The Bad Movie Report

Monster!from Green Hell!

Own It!

Big B-Master Bugs!
And You Call Yourself A Scientist!
Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension
Opposable Thumb Films
Stomp Tokyo
Teleport City
The Unknown Movies

Some 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.

First, 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 and NOWFF.

MMy 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.

The 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.

If 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.

If 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.

Bastards!Sabu 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 throw.

The 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?

The 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 (shudder) elephants.

It has been suggested that if I were to review Jungle Hell, it might prove therapeutic - but then, one has only to realize that it wasThat mesa!  Too horribly familiar! 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.

Especially if I wind up jumping up and down on it.

We 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 Arousahhhh!….. Alright now, breathe, breathe… no reason to get too nervous this early in the film… Uh oh! Voiceover Narrator! Not good! Not good!

"This 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."

All 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.

In 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!"

Wach 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!!!!

Uh hm. Yeah.

The idea, our two rocket scientists explain to each other, is to "The super computer wants to know if we have Prince Albert in a can."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?)

Anyway, 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.

So let's go to Africa! Or, at least, to the stock footage of Africa!

A 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.

Lorentz's 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 Look out!  The puppet is attacking the rear projection screen!there may indeed be something strange in Green Hell, "but of nature, not evil spirits!" A Starbuck's, perhaps, or a new Wal-Mart.

Which 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 HELL!!!!

Oh, boy.

It 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.

"And this poor devil was lacquered by cosmic radiation!"Dr. 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, Dan!"

The hell - ??!! Are my tax dollars funding this guy?

If 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.

So 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.

Drop the lemon butter!  Drop it NOW!!!The 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!

Well, 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.

Say your goodbyes now.

Things 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.

The 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 movie.

Booga Booga!  I'm HUGE!!!Nowhere 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!

This 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.

So 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.

This 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.

Well, that's twenty minutes of non-Monster populated time that I'll never get back.

Once 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!

You're looking at my wings, aren't you?  Stop it!Sidetrips 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.

After 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.

This 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.

Now, 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 chest. Wimmin!

You  might try looking a bit scared here, Jim.I 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.

Finally - at forty-two minutes - a giant stop-motion wasp battles a stop motion snake!

The hell???!!

Even 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.

The 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).

Well, 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 out.

"Mr. Crane?  Is this where we're supposed to look awestruck?  Or is that later?"So 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!

Monster 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.

Green Hell has an outrageous amount of padding, even for a low-budget monster movie, and once you see the titular creatures in action, you Meanwhile, at the headquarters of the LEGION OF DOOM......immediately 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..

The 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.

Barbara 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.

And 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.

Final 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 My favorite part of the movie.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 to exist.

Apparently 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.


How the hell do you make giant wasps boring?

- September 21, 2002