Beware a promising title, especially when it comes to shitty movies. There’s a good chance that a shitty movie won’t live up to its title, and could even be a bait-and-switch. Monster from Green Hell, from 1957, isn’t that most egregious of shitty filmmaking sins, but it is not nearly as good as the title.
The Green Hell of the title is a stretch of African jungle surrounding a volcano. The Monster which emerges from the Green Hell is a gigantic wasp, mutated by space radiation. It all began back in the states, in an isolated rocket science lab in the west. Dr. Quent Brady (Jim Davis, of Dallas fame), and Dan Morgan (Robert Griffin) are conducting experiments to determine the effects that exposure to space will have on future human space travelers. They do this by sending just about every animal they can find into space aboard rockets, then studying the animals after the rocket returns to Earth. There is a concern that all that radiation shooting around up in space will mutate those who are exposed to it.
Brady and Morgan are right to be concerned. One of their rockets, carrying wasps, goes off course and crashes in a remote part of Africa. Months later, reports begin filtering out of the jungle of a monster attacking and killing people and livestock. A colonial doctor, Lorentz (Vladimir Sokoloff), is ready to dismiss such outlandish tales as the result of native superstition, but he trusts one local enough, Arobi (Joel Fluellen), to accompany him to the Green Hell and find out just what is frightening everyone in the area.
Meanwhile, back at the rocket lab, Dr. Brady learns of the supposed monster, and makes a wild leap of logic. The rocket carrying wasps crashed in Africa. Lab specimens have shown signs of growth after exposure to cosmic radiation, ergo there must be a giant wasp on the loose in Africa. A relentless voiceover from Brady informs the viewer that he and Morgan are off to Africa to investigate. They begin a safari that takes over a month to reach the Green Hell.
They arrive, to find that not only is a giant wasp killing everything it can, it’s a mere harbinger for what’s to come. In a fit of more movie science, Brady explains how swift is the reproductive cycle of the wasp, and how, despite this irradiated species of jungle wasp being orders of magnitude larger in mass, it should still be able to breed at the same rate.
That’s pretty dumb, but no more so than the rest of this flick. It does place a sense of urgency into proceedings that had been lacking. Other than the threat of an insect apocalypse, there’s not much hurry to this flick. Director Kenneth G. Crane didn’t have much of a budget, or a screenplay, to work with, so the majority of the film is spent hiking with Brady, Morgan, and the other members of the cast. They tromp through Bronson Canyon and parts nearby, in a simulated Africa. To flesh out these sequences, a whole lot of footage was lifted from 1939’s Stanley and Livingstone. Basically, every time a viewer sees a shot that is actually Africa, it came from that film.
The performances from the cast are typical for a b-movie of the era. They stink. But there is a lovely, sweet soupçon to the incompetence in a couple. Tim Huntley, who has a short scene as the Territorial Agent at the start of Brady and Morgan’s safari, bounds out of his seat with enthusiasm as he stumbles through his lines. It’s infectious ineptitude, and was enough to make me wish his character had gone on with the protagonists. But the shitty performance of the bunch came from Davis. He was most comfortable as a stone-faced tough guy in westerns. There wasn’t a lot of that in the laboratory scenes, but once the film hit Africa, Davis was back in his element. Rugged, plainspoken, and with a cowboy pose that has to be seen to be believed, Davis dominated this film. The most profound drawback to his performance is the endless narration he, and screenwriters Louis Vittes and Endre Bohem, provide. It turns out all those film school professors are right. Narration is the tool of the weak filmmaker. I’m not saying that a cut that excises the narration would help, à la Blade Runner, but the narration in this flick is ridiculous. There were only two things I wanted out of this movie: less freaking hiking and less narration. I don’t even care if that would have brought this flick’s length down to a half hour from an already austere 71 minutes. This flick was a slog on par with Lost Continent.
Oh, and remember how there is a gigantic killer wasp in this film? Don’t expect much of it. For being such a drag, Monster from Green Hell falls far down the Watchability Index, crawling in at #208, between Daylight and The Navy vs. the Night Monsters.