I jumped for joy (in my mind, not literally) when I saw Warner Archives was bluing this gem! I’ve got a really good memory of when I tried to stay up and watch it back when I was in grade school. It was Junior High (7th or 8th grade), Friday night, and I had just come home from one of the dances Junior High typically threw, and I was still high as a kite (romantically speaking) from spending the night dancing real sloooow with my current crush, Lisa. Lisa died three months ago from cancer. You can read all about that in my ‘Remembering Lisa Lynn Lafountain’ article I have up on my For-The-Hell-Of-It Reviews site, if you so choose. Back then up here in Massachusetts we had Theater Bizarre (1982-1989) that came on every Friday night around 11:30 that aired horror and science fiction movies. God, how I miss that show. But some nights I just couldn’t stay awake. I would start out strong, turning out the lights in the living room, stretching out on the couch, but once in a while about ten minutes or so into the movie I would go out like a light. This happened with The Giant Behemoth (1959) too. To this day I still haven’t seen that one either. I was all psyched for From Hell It Came, looking at it as a nice capper to the night’s events, and remembering so many times of coming across it in the monster movie books I read a lot, but it just wasn’t fated to be this night. I fell right the hell asleep. I woke briefly to a scene where the tree creature was shambling down this path, carrying a woman down to the shore, but I fell back asleep and didn’t wake again until the movie was over. That scene, though, of shambling Tabanga stayed with me and built itself up to almost mythic proportions over my lifetime, and soon I will finally set eyes on that scene and the entire movie for the first time in my life. This paragraph you just read has been written in advance. I’m about two weeks out from getting the review copy. Sometimes I do this with certain movies, mainly the hardcore “memory movies,” from childhood, as I call them.
Coincidentally, I recently reviewed Attack Of The Crab Monsters (1957), and having finally seen this flick now, I can see a lot of similarities. The two obvious ones are they both came out the same year and from the same studio, Allied Artists. Both are set on an island in the Pacific that was subjected to radioactive fallout from an Atom bomb test; researchers fluent in radiation and its effects are sent; the Navy is peripherally involved in shuttling the scientists there and/or protecting them while on the island; and monster(s) are involved.
The scientists: Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andrews), the fellow scientist he’s got the hots for, Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver), and the other fellow scientist he does not have the hots for, Professor Clark (John McNamara). Along for the ride is Naval officer, Eddie (Mark Sheeler), who acts more like security, and a British chick who lives on the island, Mae Kilgore (Linda Watkins). The scientists came to study fallout, but discovered a more pressing matter, the natives are infected with the plague, but the occasional radiation burn does come their way. Arnold is sick of island life and would love to go home. Mason shows up later when they need another scientist, but Arnold didn’t know it was she the government was sending. He’s in love with her, her not so much with him.
The movie opens with the murder of a Prince, who’s staked to the ground and has a knife driven through his chest. This was not a righteous murder. He was set up by the witch doctor who blamed him for conspiring with the white man. Even his own wife betrayed him. Before he dies he vows he’ll come back for revenge. After he’s dead they bury him vertically in this makeshift log coffin.
The natives remain restless as they want the scientists off the island, but first they’re going to have to contend with that Prince they killed, as a strange root system starts growing where they buried him, and it grows quick too. What’s happening with this guy isn’t entirely unprecedented either as Arnold, Mason and the others learn from a couple of sympathetic natives. A long time ago a tribal leader was murdered and he came back from the dead as a tree monster they called, “Tabanga.” He killed those who wronged him and was only stopped when drowned in the quicksand at the edge of the forest.
On one level, yes, From Hell It Came, is a goofy movie, not so much in the plot or the acting, but mostly in the facial design of Tabanga which look more suited for a Looney Tunes cartoon, and it’s odd that none of the scientists point out the facial features on it as it continues to grow. From Hell It Came is more about the supernatural than science fiction, the radioactive fallout isn’t responsible for its appearance at all. And obviously we know that because of its appearance a generation ago, or however long it was when the island had to deal with it the first time. The higher-ups tell their research team they want them to dig it up and ship it back, so the team digs up the still “sleeping” tree creature and brings it back to their lab. The knife is still sticking out of its heart, but it’s also afflicted with radiation and soon it’ll be dead. That’s where the radiation matters. Mason, however, doesn’t want it to die, so she injects it with a special serum meant to counteract radiation poisoning, and—VOILA! We now have a rampaging monster, folks! You may applaud.
Concept art by FX artist, Paul Blaisdell, who worked on a lot of monster movies back then. Check it out this article here, it documents some of his more famous ones.
From Hell It Came does not have a high body count, clearly not as high as Attack Of The Crab Monsters, where the cast was whittled down to two. The only people the creature kills are his ex-wife and the witchdoctor, but he does get his mitts on Mason, who gets saved just before he tosses her into the quicksand, the same death he meted out to his ex-wife. Tabanga is put down by Arnold who shoots the dagger forcing it straight through its heart, killing it dead on the spot, and toppling it into the quicksand. Don’t you just love cycles! They’re really cool when it involves monsters too. Hmmm, about that shooting of the dagger . . . might want to get Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters to have a look at that.
I finally saw that scene I remembered, the shot of the creature walking down this path, but I think I must have saw more of this movie than I thought I did. The actual scene is of the creature on a path, yes, but not on a path heading to any shore, it was in the woods and it scares a couple of natives who encounter it. However, the murder in the beginning looked familiar and Tabanga carrying his ex-wife down to the quicksand did too. Over the intervening years my memory must have melded a couple of the scenes together. At any rate I was thoroughly entertained by it, and will be adding it to my collection.
Check out the trailer, for some reason “Tabanga” is referred to as “Baranga.” Wonder what happened there?
Warner Brothers initially released From Hell It Came on DVD back in 2009 as an MOD disc through their Warner Archive sub-label. This past April 25th they unexpectedly decided to release it on blu-ray (these blues are NOT BD-Rs by the way) through that same sub-label! For those who haven’t gone blu you can still buy the DVD on Amazon. For those who have gone blu you can also buy the blu on Amazon.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.78:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English SDH subs only.
I enjoyed the transfer! Crisp and clear as I expected it would be!
Extras included . . .
I’ve heard this is ranked as an “awful” movie, if that means an awfully good-bad movie, then, yes, I agree. In fact once I’m done writing this review I’m going to go watch it again!