From the DVD case: Beware Tabanga! On a remote South Seas island, no one is safe from this hideous and unique monster. Tabanga is part man, part tree, all doom. Formerly an island prince, he was unjustly put to death by a witch doctor. Now he’s returned to life with roots, branches, and a vengeance. A macabre medley of creature feature, Polynesian kitsch, and Atomic Age cautionary tale, From Hell It Came is the killer-tree movie you woodn’t want to miss! (1957, b&w)
Mark says: From Hell It Came is one of those movies that leave an indelible impression on a child’s mind. One of the joys of writing online reviews is being able to help readers identify movies they remember from childhood. I’m often asked if I can identify the movie “about a tree monster brought to life” by a tribal curse. My own memories regarding this movie are vague, at best, though it did inspire one of my very first nightmares. Unfortunately, that nightmare was scarier, and more memorable, than the actual film.
FHIC has a preposterous premise. Kimo, played by Gregg Palmer (Zombies of Mora Tau, The Creature Walks Among Us) is an island prince, framed for the death of his father, by the local witch doctor, the island chief, and his own wife, Korey, who is having a fling with the chief. Kimo is also accused of consorting with the American scientists who have come to the island to assess the damage caused by radioactive fallout from atomic bomb testing. While studying radiation levels, the scientists discover that the islanders are suffering an epidemic of the Black Plague. Most of the islanders are distrustful of the Americans who are attempting to treat them, but Kimo understands that the White Man’s medicine is good, and this poses a threat to the chief and the witch doctor.
For his transgressions, Kimo is put to death. In a ridiculous opening sequence, Kimo is staked to the ground, surrounded by chickens, and a ceremonial knife is driven through his heart. However, before he is killed, Kimo puts a curse on the three conspirators, and vows to return to wreak vengeance from beyond the grave. And return he does, as a slow, lumbering, tree beast, known as “the Tabanga.”
The Tabanga was created by the great Paul Blaisdell, bless his heart, the creator of such beasts as The She-Creature and the “It” from It Conquered the World. Mr. Blaisdell’s creations are not always frightening, but they are memorable, and always entertaining. The Tabanga is no exception (see image at the top of this review). The terrible tree monster is endowed with a permanent scowl and unblinking eyes. It moves clumsily, and at a turtle’s pace. Whenever it bends, the foam rubber construction becomes painfully evident. We can see its beating heart near the ceremonial dagger still plunged in its trunk. This is a true iconic B-movie prop, and easily the highlight of the movie.
From Hell It Came also features a romantic subplot between two of the American Scientists, Dr. William Arnold, played by Tod Andrews (Voodoo Man, 1944), and Dr. Terry Mason, played by Tina Carver (The Man Who Turned to Stone, 1957). Dr. Mason is a modern, strong female, who wants to live a life unhampered by tradition. Dr. Arnold, on the other hand, is a traditionalist who feels every woman wants a husband and children, no matter how obstinately she protests against it. Sadly, after been saved by Dr. Arnold, the strong-willed Dr. Mason seems to give up her convictions and agrees to the traditional role of wife and mother. This was predictable, but still a disappointment.
It’s not the laughable monster, nor the absurd plot that is the downfall of this movie, though. After all, foam rubber monsters and outlandish stories are what great B-movies are made of. What really kills this film is it’s dragging pace and tedious dialog. Not even a racy shower scene with Tina Carver can invigorate the segments not featuring the Tabanga. Linda Watkins, in the comedy relief role of Mrs. Mae Kilgore, only manages to make the slow scenes more grating. My guess is, if you remember this movie fondly from childhood, you’ll be disappointed to view it again as an adult. The novelty of Blaisdell’s Tabanga saves this film for me, but less hardcore fans are apt to be disenchanted.
Professional wrestler, Chester Hayes, not only plays Tabanga, the tree monster, but also the native, Maku (featured most prominently during the final sequences). Also, listen for Tina Carver’s screams while she is being abducted by the tree beast. They are some of the worst screams in all movie history. She sounds eerily similar to my cat hacking up a fur ball.
This movie effectively ended Milner Brothers Productions (Dan and Jack Milner) who produced The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues two years earlier.
Directed by Dan Milner.
Scene to watch for: The unstoppable Tabanga rises from the smoldering fire pit to exact revenge.
Line to listen for: “Will you stop being a doctor first and a woman second? Let your emotions rule you, not your intellect.”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ½ out of 5.