage you shot.

MICHAEL: It broke my heart when I looked at it again not too long ago and I saw all that crap [that Broder and Arthur Pierce added] -- that ridiculous blowing-up-the-balloons scene at the beginning and all the stuff on the plane [at the beginning] and all the stuff [with the trees] at the end. Not only were they bad, but they took away from the moments that I had tried to create. What's amazing to me is that suddenly it's become sort of a cult film.

Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers and many others available from McFarland & Co.

"See men swallowed in treacherous planet pools of acid!"
Women of the Prehistoric Planet

"Beauty after beauty, dragged to a sunken crypt!"
The Embalmer

"So weird, so shocking, do you dare see it?!"
Nightmare Castle

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