Tuesday, June 12, 2018

From Hell It Came (1957)

... aka: La vuelta del monstruo (The Return of the Monster)
... aka: Veio do Inferno (It Came from Hell)

Directed by:
Dan Milner

After being accused of betraying his tribe and causing the death of the village chief / his father in the process, a young man named Kimo (Gregg Palmer) is sentenced to death by witch doctor Tano (Robert Swan). Kimo swears his innocence, accuses Tano and newly-appointed chief Maranka (Baynes Barron) of actually giving his father poison and claims Tano is just jealous of Americans because their medicine is stronger and more effective. None of that seems to make any difference to the rest of the tribe, especially after Kimo's own wife Korey (Suzanne Ridgway) betrays him and lies to back up Tano and Maranka. Kimo vows to return from hell to avenge both himself and his father and promises that "In death I will be stronger than you in life!" He then has a dagger driven into his heart, is placed in a wooden coffin and buried in a deep hole in the village graveyard.

The above execution spells trouble for a small group of scientists doing research on the same island as the former chief was friendly but the new chief and witch doctor are anything but. Yet they have pretty good reason to distrust and hate white man as a plague of death has been sweeping the island after nuclear fallout from an atom bomb test thousands of miles away was carried there by a typhoon and has decimated the population. That's what Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andews), Professor Clark (John McNamara) and Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver) have been stationed there to help with. After witnessing the execution from the brush, snoopy and opportunistic widow Mae Kilgore (Linda Watkins), who runs a trading post there and takes advantage of the natives trading cheap good for pearls and copper, rushes back to warn them and almost gets herself killed in the process.

While some of the natives, like Orchid (Grace Mathews), who hopes to earn enough money from the Americans to relocate, and Norgu (Lee Rhodes) and his successfully-treated, radiation-scarred wife Dori (Lenmana Guerin), are on the scientist's side, Tano and Maranka have turned virtually everyone else against them.

Some additional human drama has been added between both the scientists and villagers to buoy the entire first half of the film. On the scientist side, we have Bill trying to convince Terry to give up her career, marry him and have kids so she can be "just like other women." You know, because being a brilliant scientist who's saved countless lives instead of a married, stay-at-home mom means she must feel like a miserable, unfilled failure as a woman. Devaluing her accomplishments should be a big enough red flag, but there's an even simpler reason for her to tell Bill to stuff it: He's a total asshole.

On the villager side, we have Korey, who betrayed her husband in order to get with new village chief and is now herself being betrayed by Maranka as he's pushed her aside from another village woman named Naomi (Tani Marsh). Now Maranka is threatening to kill Korey if she tells anyone what they've done as he plots to kill all of the Americans with poison darts. No one feels sorry for Korey.

A small stump emerges from the ground on Kimo's grave and quickly begins to grow. Upon further investigation, the stump reveals to have a heart beat similar to that of a human. That fits in with a local legend about Tabanga, "the creature of revenge." Yes, Kimo's about to emerge from his grave as a walking, killing tree. Tano whips up a special "medicine" to spread at the base of the Tabanga in hopes that it will give him control over it but, before he even has a chance, Korey runs back to the scientists and rats them out. The scientist's then uproot the tree, bring it back to the lab and give it an overnight IV. When they return the following morning the tree has wrecked the place and is out in the jungle about to start a killing spree.

During the last 20 minutes, the Tabanga breaks up a lame cat fight between Korey and Naomi by picking Korey up and throwing her in a quicksand bog. It then smashes a guy against a tree, stabs another of the bad guys and rolls the body down a hill and manages to survive being burned in a hole. Eventually, it gets its limbs on Terry and threatens to toss her into the bog, which will likely be enough to scare her into spending the rest of her life as Suzy Homemaker and Bill's Baby Factory. She just better make sure his job provides good dental coverage as Bill told his colleague earlier in the film that she sometimes makes him so mad he "could kick her beautiful teeth in." Gee, how heartwarming.

My sympathies didn't really lie with any of the characters but with fx man Paul Blaisdell, who was given the impossible task of coming up with a big tree monster on a 1950s Z movie budget. But, honestly, he does a pretty commendable job under the circumstances. His Tabanga creation, while as cumbersome, ridiculous and non-threatening as you'd imagine a walking tree would be, probably looks about as good it possibly can. Yet poor Mr. Blaisdell usually ends up getting the brunt of the criticism in reviews for this title even though virtually everything else (the acting, the direction, the script...) is far worse than his contributions to the film.

This was the second (and last) monster movie from the short-lived Milner Brothers Productions, following THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES (1953). While Dan directed, his younger brother Jack Milner served as editor and producer, plus co-wrote the original story. Both men continued working in Hollywood for a number of years, but mostly on TV shows. While Dan was out of the business by 1962, Jack's career peaked in 1975 when he won an Emmy Award for his work in sound effects editing.

Released theatrically on an Allied Artists double bill with The Disembodied (1957), this was issued on DVD in 2009 by Warner Home Video as part of their "Archive Collection" and then was released on Blu-ray in 2017. It runs just 71 minutes.

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