One of the great things about the 50’s is the strange variety of movie monsters we got. There were giant people, giant bugs, giant lizards, sea monsters, creatures from outer space…you name it! So why not killer trees!?! We’re not talking Little Shop of Horrors type of plants here. Oh, no…this time we get a lumbering reject from the Audubon Society with a grudge. Get ready for every gardener’s worst nightmare in 1957’s From Hell it Came.
Our story takes place on a Pacific island where Kimo (Gregg Palmer), son of the recently deceased chief is violently put to death by being tied to the ground and having a knife plunged into his heart. His only crime was seeking medical help from a group of American doctors stationed nearby. The local witch doctor, Tano (Robert Swan), has convinced the other natives that it was the American medicine that caused the chief’s death (in fact it was Tano’s questionable medical practices). Once Kimo is dead. he is placed into a strange upright coffin and buried.
Meanwhile, the American doctors are hard at work in their lab. The whole reason they have come to this island is because nuclear fallout from atomic bomb tests on other deserted islands drifted in the direction of this island. They are there to make sure the natives are ok. So, far the radiation levels have proved to be no more than what you experience when you get x-rays at the dentist. A recent addition to the team is the lovely Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver), who also happens to be the main squeeze of another one of the doctors, Bill Arnold (Tod Andrews).
A few days after Kimo’s murder, Terry and Bill notice a strange tree stump beginning to grow out of the native burial ground. As time progresses, the stump begins to look a bit like a face coming out of the ground. The team decides to excavate it and find that there is an entire 6-foot-tall tree creature emerging from the ground. Most surprising of all is that it appears to have a faint heartbeat. Some of the friendlier natives tell the doctors that this is a “Tabonga,” which is basically Kimo returning from the grave to exact his revenge. Still, scientific curiosity and all that jazz causes Terry to administer a serum to revive whatever this creature is. It does have a heartbeat, after all. They expect that it will take about eight hours for the serum to work, but in the middle of the night the creature wakes up, destroys the lab, and heads out to terrorize the island…putting both natives and the doctors in mortal danger.
First of all let me say this…awesome title! I mean come on, From Hell it Came….that rocks! It wouldn’t have even been near as good had they done it as It Came From Hell. Putting it into Yoda-speak just makes it so much better. Of course, great titles don’t mean great movies. This is a cheap-o 50’s production, no doubt about it. There is a certain charm about it, though, that gives it a fair amount of entertainment value.
The Tabonga monster is ridiculous, there’s no arguing against that. Still, I love the look of the character, despite the fact that he’s stiff and moves a bit like a drunk Frankenstein. I also love the idea behind this monster: an island prince wrongly murdered by an evil witch doctor returns by sprouting out of his grave as a demonic tree! That’s cool! Plus, they mix the island legend angle of this creature with the possibility that nuclear fallout is somewhat responsible for the monster rising out of ground. That’s pretty cool, too! Now, with this being a low-budget 50’s monster movie, there’s only so much they could do…in the end it does look a bit goofy. However, I’ve got to give the filmmakers some love for a really fun monster movie premise.
I actually think that where the movie makes a mistake is in focusing so much on the American doctors. Too much time is spent with what basically becomes a medical soap opera, with doctors making goo-goo eyes at each other and trying to hook up. It’s all basically just filler that keeps the monster action relegated to the final third of the movie. A part of me really wonders if the film would’ve been stronger had it just left the American doctors out of the story completely. I mean the Tabonga is really only out to get revenge on the witch doctor and the other tribesmen who wronged him in the first place…so what do we need all these American doctors for, anyway? Plus can I just say that Tina Carver’s scream is one of the worst I’ve heard! I mean the ladies of 50’s monster movies typically had some awesome pipes but Carver’s scream falls under the classification of “strangled cat.” I have no problem with her acting otherwise, she just wasn’t a good screamer.
I’m not going to argue that From Hell it Came ranks among the great 50’s monster movies…far from it, in fact. You’ll need to go into it with a fair degree of patience…those doctor scenes can get a bit dry as we wait for the monster to finally start causing trouble. The monster may be slow, bulky, even a bit lopsided…and it would be a stretch to call what he does a “rampage,” but From Hell it Came still manages to be an enjoyable 50’s monster flick.