Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on August 25, 1957
Directed by Dan Milner
Written by Richard Bernstein and Jack Milner
Cast: Tod Andrews, Tina Carver, Linda Watkins, John McNamara, Robert Swan, Baynes Barron, Gregg Palmer, Suzanne Ridgeway, Mark Sheeler, Lee Rhodes, Grace Mathews, Tani Marsh, Lenmana Guerin, and Chester Hayes as the Tabanga
Back at the dawn of the 1980s, when I became truly interested in film, I not only began watching more and more movies, but I began reading more about them as well. Two books I specifically remember buying at the time were a pair of film guides, one spotlighting Clint Eastwood, the other focusing on Alfred Hitchcock. It was a third purchase, however, that had the biggest impact on me: The Golden Turkey Awards, a book by Harry and Michael Medved celebrating the worst and corniest films of all time. And the one line I’ve always remembered from that book was a remark made by critic Ed Naha about the film From Hell It Came: “And to hell it can go!”
I absolutely loved that line—as did many other reviewers, it seems—and for thirty-five years I waited to see for myself what exactly Mr. Naha saw in From Hell It Came that warranted such a caustic statement. Well, thanks to a friend of mine who’d seen the film as a youngster in the 1960s and recently purchased the disc, I was finally able to watch this certified B-movie classic, which featured a cursed tree terrorizing a South Seas island, hell-bent on inflicting some slow-moving vengeance on those who had wronged it.
Or him, I should say. On a tiny Pacific atoll, an island native is accused of a crime and sentenced to death, but he vows to return as a spirit and make three tribal members—the new chief, the tribe’s witch doctor, and the man’s two-timing wife—pay for their diabolical actions against him. Well, return he does, in the form of a…tree. Yes, and not just any tree, but one with arms, legs, and a face…a face straight from the Disney nightmare factory, replete with fried-egg eyes, a hacked-off nose, and a frown so massive it could put a damper on even the most festive of Polynesian shindigs.
This creature is the legendary Tabanga, and its existence is soon blamed on the American scientists stationed on the island, there to do research on—of course—fallout from an atomic bomb. But is it radiation that has spawned this sapling from hell, or is it something else…like voodoo maybe, or a kind of plague? Trust me, in the long run it doesn’t really matter; whatever the cause, this reincarnate is real and it’s on the loose, frightening the natives, arousing the scientific curiosity of the Americans, and no doubt puzzling the many birds and squirrels who are trying to build nests in it.
Directed by editor Dan Milner and co-written by his brother Jack, From Hell It Came would be the second and last film made by their Milner Brothers Productions, a few years after their equally eye-rolling The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues was released in 1955. There’s really not much to discuss about the technical side of things; the acting was competent, the direction was what it was, and B-movie monster maker Paul Blaisdell’s tree creature was one of the most ugly and disturbing sights you’ll ever see in cinema. But for me, somehow, the film was oddly entertaining, and at a mere 71 minutes in length was easy to digest. But one inescapable fact remains: it’s still a freaking tree.
So there you have it, along with voodoo dolls, devil dust, security chickens at the execution ceremony, tribal members straight out of a Chicago casting office, and a pretty, bikini-clad native gal Friday named Orchid. I mean, seriously, what more could you ask for in a haunted tree movie? If you’re a fan of such things, it’s more than worthy of a look, if only to marvel at how calmly and earnestly the scientists study this creature, and how comically it lumbers (!) around the island in search of its human prey. And no matter how easy From Hell It Came is to ridicule, you have to give it this: it is a fresh and unexpected take on your typical revenge story. (3/10)