The Bad Movie Report

From Hell It Came

So how far back do you remember?

Far enough back that current technology seems like science fiction? Far enough back that the only oven in the house was huge and ran on natural gas? Far enough back that there were only three networks? Cars had fins? The "night air" was bad for you?

I've been on something of a movie-watching roller coaster of late; I started the year actually liking Albert Pyun; backed 60's-foolish sci-fi with sedate British science fiction, and then followed that up with a Lucio Fulci "chunk blower". Then came the scuba diving through sleaze: Women in Prison, a "roughie" and the once (but never again) hardcore Flesh Gordon. After that deep, dark dive, we finally arrived at the soft-focus light at the end, the marvelous Daimajin.

From Hell It Came - the adSo it is only natural that I next go to From Hell It Came, for it is so goddamned wretched.

Now... how far back do you remember?

I still carry with me a few memories from three years of age, mainly watching Mark Wilson's TV show Magic Circus. The others consist of my mom giving my toy greyhound bus to charity (and I loved that bus!) and finally conquering bedwetting. But that's far too much information, so let's move on.

A little later than that I recall being allowed to stay up late on a couple of Saturday nights - probably, I had been in my grandparents' care while my parents went to a movie (in 3-D too - I got the glasses afterwards) - which meant I got to see the late-night TV horror movie out of Corpus Christi, Nightmare Theater. At least, I think that was the name; I recall seeing what I thought was The Horrors of Spider Island on that show, until Something Weird put out their copy of it, so I still have no idea what it was I saw. But I do know that I saw From Hell It Came. It's rather hard to forget.

First off, we are treated to a teaser. TV had gained a very strong foothold in the American household by 1957, and there were more than a few instances of movies aping some of the devices of TV shows, the most obvious (and worthless) being a snippet of the movie proper before the titles rolled. Unfortunately, in the case of FHIC, the teaser is a dialogue scene lifted from almost a half-hour into the movie, with no action or drama, just discussion of events that we have not yet seen - more than anything, it gives the impression that the projectionist started the movie on the wrong reel.

After the titles, we find ourselves at the tail end of a tribal kangaroo court on some unnamed South Pacific island, where the former Chief's son, Kimo (Gregg Palmer) is staked to the ground Man, Wapner has gotten STRICT.while the evil witch doctor (is there any other kind?), Tano (Robert Swan), dispenses some down-home mumbo jumbo. The new Chief, Maranka (Baynes Barron) fills us in on Kimo's crime; he's been consorting with those damned pesky Americans, who theoretically killed the old chief while treating him for The Plague. Kimo claims Tano and Maranka poisoned his father, but even Kimo's wife, Korey (Suzanne Ridgeway) weighs in against Kimo, because she's doing the horizontal hula with Maranka. Long story short: Kimo gets a sacrifical dagger hammered through his heart and a one-way trip to the local graveyard in an upright coffin. All this is witnessed by a white woman in hiding, Mrs. Kilgore (Linda Watkins).

Meanwhile, the two Damned Pesky American Scientists, Arnold (Tod Andrews) and Clark (John McNamara) are having a very helpful expository discussion. It seems they are were originally there because an H-bomb test went awry and showered fallout on the island, thanks to a freak typhoon; since their arrival, they've found negligible radiation levels, but stayed to fight a form of plague that has been decimating the native populace. Into this cozy backstory-relation comes Mrs. Kilgore, screaming her head off while a native attempts to silence her. Arnold and Clark chase him off. Almost immediately afterward, we hate them for this, as we discover that not only is Mrs. Kilgore this picture's Odious Comic Relief, but she is a Cockney Odious Comic Relief, which somehow makes it worse.

Another doctor arrives to help with the plague, and as luck would have it, it is Terry Mason (Tina Carver), the very same doc that Arnold longs to marry and take back to America, where he can force her to stay at home and do the housework. As the local Army guy, Eddie (Mark Sheeler) drives her to the compound, they run over something which is growing from Kimo's grave....

Now, the scenes where the Jeep bounces over the Thing Which Is Growing From Kimo's Grave scared the little kid watching it like few things ever had. The only thing these scenes elicited in the adult was, "No wonder the natives are pissed if Uncle Sugar keeps driving through their graveyard."

Terry sets about to treating the natives with "Formula X-37" - at least, the natives who are brave enough to risk the wrath of Tano and Maranka. Speaking of Maranka, he's tossed the treacherous This is the creepiest love scene I've seen.Korey out of his bed in favor of the more toothsome Naomi (Tani Marsh). Korey tells the scientists that Maranka plans to kill them all, a message the scientists proceed to do nothing about. Clark, for one thing, is busy fending off the romantic advances of the twice-widowed Mrs. Kilgore (ah, God, my sides ache even thinking about the rampant hilarity), while Arnold is trying to woo the extremely uncooperative Terry (in 1957, "no" still meant "yes").

It is during one of these unsucessful mash sessions that Terry notices the misshapen tree growing from Kimo's grave - it's rather hard to miss, as it has a human face and a sacrifical dagger stuck where a heart should be. The US Government, ever mindful of local taboos, urges the scientists to uproot the weird thing and study it. One of the more friendly natives identifies the wooden thingie as the Tabonga, a creature of vengeance animated by Kimo's I don't think his HMO covers this...spirit. Such medicine, of course, is bad. Arnold sides with the natives, wanting to throw the driftwood demon into "the quicksand at the edge of the forest". "What kind of a scientist are you?" counters Terry, which pretty much seems to end the discussion.

The heartbeat she detected in the Tabonga growing weaker, Terry injects it with the handy "Formula 447", then leaves it, as "Formula 447" takes 8 hours to take effect. But not when nuclear fallout is involved, and faster than you can say "Aieee! Tabonga come!" The wily woodman is out terrorizing the countryside.

Insert 'How to Pick Up Girls' joke here.In an attempt to liven up the proceedings, Korey attacks her rival, the younger Naomi, giving us a fairly lackluster catfight that is interrupted by the arrival of the Tabonga, who tosses his former mate into that "Quicksand at the edge of the forest" that everybody keeps talking about. Naomi runs crying to Maranka, who sends the men out to kill the Tabonga. Fat chance, as the leafy lurker crops up and slamdances Maranka repeatedly into another tree until he dies. The rather more clever Tano lures the Tabonga into a pit trap and tosses a bunch of fiery branches down on it. Tabonga is unimpressed by these hi-jinks, digs itself out and kills Tano by rolling him down a hill. Really.

At this point, enough is enough, and the natives realize they need good old American know-how (read: guns) to get rid of the Tabonga. You see, to the Tabonga, killing people is like eating M&M's - it just can't stop (just ask that other purveyor of vengeance, Daimajin). So off the white men go, armed to the teeth, and sadly accompanied by Mrs. Kilgore. Sadly, because once again we will frutilessly hope that Tabonga will appear and cut off her constant badly-accented prattle.

But no, it is Terry who will stop to adjust her bootlaces or some damned thing (without telling Sean Penn captured by papparazzi outside his home.anybody, so she is left behind), only to discover that the tree she is leaning against is... the Tabonga! Eek! Shriek! She is only saved by the rain of gunfire our heroes direct at it, finally hitting the dagger still stuck in it's chest, driving the blade deep into its heart (?). The Tabonga keels over backwards into our old pal, the Quicksand at the Edge of the Forest, and Terry falls into Arnold's arms, apparently more than ready to condemn herself to a lifetime of preparing tuna cassaroles and knitting baby booties. The end.

Gracious, this almost sounds like a compelling monster movie, doesn't it? <BUZZER> I'm sorry, that's WRONG!!!! Let's move on to Double Jeopardy, where the scores can really change! From Hell It Came is viciously slow going, with long chunks of uninteresting dialogue, uninteresting characters, a romantic subplot that borders uncomfortably on harassment, and worst of all, a strolling monster.

Those of you who suffered with me through Octaman will recall that the Strolling Monster subgenre substitutes footage of the monster wandering aimlessly about in lieu of actually advancing the story. Once the Tabonga actually gets on feet... it seems to wander aimlessly, first from left to right, then from right to left, apparently happening on its victims at random. Sure, its a small island and all, but what should be a suspenseful quest for revenge becomes a tedious mosey for happenstance.

The Tabonga itself is fairly famous - it seems to keep cropping up on record covers and the like. Look Out!  He's comin' right for us!Created by Paul Blaisdell, it's not as good as his best, the beast in It! The Terror from Beyond Space nor as laughable as the Cosmic Carrot in It Conquered the World (and not as creepy as the talking trees in The Wizard of Oz, which severely traumatized me as a child). Tabonga is nicely imaginative, in fact, until it is called upon to move, and then it... well, it looks like somebody wearing a sheet of sculpted foam. Whoever's inside the suit is forced to move very stiffly (only fair if you're supposed to be made of wood, I guess) and the few times when he attempts to bend over to pick up a victim are truly pathetic. We must rely instead on the quick cutaway, during which the victim magically flies into the Tabonga's arms.

Of the acting, it's tempting to say the cast gives Tabonga a run for the title of Most Wooden, but that would be false; Hero Tod Andrews had quite a career, and the only odd note about him here is his line delivery - in a halting, oddly disjointed fashion, almost like John Wayne. McNamara, with his cravats and scientific homilies, seems much too effete to be a government-funded scientist; and while Tina Carver is a perfectly capable actress, her scenes with the Tabonga reveal her to be one of the worst screamers in film history - Faye Wray she ain't.

The rest of the cast is saddled with so much stereotypical Native Speak that it would unfair to "Do you not like my chapeau?  Is it not festive?"judge them by this alone - suffice to say that today, the fact that almost the entire tribe is obviously played by caucasians wearing "native" costumes and no makeup sticks out like a thumb so sore it must surely be gangrenous.

So how far back do you remember? Me, I wish I remembered back far enough that I recalled how dreary From Hell It Came had actually been, and used the time to do something more entertaining - say, washing dishes or fertilizing the lawn.




Still, if you see only one walking killer tree movie this year, this one should probably be it.

March 14, 1999