From Hell It Came (1957)

Rating:

USA. 1957.

Crew

Director – Dan Milner, Screenplay – Richard Bernstein, Story – Richard Bernstein & Jack Milner, Producer – Jack Milner, Photography (b&w) – Brydon Baker, Music – Darrell Calker, Special Effects – James H. Donnelly, Makeup – Harry Thomas, Art Direction – Rudi Feld. Production Company – Milner Brothers

Cast

Tod Andrews (Dr William Arnold), Tina Carver (Dr Terry Mason), John McNamara (Professor Clark), Linda Watkins (Mrs Kilgore), Robert Swan (Tano), Baynes Barron (Chief Maranka), Lee Rhodes (Norgu), Suzan Ridgway (Korey), Grace Mathews (Orchid), Gregg Palmer (Kimo), Mark Sheeler (Eddie), Tani Marsh (Naomi), Lenmana Guerin (Dori)


Plot

On an island in the Pacific atolls, the chief’s son Kimo is sentenced to death by the witch doctor Tano for supposedly poisoning his father using the medicine that was given by American scientists. Kimo protests his innocence, saying that the real poison was the remedies prescribed by Tano. With even his wife turning against him, Kimo goes to his death promising vengeance. Not long after, the American scientists notice a face-like shape inside a tree that is growing out of Kimo’s grave. They find that the tree even has a heartbeat. They dig the tree up and give it drugs to sustain it. Instead, this causes the tree to come to life. This is something the natives call a Tabonga, a human spirit that can be resurrected in a tree. As the Tabonga, Kimo then sets out to kill those who were responsible for his death.


From Hell It Came has a reputation as a bad movie classic. It was one of only three films directed by Dan Milner, a former editor. Milner had previously made the forgettable atomic monster film The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955).

Even though From Hell It Came is supposedly a work about voodoo and a spirit manifesting via a tree – in other words a supernatural monster movie – Dan Milner manages to wind in the reigning 1950s explain-all of atomic radiation. This was a fad that began with the hit of the atomically-revived dinosaur film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and rapidly became one of the most popular themes of the 1950s, second only to alien invader films. (From Hell It Came was perhaps the first film to be set around the atomic tests that were conducted in real life by the US at Bikini Atoll and the Marshall Islands during this era). It is however a hard stretch to slot From Hell It Came into being a science-fiction film as most of the other atomic monster films are. The idea of a possessed tree certainly makes for one of the most bizarre atomic monster movies of the decade. Although the idea of plant monsters amok on a Pacific island became fairly much a template for the popular Filipino-made Blood Island films – see Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1969).

Dan Milner has a nondescript lack of visual style that makes for a dull and uninteresting film from a dramatic standpoint. About the only virtue that From Hell It Came has is as a bad movie classic. There are plenty of prize moments of laughability throughout. One of the funniest aspects is Linda Watkins who affects maybe the worst fake British accent in the entire history of cinema, something that manages to wander between highbrow and Cockney without any seeming awareness of the incongruity. The film descends into absurdity from about the moment the party stand around looking at a mound in the ground that has a human face. In one hysterical scene, Tina Carver puts a stethoscope to the tree and then announces that it has a heartbeat. There is the even funnier moment where they take the tree back to the laboratory and she turns and asks one of the other scientists “Can you help me administer an intravenous injection?” When it emerges, the Tabonga monster is completely ridiculous. It is a tree trunk with legs and a face with branches sticking out of it like wild hair – the effect looks not dissimilar to a cartoonish version of the tempestuous face that artists often fancifully characterise as the blowing wind.

Dan Milner also has a woeful ignorance about the culture he is supposedly portraying. Thought the film is set on a Pacific Atoll, the behaviour of the natives there seems taken more from cliches of African natives. The principal idea of the film involves the Polynesians using voodoo, for instance, although this was an African phenomenon, not something that ever extended to the Pacific region. The natives portrayed are all racial caricatures – they dress in sarongs and speak the same type of Pidgin English that movie Injuns do. The film also has the same sympathy problems that a number of these supernatural revenge films do – good examples being The Fog (1980) and Darkness Falls (2003) – where the most sympathetic and least superstitious of the natives is unjustly killed and then resurrected as a monster, where by virtue of being a monster movie the film then ends up taking sides with the ignorant and duplicitous natives who condemned Kimo in the first place.



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