What a gloriously stupid movie. I’ll be honest. Many of the 1950s flicks in this month’s Horrorshow have been a real slog to get through. That’s really something, considering how many of them are only around an hour or so in length. Today’s ’50s flick is a short one, too, clocking in at only 71 minutes. It didn’t have much of a budget, either, so a decent amount of that short running time is spent expositing. But, without any reservations at all, From Hell It Came is an incredible shitty movie. It’s essential viewing for the shitty movie fan.
Released in 1957, From Hell It Came was directed by Dan Milner from a screenplay by Richard Bernstein. Dan’s brother, Jack, also produced, and this was their last collaboration as director and producer. After this film, it was back to Burbank to work in television for the both of them.
On some island in the South Pacific, a gaggle of American scientists has set up a research station. They are there because the island was unintentionally bathed with radioactive fallout from a nearby nuclear bomb test. The Americans have shown up to monitor the effects of the fallout. While there, they discover that the islanders are suffering from a form of plague, so have been treating them for that, as well. The scientific team consists of Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andrews), Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver), and Professor Clark (John McNamara). There’s also a trading post on the island run by Mae Kilgore (Linda Watkins).
Watkins gave the standout shitty performance of the film. That’s an impressive feat in a film stacked top to bottom with shitty performances. For one, Andrews couldn’t be bothered to remember his lines. But Watkins…oh, my goodness. Her character could be Australian, or she could be from East London. Her affected accent comes through at times as both. Only one thing is clear. It’s shit. Watkins had a long and varied career in Hollywood, but Milner and company made a huge mistake in having her try on an accent. But, their loss is the shitty movie fan’s gain.
The islanders are a real treat, too. All the ones who have lines are played by Caucasians, with scattered brownness amongst the extras. In the opening scene of the film, we meet the significant natives, led by Chief Maranka (Baynes Barron). Barron is from New York City, and sounds like it. There is nothing Polynesian about the guy at all. He’s basically Jack Klugman in a lavalava.
When viewers first see the islanders, they are carrying out the death sentence on one of their own, Maku (Chester Hayes), for poisoning the previous chief. Right before a ceremonial dagger is driven into his heart, Maku vows to return from the afterlife and wreak revenge on those responsible for his death. Meanwhile, Maranka and the tribe’s medicine man, Tano (Robert Swan), are pretty fed up with the Americans, and decide to use their tribe’s ancient occult knowledge to transform Maku’s buried corpse into the Tabanga, a walking tree-monster that Tano believes he can use to kill the Americans.
The Tabanga is the icing on this shit cake. There are many films out there with walking killer trees, but this is the silliest of them all. The monster was designed by Paul Blaisdell, and, well, there’s no description that will do the Tabanga justice, so here it is:
Just look at that. That’s one pissed-off Ent. There have been some low-rent monsters in these ’50s flicks, and this is another fine example. Hayes is credited with playing the Tabanga as well as Maku, and I have to feel for him. The Tabanga costume looked very restrictive. There wasn’t much he could do with his arms, and walking looked like a long exercise in trying not to fall down. As such, the cast had to throw themselves into harm’s way. There just wasn’t a way to make the lumbering creature threatening, otherwise.
1950s monster flicks form a cohort. After having seen so many, they tend to blend together. But every few films there’s a standout in futility. Robot Monster. The Giant Claw. From Hell It Came.
There’s a bit of a wait before the action in this film gets going. Despite that, this is one entertaining shitty movie. It lands high up the Index at #14, displacing Death Wish II. Check it out.