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From Hell it Came (1957) (film retrospective).

October 26, 2020 | By | Reply More

The New York Times, which likes to give one-line reviews for movies scheduled for TV has a quick phrase for this film: “From Hell it Came.”

Well, I can certainly see where they are coming from. In truth this is not a very good film. Actually, in truth I should use stronger language. The idea of a tribal folklore monster coming to life would not be a bad one. But that is about the only thing that is good about this often genuinely incompetent film. There was a strong temptation to say this is not really a science fiction film at all but a horror film with some science fiction elements. As I assume most of my readers know in the 1930s up into the 1970s it was common practice for movie theaters, particularly drive-in theaters, to have double or more features, offering the public two or more films for the price of one.

Too frequently the second feature was of minimal budget. That sounds like a bad thing, but the second film often was made with more creativity than the main feature attraction. The filmmakers were less likely to depend on large profits and they would take chances trying to find a concept that might intrigue a filmgoer who stumbled on the poster. Instead of something only semi-unimaginative like a giant ant or a giant spider or some other giant arthropod or crustacean, you might get a giant evil, angry tree stump.

The latter was featured in From Hell it Came. Sadly the strange idea of a walking tree was the best part of the movie. The concept of From Hell it Came is that if a man has been treated with sufficient injustice, in this life he could come back not as an avenging ghost but as a Tabonga. What is a Tabonga, you ask? It is a walking (and avenging) spirit wrapped in a tree trunk.” Do you want to see what an angry tree stump looks like? Well, it sort of looks like a cross between an angry Orthodox rabbi and a cinnamon sticky bun. See if your heart can take it. This is not a very good film, but it has its moments of fun and the idea is weird enough to make up for the film’s numerous deficiencies.

From Hell it Came (1957) (film retrospective).

From Hell it Came (1957) (film retrospective).

The story deals with Kimo, the son of a recently murdered chief of a tribe on a South Pacific atoll near where a nuclear test took place. Kimo is accused of the crime and found guilty through the treachery of his wife. The real murderer is the new chief of the tribe. But Kimo has been friendly to the visiting American scientists investigating the effects of radiation, and Kimo’s friendship has bred suspicion. Kimo’s punishment is to have a dagger driven through his heart and to be buried in the ground standing up in a box of tree logs. Kimo’s last words are a threat to be stronger in death than his accusers are in life. After the execution, the plot action slows down as the scientists tell each other things they should already know about the background of the story. Subtle how the script works! But true to Kimo’s curse his vengeful spirit does come back.

Out of his grave grows a stump with a face. The native tribe has a legend that vengeful spirits can inhabit trees and come to life. The resulting monster is called a vengeful spirit or Tabonga. When the scientists investigate they find the stump has a heartbeat like a human. The scientists find the heartbeat failing and give the tree an experimental drug to strengthen the heartbeat. The Tabonga comes to life as a rubbery-looking version of Kimo with a knife in its trunk and an angry face. Finally in the last twenty minutes of the film the Tabonga goes on a rampage killing Kimo’s enemies. While none of the acting rises above high school play quality, some lines by bit actors are notably terrible. Tod Andrews is the only really familiar actor. He was best known in the late Fifties as TV’s Gray Ghost,’ based on the Southern Civil War hero John Mosby.

The Una’Connor Irritation Award goes to Linda Watkins as Mrs. Kilgore who talks incessantly in a horrible Australian accent. At some point this film had some potential because it did have a really different monster, the Tabonga created by Paul Blaisdel. However, the monster looks like a tree from The Wizard of Oz or a McDonald’s ad. It looks entirely too stiff in the upper parts and rubbery around the arms and legs. The angry face on it just looks silly. Where we hear words in the native language it does not sound like a South Pacific dialect. The whole telling of the backplot in details dropped in conversation that is contrived. The pacing keeps anything of plot interest until the last twenty minutes. Most the script is a holding action to just awkwardly delay any action to transform the two minutes of story-into a seventy-minute film.

The film has enough problems without its long dull stretches for people to tell each other what has happened. Just to prove there is always someone who does not get the memo, the tree monster is called a Tabonga in the film but in the trailer it was called a “baronga.” The fact that the trailer producer decided the coining of a different generic name for the monster is “a baranga'”.

This film gets a -2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 1/10.

Mark R. Leeper

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Category: Films, Horror, MEDIA

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