REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:
FROM HELL IT CAME. Milner Brothers/Allied Artists, 1957. Tod Andrews, Tina Carver, Linda Watkins, John McNamara, Greg Palmer. Written by Richard Bernstein and Jack Milner. Directed by Dan Milner.
Actually, the best reviews of this film have already been written, including the six-word classic, “And to Hell it can go.” But From Hell is not without a certain charm once it gets around to the Monster.
Before that though, there’s a lot of talk in this movie. And I mean whole great big long stretches of it, as the principals in the drama explain the plot to us — talk is always cheaper than action, after all. So the film opens on an island somewhere in the South Pacific (Hey, that’s a good title for a movie!) with native Prince Kimo lying staked to the ground, about to be executed for the murder of his father the King, who was actually killed by the local Witch Doctor and an ambitious usurper (Are there echoes of Hamlet here?) and everyone tells how he got into this awkward quandary.
Before he dies, Kimo argues his innocence, and come to think of it, there are echoes of Hamlet, because there’s an awful lot of debate about the ethics of the thing before they get around to killing him and he swears to return from the grave, whereupon the scene shifts (uncomfortably) to the American Research Station elsewhere on the island, where we get another talk-fest as two Government Scientists exchange dialogue about who they are and what they’re doing here.
Turns out there was a recent nuclear test a few hundred miles away, followed by a freak monsoon that blew radioactive dust this way, and our heroes are here to monitor radiation levels. There’s also been an outbreak of disease on the island, but that couldn’t possibly be related, they assure each other.
The movie doles out these first twenty minutes like a miser at a fun-fair, ringing in comic relief, romantic interest, internecine politics, and generally dispelling insomnia till Kimo finally emerges from his grave and things start to get interesting, because he has come back as a killer tree, known as Tabanga.
Critic Michael H. Price has pointed out that trees have been used for scary effect quite well in The Wizard of Oz and sundry old cartoons, and maybe that was the inspiration here, but when it came to actually realizing the Terrible Tree Tabanga, it looks like they splurged about Fifty Bucks on the whole thing.
The Tabanga is a creation of legendary low-budget monster-maker Paul Blaisdell, whose work includes Attack of the Crab Monsters, The She Creature and the memorable turnip-monster in It Conquered the World. Blaisdell’s work was rarely convincing, sometimes laughable, but always imaginative — the She Creature is even rather effective. But as the scowling stump (no relation) toddles about striking terror into the hearts of all, he looks less like something from Hell than like a fugitive from Captain Kangaroo.
For one thing, Trees are not known for mobility, but Blaisdell’s Tabanga get-up seems restrictive even for a tree. Lacking long limbs for grabbing, he tends to just lumber about (get it?) until he gets close enough to crush anyone conveniently looking the other way or paralyzed with fright for plot purposes.
One has to commend the cast and director for getting through all this with a straight face and as much speed as a moving tree will permit, but as THE END finally came across the screen, I had to conclude that From Hell It Came was unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.