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Monster from Green Hell was one of the first science fiction films Savant saw, as it was demoted into television syndication immediately after its release and played constantly for years thereafter. Viewing this DVD was the first time I got all the way through it ... and I thought I had repeatedly fallen asleep because it showed late at night!
This is as quick as quickies get, a movie consisting of more than 50% footage from an old safari movie (Stanley and Livingston?) The long stretches between giant wasp attacks are really sleep-inducing. Some of the footage is reasonably well edited by director Kenneth Crane, but almost all of it is repetitive longshots of the veldt, intercut with our actors. 1 The first unit looks to have been filmed mostly in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, usually with only two or three 'native' bearers as opposed to the hundreds seen in the stock footage. The need to pad the film is apparent in one shot in Bronson Caves. Our explorers enter screen left as small figures in the frame, and take at least thirty seconds to stroll forward, while absolutely nothing of interest happens. 3
There is one real set in the film, which must have been sketched by legendary production designer Ernst Fegté on a cocktail napkin. Nothing in the rest of the movie looks even remotely designed, except for the hilarious monsters. The monster wasps are clunky stop-motion models animated, matted, and rear-screened into scenes by Jack Rabin and Louis DeWitt. The independent effects men were perfectly capable of doing great work with minimal resources, which, it must be concluded, were not available on this picture. With their tiny fluttering wings, the wasps look like the plastic 'cootie' toys I used to play with as a child. The large live-action head mock-up for close-ups isn't much of a match. Its fiberglass texture and streamed lines always remind me of the spaceship found underground in Quatermass and the Pit. One rather grossly over-scaled wasp looms over a hill in an effective composition similar to a shot in the original Godzilla. Later on a crawling wasp is matted into Bronson Caves and looks simply terrible.
Monster from Green Hell is essentially the kind of movie that relied on good effects to provide major thrills when the monsters attack, like The Black Scorpion. The script calls for a socko conclusion with a hive of wasps on the rampage. Money and time must have plain run out, for we see only a couple of angles with more than one insect. Instead of a real sequence, editor/director Crane can only come up with a meaningless, freeform dissolve montage. Every effect shot we've seen before is double-exposed with lava flows and boiling magma, and intercut with some of the dullest 'observers' I've ever seen. Bad movie, + bad effects, = dissatisfaction. On the faint plus side is a fairly ambitious scene of a wasp killing an animated python. It might have been edited out of the television prints that used to circulate - or perhaps Savant was just napping.
Jim Davis, then a character actor in mostly Westerns (The Big Sky) who later made his name on TV's Dallas, has an Oklahoma drawl that undercuts all credibility as a scientist. 2 Eduardo Ciannelli, the original Kali cultist from Gunga Din, meanders through his jungle guide role, mostly staring at his shoes. Joel Fluellen, familiar from Friendly Persuasion and The Chase, is good as the safari master (carrying the gun, a progressive touch), but the other 'native porters' are strictly from the unga bunga school of stereotyping. Female lead Barbara Turner is the antithesis of what is expected in these kinds of films, neither an obvious looker nor a strong personality. She also has a strong accent and distractingly imperfect teeth, an unusual thing for a leading lady. If the Internet Movie Database hasn't confused two Barbara Turners, she soon hereafter gave up acting for a successful writing career, as she's credited with the adaptation of Petulia, many TV movies, and finally the screenplay for last year's Pollock!
Final note ... the name of a native village is given as Mogwai, or Mogway ... which leads Savant to suspect that Joe Dante lifted it for use in his Gremlins movie.
Image's DVD of Monster from Green Hell is taken from a good but not great 35mm print. More scratches appear than one would like, but the show is basically intact. One short passage must have warped from deterioration, because the left side of the screen keeps shifting out of focus. Like many of Wade Williams' presentations, the transfer source must be a collector screening print, not an original pre-print element. The main titles of both of these films clearly show that they were intended to be matted for widescreen. Cropped on a 16:9 television, the compositions are markedly improved, and even some of the sub-par effects of Monster have more impact. A trailer is the only extra advertised, but unless it's hidden away, it's not there. CORRECTION: by way of Gary, 'He Who Knows All' Teetzel: "By the way, the trailer is hidden in the menu screen. Highlight the wasp that appears in the center and click."
The timeless quartet of Richard E. Cunha movies are Giant from the Unknown, a not-terrible movie where the giant is just a big man and we know exactly where he came from; the cut-rate Frankenstein's Daughter; the even cheaper remake of Cat-Women of the Moon, Missile to the Moon; and finally, this totally bizarre oddity. One of the sleaziest kiddie matinee movies of the '50s, She Demons is a grab-bag of themes and clichés, handled so crudely that it's simply irresistible. Whereas Monster from Green Hell will appeal to big-bug fanatics and few others, She Demons is a great party picture with everything camp enthusiasts enjoy - terrible jokes, hammy acting, terrible direction.
This picture must be a favorite of sickos everywhere. Where else can one glom curvaceous native girls with zombie faces, watch Nazi goons whip helpless native girls without zombie faces, and see a mad doctor attempt to restore the appearance of his skull-faced wife through atrocious experiments? What's remarkable about the Astor release She Demons is that it not only got a standard theatrical code seal and release, but that it was syndicated for years on television in kiddie horror shows.
The charm of this movie is its excess, and has nothing to do with quality. The camerawork is not bad but the blocking and direction are strictly from the Ed Wood school of maladroit filmmaking. Even Irish McCalla (known only to tots older than I as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle) can't act or move naturally on screen, and only the talented Victor Sen Yung does anything with his corny lines. Whatever they've done to poor Ms. McCalla, she looks attractive in far fewer shots than you'd think - rushed lighting harshens her features and the wrong key costume makes her already long neck look slightly deformed. Tod Griffin has a bad tendency to run and walk with his arms held gorilla-like at his sides, as if he had sores in his armpits. With so little of interest on view, one's attention strays to things like Irish's neck and Tod's monkey arms.
Besides the standing jungle set there are only a couple of mad lab interiors, including some concrete block stairs that look suspiciously similar to a setting in Frankenstein's Daughter. Caves are provided by lots of stone walls made from crumpled paper, and a few angles once again in Bronson Caves. All are filmed flatly, using the fewest camera setups necessary to display the action. It's all there: silly native dances that look like watered-down burlesque, the stunt double for Tod Griffin who has completely a mismatched build and hair, and stock Germans that prance around in shiny uniforms that should have worn out years before. One storm trooper is actually given the name Egore.
The Nazi 'butcher doctor' Osler is played quite nicely by Rudolph Anders, a bit player in wartime films who scored featured roles only in Z pix like this one. In one lengthy scene Osler's unaccountably serene captives listen while he tells them every detail of his evil schemes. It's just one crazy idea after another. Osler implies that the Earth derives its warm temperatures from the molten lava at its core, and not the heat of the sun. He has kidnapped island girls to perfect his atomic scar-healing methods. The Führer commissioned his research because, when all the inferior races have been eliminated after the victory, there will be many German soldiers with unsightly wounds. As physical imperfection has no place in the Reich, the soldiers cannot be permitted to exist unless their healthy Aryan appearance is restored.
Osler powers his mad lab with heat extracted from the island's volcano. Unfortunately, his wife Mona (Leni Tani) had her face burned off in a fluke volcanic accident. So now he's using the island girls to cure Mona's ugliness through a transfusion-like process that exchanges a genetic quality of the blood he calls 'Character X'. The victims instantaneously get Mona's looks, turning into hideous She Demons, while Mona benefits a bit from each of their 'beautiful' Character X boosts. Additional nonsense has the girls reverting to their original good looks in a few weeks, so Osler can use them again. He puts animal 'Character X' into the stew for some Dr. Moreau-ish reason, which accounts for the fangs, etc.. There hasn't been this much crackpot pseudoscientific baloney floating around since Invaders from Mars.
Every development of the plot is drop-dead stupid, with the added presence of the Nazis to give the whole affair a serious dose of Bad Taste. Fred and Sammy are forced to walk in circles chained to railroad ties, while the storm troopers gloat over them. The She Demons are mindless savages who claw the air in their bamboo cages like animals. Yet they have perfect female bodies covered by neatly arranged two-piece costumes.4
The 'pretty' native girls dance passively while waiting to be rounded up and tortured again. We only hear Egore (Gene Roth) whipping one of them, but we're treated to the sight of her bloodied bare back, arranged 'just so' to thwart the censors.6 Nazi butcher Osler naturally gets the hots for Jerrie, coaxes her into a black dress and tries to seduce her with champagne and his Teutonic manners. He promises that she can become his consort, and rule as queen of his island paradise (which consists of one volcano, two snakes, and a handful of gross-out native women). When Mona learns how Osler's affections have strayed, she decides to help our heroes after all. 5 Naturally, a Navy bombing raid coincides with a volcanic eruption, which puts paid to the Nazi swine and reunites our now romantically blissful couple.
Image's DVD of She Demons uses yet another collector's positive print with some bad wear marks near reel changes, and a couple of splices at lousy moments such as the middle of the 'exotic' native dance routine. The sound is a clear mono. The advertised trailer turns out to be pretty silly assembly of highpoints, crudely edited with funny taglines and text titles. Savant likes She Demons and has no excuses for his own bad taste ... 2001's gorehounds will probably classify it as quaint and light-hearted entertainment. However, if YOU feel the desire to check it out, Savant accepts no responsibility for your possible rage.
A final note: the artwork on the covers of Wade Williams discs is, if anything, getting worse. In the case of these two curiosities, the garish ugliness of the packaging accurately reflects the movies inside.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Monster from Green Hell rates:
Supplements: Trailer, hidden: click the wasp in the center screen.
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: June 1, 2001
1. It's been confirmed that the stock shots all came from Stanley and Livingston. Direct-to-video director Jim Wrynoski tells me he does the same thing now: he purchases stock footage from big action movies, and costumes and directs his own actors into new stories, using the bought footage for production value.
2. Which is unfair to scientists, who obviously come with all kinds of accents. Maybe the problem's just the vacant look in Davis' eye, or his meaningless grin.
4. this has to be a low point in the objectification of women for the feminist politicians in the audience: commercial necessity requires babes & monsters, and here they're combined in the sleaziest way possible. Tots can recoil from the mangled faces, and older juveniles can ogle the women in their skimpy costumes. Something for everyone!
5. In his book on Georges Franju, Raymond Durgnat defends the 'mad doctor kills
beautiful women to restore his daughter's ruined face' plot on the basis that good pulp fiction fills generic molds with superior style. Durgnat must have been thinking of this movie as the bad example. Mad doctors have been doing transplants and transfusions to restore loved ones since the silent days, but except for mentions of some Mexican films in the Phil Hardy book, I don't know of any 'clinical' horror film about transplanting faces before this one.
6. The next step in the tasteless use of Nazi associations is 1964's The Flesh Eaters, with its flashbacks showing Gestapo fiends shoving semi-nude female victims (presumably Jews) into lethal swimming pools. The scenes were cut from most theatrical runs, but the combination of sick & offensive ideas mixed movie horror with other kinds of sadistic taboos. Next stop, the soft-core Nazi pornography movies.