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The true shining star of the late Don Dohler's storied career, 1982's Nightbeast shows us what happens when an alien spacecraft crashes on the outskirts of a small, Midwestern American town. The creature that piloted the craft escapes, but its vessel explodes, which draws the attention of some of the locals, most of whom are killed by the alien now skulking about the area.
Enter Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith), a top-notch lawman of the highest order with funny curly hair and a great moustache. He's a hit with the ladies. When he loses some men to the beast, who doesn't just strike during the day night but also during the day, he gathers up Deputy Lisa Kent (Karin Kardian) and local yokel Jamie Lambert (Jamie Zemarel) to do something about it. After a quick talk with Mayor Bert Wicker (Richard Dyszel), he wants to clear out the town so that the beast can be eliminated but NO! Bert's got a party planned for the Governor and he'll be damned if he's going to let that shindig be cancelled in the name of public safety. Jack and Lisa, however, decide that they're going to overrule the mayor and they go about kicking people out of town. A couple of doctors, Steven Price (Don Dohler regular George Stover) and Ruth Sherman (Anne Frith), stick around to help… because you're going to need doctors when going up against a night or day beast, and as the party for the governor commences, the beast kills yet again while Doctor Steve finds what may prove to be the monster's only weakness and their only chance for survival. Oh, and there's a biker guy named Drago (Don Leifert) in here too!
The most polished of Don Dohler's films (which isn't really saying much), Nightbeast is a blast. Yeah, fine, it might be a slightly bigger budgeted version of his earlier film The Alien Factor in many regards but that never once takes away from its wonky, backwoods charm. Dohler's work ethic is on display throughout the movie, it's a remarkably ambitious picture and one of those films where heart matters more than cash. The story is full of both logic gaps and genre clichés aplenty and the acting can sometimes leave more than a little to be desired but damn it these people are trying really hard to make something worthwhile here and through that sense of enviable passion and charisma, they succeed.
The effects here are better than you might expect. The creature design is pretty cool and the opening scene where the ship crashes is actually really well done and ripe with plenty of retro charm. Like most of Dohler's films, there are some nifty optical effects here that double for laser beams (LOTS of laser beams) and some of the gore is pretty solid too. Whenever the beast blasts someone, they ‘dissolve' into a weird array of blinky lights, so that's a plus, and sometimes they even explode for some reason, also a plus. We even get some completely gratuitous nudity here, the kind that brings the film to a bit of a halt and adds nothing to the story but, yet, somehow feels ‘right' in the context of all of this.
Dohler paces the film well. It moves quickly and gives fans a nice mix of carnage, action and rubber-suited monster mayhem.
Troma presents Nightbeast on Blu-ray framed at 1.33.1 and taking up 13.3GBs of space on a 25GB disc. This transfer looks to use the Vinegar Syndrome restoration from 2019, but that disc gave the feature 24GBS of space, which makes a big difference with the compression. There are noticeable artifacts present throughout much of Troma's presentation, though aside from that it looks pretty solid. Colors are handled well and detail is about as good as you can realistically expect from a super low budget 16mm presentation shot mostly in the dark with bad lighting. It's a shame Troma cheaped out and didn't give the film enough breathing room, but it is what it is.
The only audio option for this release is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track. There are no subtitles or alternate language options provided. By comparison, the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray release had a lossless 24-bit DTS-HD 1.0 Mono track on it and optional English subtitles. Again, we see Troma cutting corners on the presentation, which is unfortunate. That said, the audio here is okay. You'll have no trouble understanding the dialogue and both the score and effects sound alright. Not amazing, but for a lossy track, it's ok.
As to the extras, before the main menu loads we get an amusing two-minute intro with Lloyd Kaufman. From there, jump into an audio commentary featuring Don Dohler and George Stover that's definitely worth a listen. It's reasonably scene specific, with Dohler doing most of the talking. He discusses the cut out and miniature effects work that opens the film, where some of the cast members came from that are used in the film, how and why he shoots so many of his movies in the woods in his backyard, his own cameo in the film, how some of the other locations used in the film were secured for the shoot, the complexity of the laser battle scene and more. They also talk about recycling lab coats, how Stover plays the same character here that he did in The Alien Factor and how he was named after Vincent Price, how the movie borrows from The Alien Factor, who wore the beast suit in various scenes, how various cast and crew members wore many hats on the film, where some of the paintings seen in the movie came from… lots more. It's an interesting and detailed track.
Crashing The Set is an interview with visual FX artist John Ellis that runs just under fifteen-minutes. In this piece, Ellis talks about production manager Dave Ellis, no relation, called him up to ask him if he could do the spaceship crash sequence that opens the film. He talks about working on The Alien Factor, his thoughts on the script, what it was like working with Dohler and some of the quirks that this entailed, the design work that went into creating the ship, how the models and miniatures were made, dealing with some of the explosions that were required in the film, and more. There are some neat behind the scenes photos and pre-production illustrations featured in this piece along with the interview footage.
Shooting The Nightbeast is an interview with cinematographer Richard Geiwitz that runs nineteen-minutes. He speaks here about playing the deputy in the film and his duties as a cinematographer. He opens by speaking about how and why he got interested in cinematography as a kid when he was subjected to various blockbusters at a young age. He then talks about how he got started actually shooting feature films, how he met Dolher through his Cinemagic Magazine, what it was like on set, working on Fiend with Dolher, the differences between shooting indoor and outdoor sequences, how he tried to make certain shots more interesting, the process of learning through experience on some of these shoots and lots more.
Nightbeast Returns is a collection of archival interviews that runs twenty-five-minutes. Featured here as Dohler, Stover, actor Don Leifert, crewmember Craig Dohler, actress Kim Pfeiffer and composer J.J. Abrams. Lots of talk here about how everyone pitched in, what it was like on set, the different characters in the film, Dohler's directing, how the shoot went and other related topics. Interesting stuff, and it's cool that a few of the people featured here and included in the newly shot extras.
Also included on the disc is a selection of outtakes and bloopers, a visual FX gallery, an original theatrical trailer for the feature, the original Troma DVD intro, menus and chapter selection. Not that all of the extras included here (aside from the DVD intro and the Kaufman intro) originally appeared on the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray release.
Don Dohler fans already know that Nightbeast is one of his best film. Troma's Blu-ray release is mostly an inferior port of the Vinegar Syndrome disc from a couple of years ago. If you can't get that disc for whatever reason, this is an okay substitute, but it's a shame about the compression artifacts and the lossy audio.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.