This week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie night offering fit the bill in spades. The pizza was good.
Staked to the ground, spread eagle, is Kimo (a Saturday matinee idol lovely Gregg Palmer), the son of the late chief of an unnamed South Pacific Island. For some reason, chickens stand watch around the unfortunate young man, who has been accused of killing his father. The local witch doctor, Tano (Robert Swan in headgear he could wear to the Kentucky Derby) pronounces sentence on Kimo, who protests that he is innocent, that, in fact, Tano and the chief Maranka (Baynes Barron) fed his father poison. He asks his wife Korey (Suzanne Ridgeway) to confirm this. Oddly, she says no one came around. Kimo was the only one taking care of his father. Could she have something lined up with Tano, that little vixen?
Oh, bummer for Kimo! He doesn’t take it well, understandably, and vows, “I will come back from the grave to revenge for myself. Tano, you can kill my body but my spirit will never die. Tano, your days are numbered.”
Tano rams a giant pin into the heart of a voodoo doll. (‘Cuz isn’t voodoo like a universal practice among all non-Western people?) This is the signal for two men to hammer a knife into Kimo’s heart. His body is carted off in something like a wicker sedan chair and buried.
Never fear. Also on the island are American scientists studying radioactive fallout from an explosion 1500 miles away. Fortunately, there is little radioactivity, so they end up treating the people for “plague.” Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andrews) says he tried to treat the old chief, but he was already too far gone.
Their complaints of noisy jungle drums, malaria, jungle rot, and heat (yes) “the stupid blind ignorance” of the natives are followed by the arrival of another doctor, one Terry Mason (Tina Carver). Cue Park Avenue Beat.
As Dr. Mason and her driver pass the cemetery on the way to the American compound, the viewer sees the earth over Kimo’s grave begin to heave and crack.
The island people have a tradition of a tree monster they call tabanga (sometimes baranga…). This has got to be one of the goofiest looking critters. It still has the knife sticking out of its bark. It hugs people to death and/or tosses them into quicksand. Think of a cross between menacing trees on old Scooby-Doo cartoons and the talking trees that threw apples at Dorothy and the strawman in Oz, and you have an approximation of the tabanga. The tabanga is mobile, but he moves slowly. He doesn’t talk. The permanent scowl on his face does his talking for him.
Goofy monsters are forgivable and can be enjoyable. I felt sorry for the tabanga. He got the short end of the stick…er… things didn’t go well for him in life. After he comes back from the grave, the body count grows, and the bad’uns get the comeuppance, but justice?
The unenlightened natives prove powerless to destroy the tabanga, so of course, they come running to the Americans, who had a hand in creating the creature by digging it up, injecting it with Formula 447. It is supercharged with American radiation. Dr. Mason is appalled when she learns the creature she helped save in the lab is out…killing people.
If the movie is condescending toward the natives, its attitude toward women doesn’t reflect any greater enlightenment. Dr. Arnold has been interested in Dr. Mason since before the beginning of the movie. In wooing her, he asks, “Terry, will you stop being a doctor first and a woman second? Let your emotions rule you, not your intellect.”
When she refuses to let her heart going pit-a-pat tell her pretty little head what to do, he kisses her.
“If you didn’t want me to kiss you, why did you kiss me back?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” she answers. “Maybe it’s my metabolism.”
Poor Dr. Mason. At the mercy of her… metabolism. An avenging walking, hugging tree makes more sense.
If the movie had stuck to goofy avenging monsters, I might have bought it. Colonialism and misogyny sunk it beyond redemption, however.
I could not find this gem—assuming anyone wants to watch it—for free. This masterpiece is available for pay only.
Title: From Hell it Came (1957)
Richard Bernstein…(screenplay by)
Richard Bernstein…(from a story by) and
Jack Milner…(from a story by)
Cast (in credits order) verified
Tod Andrews…Dr. William Arnold
Tina Carver…Dr. Terry Mason
Linda Watkins…Mrs. Mae Kilgore
John McNamara…Prof. Clark
Released: August 25, 1957
Length: 1 hour, 11 minutes