From Hell It Came
Warner Bros. // Unrated // $21.99 // April 25, 2017
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted May 1, 2017
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Those insisting Blu-ray is its death throes were likely taken aback with news of a sparkling Blu-ray edition of From Hell It Came (1957), a cheap sci-fi thriller featuring Tabanga, a walking, scowling tree monster and a contender for the Most Ridiculous Movie Monster of All-Time.

Produced independently by the Milner Bros. (director Dan and producer, editor, and co-writer Jack) for release through Allied Artists, From Hell It Came isn't in the same class of delirious hilarity as Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space, or Phil Tucker's Robot Monster. Those movies are appealing in no small part because their creators were really trying to make something entertaining, even unique, but naively unaware how audience might respond to their ill-fated efforts.

The makers of From Hell It Came, conversely, obviously didn't give a damn what audiences thought, and it shows. Except for its flamboyantly silly monster and peculiar-contradictory concepts about it, the movie has nothing whatsoever to recommend it. I can't think of a movie in any genre in which the two male leads, here played by Tod Andrews and John McNamara, give such uncaring, disconnected performances. A frustrated would-be actor slumming teaching an adult education course in drama would have put in more effort.

But Tabanga and the loopy ideas surrounding its origins, anatomy, and the movie's Trump-like disregard for basic science are so far out as to almost delight outré audiences. And the transfer is excellent, allowing viewers to get a good look at the rubbery tree-man in all its glory.

The story is a nonsensical jumble of voodoo curses and ancient legends, radiation and reincarnation, and a tree monster that defies the laws of both the animal and plant kingdoms.

On a remote Pacific atoll downwind from recent atomic bomb tests, native prince Kimo (Gregg Palmer) is wrongly condemned to death by corrupt usurper Chief Maranka (Baynes Barron), witch doctor Tano (Robert Swan), and Kimo's two-timing wife Kory (Suzanne Ridgeway), secret mistress of the chief. Kimo swears revenge before being ritualistically stabbed by a skull-headed ceremonial dagger, hammered into his heart with a mallet. In another ritual, Kimo is buried upright in a coffin made of tree bark. It resembles an outhouse.

The natives aren't getting along with the white scientists who, nearby, are studying the effects of radioactive fallout, which Professor Clark (John McNamara) and Dr. Arnold (Tod Andrews) dismiss as minimal, even though some natives have radiation burns on their faces. Their endless small talk is finally interrupted by the arrival of dedicated female scientist Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver), Bill's old colleague.

Eventually a radioactive tree stump appears to be growing from Kimo's gravesite. It grows at a fantastic rate, several feet a day at least, and yet no one seems terribly interested or pays much notice to the fact that most of the front of the thing has a scowling face and giant eyes, though they do spot the dagger embedded in its bleeding, beating "heart," which looks more like a horse's anus.

Terry gives it a transfusion (How? Where?) of an experimental heart stimulant she's been testing on monkeys. Failing to take into account the potential time difference between injecting a five-pound monkey and a 500-pound tree monster, the scientists return to the lab the next morning to find Tabanga long gone, lumbering back to the native village seeking vengeance.

Tabanga the Tree-Man was designed by Paul Blaisdell, a talented, sincere artist producers of cheap pictures often turned to in the ‘50s when they could afford no one better. Blaisdell created some of the most iconic ‘50s sci-fi monsters, but Tabanga is hardly one of his great triumphs, and like most of his monsters its perpetual, glowering sneer becomes comical. The bulky rubber costume made walking difficult, to the point where Tabanga's top speed is little better than a labored, lumbering shuffle. Even foot-dragging Kharis the Mummy could've beat Tabanga in a foot race.

So bland are the two male leads one positively longs for normally inadequate genre "stars" like John Agar. Tina Carver, a June Allyson type, at least comes off as sincere, while third-billed comic relief Linda Watkins, as a prolix widow, yammers endlessly with an overdone faux-Cockney accent and dialogue more appropriate to 19th century Charles Dickens. As good-for-nothing Korey, Suzanne Ridgeway swaggers her hips and tries to look alluring but comes off as an over-aged stripper with an unhealthy fondness for candy bars.

Video & Audio

Filmed in black-and-white for 1.85:1 projection, From Hell It Came looks very good, with only dissolves and other process shots appearing grainy and soft. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono is acceptable, and English subtitles are included. No Extras.

Parting Thoughts

As the late genre historian Bill Warren and others have duly noted, the very concept of Tabanga leaves one's head spinning: a legendary native god fusing with a wrongly condemned man's curse matrixed with radiation to create an ornery tree man with green blood oozing from a beating external heart and with a thirst for revenge. Good for a few laughs and thus Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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