of you have known me for a while. Others are new to my world (and
welcome to it). Not everyone is aware of my unnatural fear of
stock footage elephants, so I should let those two groups talk
for a while, but then the conversation would inevitably drift
to politics and religion, we'd be here all night, and you guys
have an entire roundtable to chew through. So I'll do my best
to set this up.
know that I don't travel particularly well. It's nothing morbid,
I just prefer to stay at home, my ponderous butt parked in either
my recliner or my computer chair. But sometimes, one has to venture
outside their hometown, and completely lose whatever delusional
control one fancies one has over one's life. So when I can, I
make the journey to Chicago and New Orleans, to their respective
film festivals, B-Fest
first B-Fest was where the horror occurred. I was especially nervous
during that one - it also marked the first time I had ever met
any of my fellow Stompers or B-Masters in the flesh, and I'd had
little sleep the night before. I had also packed an extra bag
of machismo to bring with me, as I was determined to stay awake
the entire 24 hours, over and above the sleep I hadn't gotten
the night before, and during travel.
problem with a movie diet like mine is finding movies at these
festivals that I haven't already seen. This time, there was one
I had never even heard of - something called Jungle
Hell. As its title card was projected on the big screen, I
heard Ken Begg moan with apprehension in the darkness, and I should
have had some inkling what that meant.
you have not yet encountered Ken and his
work (is such a thing possible?), his site examines "films
at the very bottom of the Cinematic Bell Curve". When Ken says
a movie is bad, it means you should employ biohazard gear when
approaching it. Just a month earlier, for our second
roundtable, Ken was kind enough to lend me his copy of Doomsday
Machine (actually, it was more like he sadistically dangled
it like a cat toy and I was the only one stupid enough to swat
at it), and I thought surely there was nothing B-Fest could
do to me that was worse. But this was only because I had never
heard of Jungle Hell.
you are in the happy state of non-Jungle Hell knowledge,
you can torment yourself with its details here.
And if you don't believe either of us, then you can also go here.
Suffice to say that it stars Sabu, and is made up of at least
98% stock footage. Maybe even 99%. When a character journeys to
India, that is represented by at least five minutes of stock footage,
including the character supposedly making a connecting flight.
Yes, they leave one piece of stock footage and segue into another
(even more pointless), practically in real time. This horror continued
for quite some time, until the final blow arrived.
narrates a seemingly endless digression on the importance of elephants
to Indian industry, highlighted by an elephant clearing some land
by pushing over a tree. Then Sabu says, "Look! There is another
one!" and it's the same freaking elephant pushing over the
same freaking tree, shot from another freaking angle! In my
sleep-deprived state, I realized that I was trapped in a hall
of mirrors, and would likely spend the rest of eternity watching
this same elephant push over this same tree over and over again,
like a pachydermal Sisyphus, from an infinitude of angles. It
was like all the bad LSD trips you see in crap youth movies stitched
together and beamed directly into your brain in one concentrated
shot-glass of bad. When the lights came back up, I could
only sit there, twitching, like the protagonist in a Lovecraft
story who caught a fleeting glimpse of Cthulhu and blew his saving
experience was so bad, when Ken the next day fiendishly trotted
out his copy of Sextette,
(which proved to be the celluloid version of Green Kryptonite
for hardier men than myself) I watched with dour amusement. I
had already supped with the devil - what fear could this mere
snack hold for me?
intervening years have shown me even worse cinema than Jungle
Hell, to be sure (Sorority
House Vampires from Hell springs to mind - I may not know
art, but I know what I like to throw on the ground and jump up
and down on), but few have equaled the impact of what came to
be called "The Elephant Picture" around my household. It was like
when I was a child and gorged myself on those chocolate Easter
bunnies with the marshmallow filling, and got dreadfully ill -
forty years after the fact, I still get queasy when I see one.
So it is also for me with stock footage, especially that featuring
has been suggested that if I were to review Jungle Hell,
it might prove therapeutic - but then, one has only to realize
that it was
Ken that made the suggestion to know that it was part of a larger,
William Castle-like scheme to drive me mad. Then, when I started
making noises about possibly reviewing tonight's movie, it was
pointed out to me that it was basically Jungle Hell with
giant bugs. I may not be willing to re-examine the slab of inertia
that is Jungle Hell, but visiting a similar movie - with
more sleep under my belt - might indeed prove therapeutic.
if I wind up jumping up and down on it.
open on a model facility - I mean it, it's a model - located next
to a desert mesa which reminds me rather too much of Mesa
of Lost Women or The
Brain from Planet Arous…ahhhh!…..
Alright now, breathe, breathe… no reason to get too nervous this
early in the film… Uh oh! Voiceover Narrator! Not good! Not
is the age of the rocket - the jet. Atomic Power. When man
prepares to reach for the stars. But before he dares to
launch himself into space, there is one great question to
be answered. What happens to life in the airless void above
Earth's atmosphere. Will life remain untouched, unharmed
by flights through space? Or will it change into…what? There
was only one way to find out… and we were working on it."
this over a craggy (and surprisingly young) Jim Davis cuddling
a guinea pig. Davis is Dr. Quint Brady, head of the model facility,
and he hands off his plaything to his assistant, Dan Morgan (Robert
Griffin), who runs through the menu for the day - monkeys, wasps, "crab spiders" and the guinea pig - and then commands a nameless
lab coat to load up the rockets.
a nearby bunker set, Morgan gives a truncated countdown - from
five to one - and the rockets are launched. Okay, somebody actually
sets off a flash pot, causing sparks and smoke to fly through
the set's vent, and almost before we can notice how cheap
and absurd this effect is, we cut to the stock footage of rockets
taking off. You'll note I keep saying "rockets" - yes, this is
from NASA's wasteful days, when they shot off three rockets at
a time. In keeping with the Jungle Hell backstory, it is
indeed the same rocket three times, but at least Sabu is not lying
to us, "Look! There is another rocket! And another!"
successive launch also gives us a piece of the opening credits
(see above), probably because the filmmakers would like us to
think that this is THE MOVIE SO BIG IT
TOOK TWO SCREENS TO SAY ITS NAME!!!!
idea, our two rocket scientists explain to each other, is to shoot
the test animals into space for forty seconds, to see what effect COSMIC RADIATION has on them. Of
course, one of the rockets goes awry, by which I mean the oscilloscope
they were using to track it goes blank (dadburn newfangled radar
oscilloscopes!). Mystified, the men go upstairs to "ask the computer
a few questions." Literally. The computer is formed of several
pieces of war surplus electronic equipment set into some kitchen
cabinetry, and Morgan reads the specifics of the errant rocket's
flight into a common PA microphone. He then proceeds to flip a
few switches, then listen to an old telephone earpiece for the
answer. (I wonder if it sounds like Colossus? Or Majel Roddenberry?)
it's that old devil "insufficient data" rearing its ugly head
again. As best the computer can figure, the rocket almost reached
escape velocity and will eventually land somewhere just off the
coast of Africa.
let's go to Africa! Or, at least, to the stock footage of Africa!
stock footage native village looks on worriedly as four men bear
a makeshift stretcher to the local white man, Dr. Lorentz (Vladimir
Sokoloff), which is conveniently located on a nearby soundstage.
At this point, we're not even trying to match the stock
footage, as the bearers are wearing some sort of linen pantaloons
while the onlooking natives are wearing more traditional African
garb. The men are led by Arobi (Joel Fluellen), who is also a
native, but obviously has been educated, as he is wearing khaki
and carrying a rifle. The corpse is Arobi's blood brother, who
made the mistake of following a trail into Green Hell - and was
killed by something the men won't talk about.
autopsy determines the man died of a massive dose of venom, but
not snake venom. Lorentz poo-poos Arobi's claim of monsters in
Green Hell, until the native tells him that there has lately been
a massive exodus of animals from that locale. "Maybe we are superstitious,"
says Arobi, "but is a monkey frightened by superstition? Are elephants?" (aaaagh! Elephants!) Lorentz allows that there
may indeed be something strange in Green Hell, "but of nature,
not evil spirits!" A Starbuck's, perhaps, or a new Wal-Mart.
is, of course, the signal for more stock footage, as a peaceful
herd of wildebeest and zebra share a watering hole, only to be
interrupted by… THE MONSTER FROM GREEN
is, of course, the wasps from the wayward rocket, grown to huge
size. They are represented alternately by stop motion animation
or poorly matted puppets. I would mention their bewilderingly
tiny wings, but they're probably very sensitive about that. They
also move very slowly, which makes you wonder why everything is
running from them in such a panic, as I could evade them
at a leisurely trot. They also share a common trait with others
of their cinematic bug ilk, in that they are quite elastic in
size. Most of them seem to be about the size of a bus, but the
one chasing the natives is shown peering over the horizon, making
it roughly the size of Rhode Island.
Brady, being a rocket scientist, is keeping up with the news,
particularly an item buried on page 6, "Central Africa In Turmoil".
Ignoring the fact that Central Africa is almost always
in turmoil, Brady feels that this particular turmoil is
due to that rocket they lost six months ago. He shows Morgan a
series of test animals (my favorite being a stuffed alligator
who's "been in a trance ever since he got back.") A spider crab
irradiated in vitro has grown to twice its species' normal
size. And Brady's trump card? "You've seen pictures of the survivors
at Hiroshima, haven't you?" "Sure." "Radiation did that,
hell - ??!! Are my tax dollars funding this guy?
so, I and my fellow taxpayers just paid for Brady and Morgan's
stock footage plane ticket to Africa (thankfully free of connecting
flights). They meet with the guy in charge - of course, he's white
- who tells them that it's going to be difficult organizing an
expedition right now, 'cause there's monsters, don'cha know, haw
haw! He also recommends that the scientists stop by Dr. Lorentz'
jungle hospital on the way to Green Hell.
Brady retires to his hotel to sulk and smoke, and write in his
little notebook. Meanwhile, Lorentz and Arobi are making their
own little expedition to Green Hell, followed by two bearers who
look none too happy about this outing. There is a strange buzzing
in the air, causing a herd of stock footage elephants (aieee!)
to stampede (theoretically) past the men, though they kick up
suspiciously little dust by their passage.
two bearers wait until Lorentz and Arobi round a bend in the trail
before dropping their packs and splitting, which means, of course,
that they will run almost immediately into one of the giant wasps.
This one is represented by a large papier-mache (or maybe even
fibreglass, it's quite shiny) head poking through the foliage,
and two arms ending in claws, which it uses to strangle one of
the men. Ah, if I only had a dime for every time I had to sit
through one of those Walt Disney "Real Life Adventures" and wound
up watching a wasp strangle its prey!
so much for those losers, I guess, because Arobi and Lorentz continue
on their way to Green Hell. Lorentz insists on going in alone,
though Arobi pleads with the elderly physician to let him take the risk instead. Or better yet, turn back entirely. Lorentz
responds that all his life he has believed that knowledge drives
out fear… and descends into Green Hell.
your goodbyes now.
are actually getting a bit suspenseful here, so it must be time
to check back in on Brady and Morgan. Brady is sulking that they've
already been there a week and a half (on my dime, I will remind
you! Mine! Okay, it's 1958, so my parents', but still…),
and he calms himself by playing with the crate of hand grenades
the Army gave him (My dime!). Then the two men start arguing
about mutation again, and it just gets ugly. Morgan leaves to
get ready for their departure the next day, and Brady starts writing
in that little notebook again.
resulting voiceover tells that they have to travel 400 miles -
by foot - to reach Lorentz' hospital, which will take 27 days.
Guess nobody recommended they simply take a boat up the coastline
to a spot closer to their destination. Me, I'm not looking forward
to 27 days worth of stock footage. Brady, Morgan, their Arab guide
Mahri (Eduardo Cianelli) and some extra department bearers, intercut
with footage of another movie which could afford many more bearers.
Handy guide to telling what from what: Deciduous trees and Jim
Davis: our movie. Grasslands and lots of bearers: somebody else's
does this become more apparent than in the segment where the safari
(more appropriately, the safari in the other movie), stray into
the territory of the Ookaballawonga tribe, who proceed to shower
them with arrows and pursue them across the veldt, until somebody
sets the grass on fire, using the conflagration to escape from
the warriors. And those bearers who didn't simply throw down their
burdens to run from the Ookaballawonga tribe had damned well better
have gotten significant bonuses!
is actually an impressive setpiece, with hundreds of people onscreen
at once, and small wonder, as it is lifted from the 1939 movie
Stanley and Livingstone; I'll wager that this one sequence
cost more, even in 1939 dollars than the entirety of Monster
from Green Hell. This also explains why Brady is wearing that
gay pith helmet with the scarf wrapped around it - it's so he'll
match the lifted footage. And it is admittedly handy for storing
the day's leechee nuts.
Brady lives to smoke and write in his little notebook, and torment
us with more stock footage. Remember, 27 days worth. First they
run out of drinking water, and matters aren't helped much by a
poisoned water hole (though that does give them a chance to use
all that vulture stock footage). Just before Morgan expires of
thirst, there is a massive rainstorm, saving them all. Except
that the rain goes on for three days, and Brady eventually gets
tired of sitting in his tent, smoking, and writing about the rain
in his little notebook. He orders the safari to set out in the
rain, and for his trouble is hit by a tree struck by lightning.
causes him to collapse a day or so later - we don't know why,
since Brady is unable to write in his Voiceover Notebook - and
he eventually regains consciousness in Lorentz's mission, with
the doctor's daughter, Lorna (Barbara Turner) attending him, and
Morgan, ready to light a cigarette for him.
that's twenty minutes of non-Monster populated time that I'll
never get back.
again able to use the Voiceover Notebook, Brady writes impatiently
about waiting for Lorentz. Which of course means that Arobi will
charge in to inform Lorna of her father's untimely demise in Green
Hell. (The size of the monster isn't the only thing that's elastic
in these parts, the plot's timeline is also twisting itself into
all sorts of topologically unfeasible shapes.) Lorna, of course,
seeks solace in Brady's arms. Arobi, besides bringing the bad
news, also brings back the stinger of the monster that killed
Lorentz, so Brady rather nonchalantly passes Lorna off to Morgan
so his hands are free to take the forensic evidence. Heaven forfend
that Lorna might actually go to someone she knows, like
Arobi, for comfort, instead of these comparative strangers… he's black, after all!
about casual racism aside - Brady determines that the stinger
did indeed come from a wasp, but declines to tell Morgan how big
the bug might be (perhaps, like us, he knows that this depends
on the shot the wasp is in. Which are, come to think of it, in
damned short supply). The men prepare to continue on to Green
Hell, but find that it might be difficult since their bearers
talked to the locals, found out there were monsters lounging about,
and headed back for civilization under the cover of darkness,
probably swearing they were just going to pick up some more cigarettes
for the bwana, and would be right back.
some pointless arguing with Lorna over why men like to
stick their heads into the maws of giant wasps, she actually proves
herself germane to the plot by telling the villagers that she
is going to Green Hell. Unwilling to be shown up by a mere woman,
all the men volunteer to act as bearers.
lasts exactly six pointless walking-around scenes, until the safari
comes upon a village apparently wiped out by the wasps, at which
point the bearers decide that being called a wuss the rest of
their lives probably isn't so bad, and run back home. Frankly,
I'm surprised that the terrifying spider monkey throwing coconuts
at them earlier didn't send these guys crying for mommy.
given that the main concern is that the wasps are running out
of prey in Green Hell and are starting to strike out from that
region, I have to wonder why they didn't take all these bodies
to, oh, lay eggs in or something. You know, wasp stuff. Anyway,
our heroes manfully shoulder the dropped burdens (most importantly,
the crate with the grenades and the one with the cigarettes) and
soldier on, pausing only for Lorna to bury her face in Brady's
would like to point out it has been over a half-hour since we
last saw a Monster from Green Hell. Thirty-five now. Hey, look,
the dormant volcano at the heart of Green Hell is active! Wonder
if that will have any significance later? Forty minutes. Brady
gives a lecture on wasps around the campfire; at least the lack
of a film projector disallows any insect stock footage. Morgan
gives a brief course on how to throw hand grenades. Brady writes
in his notebook.
- at forty-two minutes - a giant stop-motion wasp battles a stop
if this is one of the smaller giant wasps (say, the size of a
bus), this snake is huge, as it keeps wrapping itself around
the wasp. I guess there was neither a giant ape or Caspar van
Dien around to attack. Sure, the snake loses, but why isn't
somebody concerned about the giant killer snakes? Thereafter
follows several scenes of the fiberglass head poking through fake
greenery, with close-ups of its horrifying screen door eyes. Brady
figures out that they're surrounded but the wasps apparently don't
like fire, so he empties a kerosene can into the campfire, resulting
in a fireball that nearly consumes the camera.
next day they continue their trek to find the nest, which Brady
hopes to destroy. At this point, you can either succumb to ennui
during the endless walking shots, or make yourself a sandwich,
or do what I call Crap Movie Sightseeing. Hey look! Teenagers
from Outer Space! Hey! Missile to the Moon! Ooh! Ooh!
Rocketship X-M!! Brain from Planet Arous!!! Again.
What would we do without Bronson Canyon? (I also think there was
a Wizard of Mars
in there, too, but I'm not sure).
they find the nest, and guess what? If you guessed conventional
weapons have no effect, give yourself ten points and advance
to the next round. Of course, having done the bad movie equivalent
of stirring up a hornet's nest (quite literally), our heroes find
themselves trapped in a cave by a wasp that really wants to strangle
Brady. Brady, for some reason, thought to bring the crate of hand
grenades when he was running for his life, and blows up the whole
box, collapsing the cave, sealing them in and the wasps
let us begin another five minutes of aimless wandering around
in cave sets (Agh! Octaman flashback!) until the party finds a way out, just in time for
the volcano to finally erupt and wipe out the wasps, while our
apparently unimpressed heroes look on. Well, I'd be unimpressed
too, as the wiping out consists of every single shot of the monsters
we've seen with lava footage superimposed over it. Oooh. Aaaah.
Quick, somebody say something like "He tampered in God's domain"
or "It was beauty killed the beast," so we can end, already. End!
The end, for the love of God!
from Green Hell is the work of Kenneth G. Crane, who would
likely be better known as a film editor, were it not for this
movie and two others which are beloved by fans of crap cinema,
Half-Human and The Manster. It's been years since
I've seen the former, and I've never managed to catch the
latter, but both of the Crane movies I have seen qualify
for boredom-in-a-box status. Though it has to be mentioned that
Crane usually makes his new footage match the stock footage pretty
well - making the leads wear costumes matching those in the earlier
films may seem elementary, but a frustrating number of would-be
autuers seem to have trouble grasping that simple concept.
Hell has an outrageous amount of padding, even for a low-budget
monster movie, and once you see the titular creatures in action,
understand why they're such a small part of the movie. The badly
manipulated puppets and laughable double exposures are the worst,
especially in one instance where the wasp puppet looks like it
was underexposed by several f-stops but had to be used
anyway. The full size head and arms draw attention to themselves,
not only through the rather bizarre mode of attack - using the
claws as if they were hands - but by the head's very motionlessness.
It's inevitable that any monster movie of this type is going to
be compared to the grand-daddy of them all, Them!, and
suffer in the comparison. The life-sized giant ants in Them! were marvels, certainly huge and ungainly, but constantly in motion,
mandibles and antennae waving, head moving from side to side… the head of Green Hell's monster looks like nothing less
than what it is: a prop on wheels. Isolated shots of the compound
eyes laughably moving about in their sockets only serve to point
up the immobility of the rest of the mock-up..
cast, at least, is a sturdy menagerie of seasoned character actors.
Jim Davis, later of Al Adamson flicks
and TV's Dallas, makes a far better supporting player than
a leading man. Cianelli, as the Arab guide, has little more to
do than stand around looking foreign, at which he excelled in
movies like The Mummy's Hand and The Mysterious Dr.
Satan. Ditto Sokoloff, who kept cropping up on TV and in movies
like Beyond the Time Barrier.
Turner is a bit more problematic; she's certainly been cast against
type, as she isn't the typical raving blonde beauty one finds
in pictures like this (and whoever gave her that hairstyle deserves
to be shot). Then she is saddled with an accent that shifts all
over the European continent, then has to perform the usual wilting
duties of The Chick In The Monster Picture. She is given a fair
amount of interesting things to do as she struggles with the death
of her father, and the picture does give a very valid reason why
she has to go on the final safari - but then she gets relegated
very quickly to be-protected-and-comforted-by-big-strong-men-and-stay-out-of-the-way
status. Ms. Turner eventually turned from acting and has made
a name for herself as a writer, penning scripts for well-received
movies like The War Between the Tates and Pollack.
She's also the mother of Jennifer Jason Leigh, for those of you
into the genealogy thing.
special mention should be made of Joel Fluellen as the native
guide, Arobi. Fluellen had a long career, appearing in prestige
films like Run Silent, Run Deep and A Raisin in the
Sun. He has a potentially interesting character, struggling
with the superstitions pounded into him as a youth, but determined
to finish the work that his mentor began. He's given a bit more
screen time than a black character normally would in a flick like
this, and frankly, the movie could have used more of him. Subtle
racist cues aside, Arobi is a black character in a jungle movie
that gets to carry the gun, is not used for comic relief, and
is still alive at the end. While not exactly revolutionary, it
is almost refreshing. If anything in Green Hell
could truly be said to be refreshing.
analysis: Monster from Green Hell is a decidedly third-rate
monster movie and a fifth-rate jungle movie. Some examples of
this kind of flick deliberately keep the monster offstage for
most of the run, and at least try to get a sort of suspense
from that. This movie, however, seems to be hiding the monsters
from you because they're ashamed of them. (Agh! Bog
flashback!) But giant monster movies exist mainly to show the
monster interacting with and destroying a modern world made dwarfish
by their size - this particular breed of these movies
are about reversal - the giant bugs get to step on us.
There is none of this in Green Hell, and any attempt
to show the creatures interacting with the real world is painfully
inept. Even the rare sequence where it's well done, as in the
giant snake scene, is rendered laughable by an inability to agree
on a scale for the creatures (again, the Snake of Unusual Size).
You seem to see more footage of the monsters in giant bug movies
because this is their sole reason for existence: to see big bugs
run amuck. Which doesn't give Green Hell much of a reason
this flick was unavoidable on TV in the 60s. Somehow I managed
to avoid it, and it is only through sheer foolhardiness that I
encountered it now. Given enough time, I may even be able to figure
out a way to blame Ken for it. To all you Jim Davis completists
out there, I say sure, seek out this movie. Everybody else, watch
Them! or a Tarzan movie instead. Me, I'm going to find
a copy of Jungle Hell. I'm annoyed enough that I feel like
kicking some stock footage elephant heinie.