Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Wooden It Be Loverly: From Hell It Came (1957)


By Hank Parmer

I would like to state for the record I'm painfully aware there's no way anyone could top Ed Naha's concise but epic review of this film: " -- And to Hell It Can Go!"

So why this guaranteed exercise in futility? I'm not sure. Maybe it's because that rainy afternoon many years ago when the Tabanga (pronounced “Tah-bong-ah”) shambled arthritically onto the 15-inch black-and-white cathode tube of our GE portable TV was a true formative experience: It was the day I discovered an allegedly scary movie could inflict boredom so intense it might well be lethal, in which the utter, leaden tedium on the TV seeps into your soul, and you feel a headache coming on ... and you taste copper ...

This, it should be noted, happened at an age when keeping my holstered cap pistols slung on the bedpost at night, close at hand in case I needed them to scare off the Wolfman, seemed eminently sensible. (Not that I seriously believed I could kill a werewolf with a cap gun -- but I figured there might be an outside chance I could bluff him.)

So it isn't as if the clowns who horked up this cinematic hairball would have had to work up much of a sweat to scare the bejeezus out of my tender young self. Knowing this, you may understand why I've nursed a long-festering grievance against this crappy movie. So on with the show:

After the opening credits, there's an establishing shot of surf crashing on a sandy beach and palm trees swaying in the balmy breeze, with generic tropical island orchestral mood-setter -- heavy on the lush strings, please. Oh, look: a quaint native ceremony!

But there's something sinister afoot, as a close-up reveals their witch doctor, Tano, holding a voodoo doll in one hand and a kebab skewer in the other.

This, by the way, is an extremely rare cinematic example of Polynesian Santeria. The doll has been helpfully pre-marked with a big white circle on its chest, about where the victim's heart should be. Maybe it's from a beginner's kit.

The camera pans to a handsome young native, staked out on the ground. Several chickens scratch around by the poor schmuck's head. Good Lord! Is it to be the agonizing, unspeakably gruesome "Death by Poultry"?

Remember all those Hooters wings you scarfed down...?

(I'm betting these barnyard fowl just wandered onto the set and no one thought it worth the trouble to shoo them off for another take.)

Tano addresses tonight's sacrifice, Kemo: He must die for the unforgivable crime of betraying his own people, plus he caused the death of his own father, the Great Chief.

Kemo protests he's innocent. His father died from the Black Plague!

But Tano says lies will not help him. The chief and many of their people died because of the Americans' devil dust!

Appealing to the crowd, Kemo angrily retorts: "Tano fears the Americans because their medicine is stronger than his! They came here as our friends, and want to help us!"

The new chief, Maranka, demands to know why didn't they cure his father then, huh? Huh? Maranka was Kemo Sr.'s best friend; he begged him to take Tano's medicine, to make him well and strong again.

Kemo accuses Tano and Maranka of poisoning his father.

"The Evil Spirits have seized Kemo's mind!" shouts Maranka. "His tongue has become a serpent!"

(Not “his tongue is like a serpent's”? Whatever ...)

"Just ask my wife, Cory," counters Kemo. I imagine she would be in a good position to notice any such alteration ... oh, I get it: He means she was there when they gave his father the poison.

But luscious Cory has her own agenda. "Why, what do you wish me to say, my husband?" she asks, innocently. Note that despite the sarong and faux-primitive syntax, this lady's flat, vaguely Midwestern accent sounds more like she's spent the past few years of her life taking orders at a truckstop diner.

The look on his face is priceless, as it finally dawns on Kemo how irretrievably screwed he is: "But, you saw them give him the poison!"

"No," she contradicts him sweetly. "His father only took the medicine the American doctor gave him."

Maranka seizes on this triumphantly, pointing out to the assembly that Kemo's own wife has just proved he's a liar! It was the devil dust of the Americans which made the old man sick, then their medicine finished the job. For this, Kemo must die!

Kemo, realizing the fix is in, swears vengeance on Tano, Maranka and Cory. His body may die, he vows, but his spirit will live on. He will be more powerful in death than he was in life. (They call him -- "Obi-Wan Kemobe"!) He will come back from Hell and punish them for their crimes!

Maranka gives the signal. Tano the witch doctor skewers the doll, while simultaneously a couple of islanders drive a dagger into Kemo's chest with a single blow of a stake mallet. That's some powerful voodoo, alright.

(Maybe Tano was using the doll as a demonstration, to ensure the guys didn't screw it up. After all, you can't take too many precautions with these primitive knuckleheads. They might try to pound the mallet into Kemo's chest with the dagger, or forget it's the point of the dagger that's placed against the victim's rib cage, not the butt.)

And there is much rejoicing, ersatz-Polynesian style. A couple of the men and some grass-skirted young women break into a wild celebratory dance, a few feet away from Kemo's corpse and the bemused-looking poultry. The camera slowly pans away from the dancers, then cuts to a busty redhead, peeking warily through some foliage, aghast at this savage spectacle. Four men bring in what's either a coffin or a crude prototype of a porta-john.
This thing will make us a mint at the next luau!

Cut to the Americans' laboratory hut.

Dr. William Arnold and vaguely androgynous Prof. Clark are putzing around in the lab. They crab about being stuck on this lousy island, what with the heat and the damp and the bugs. Why, it's not at all like the brochures!

(I'd like to note that Tod Andrews, who for some unfathomable reason was chosen to play the romantic lead, appears to be half-way gassed throughout the entire movie. He constantly flubs his lines, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out he had to be poked at with a stick to rouse him for the next take.)

They're worried about the natives' incessant drumming, although the Prof admits it has a good beat ... you could dance to it. He'd give it about a 65. Bill, on the other hand, is mad for the irresistible Latin rhythms and smooth stylings of Xavier Cougat and his orchestra.

The conversation turns to the recent death of Kemo's father, recapping for anyone who may have arrived late to the movie that, despite Bill's best efforts, the old guy died after partaking of some of Tano's homemade bubonic broth. Strangely, ever since the duffer kicked the bucket, the natives have been giving the Americans the stink-eye.

Prof. Clark thinks it's no biggie, since the islanders have always been peaceful. Bill, though, complains that these simple, childlike natives are unjustifiably upset over that slight bit of fallout which got scattered all over their island from an atomic test at “Nagasa Key” -- er, I mean “Atoll”, courtesy of a freak cyclone "that blew up out of nowhere". So it was just bad luck, okay?

But when the scientists arrived with their Geiger counters, contrary to what those gloom-and-doom, Ban-the-Bomb peacenik types would have predicted, they found the natives dying from the plague, not the fallout.

That's a relief! I mean, everybody knows if radiation doesn't kill you immediately, you're okay, right? These islanders are just soooo ignorant. Why, says Bill, the radioactivity is only a little more than you'd get from a dental x-ray -- twenty-four hours a day, every day. How could that possibly cause any problems?


If it hadn't been for those loose-lipped sailors and their silly scare talk about fallout, muses the Prof, Tano would never have been able to poison the minds of these superstitious natives. The witch doctor hates them because he simply can't stand the competition from superior Anglo-Saxon medicine and stuff.

The back story naturally wouldn't be complete without a gob of romantic angst: Bill is all tense and out of sorts because he's ready to blow this scene and get back to civilization. He's in love with Dr. Terry Mason, but she refuses to leave the islands. She thinks marriage is a drag -- which I suspect has more than a little to do with this choice of mate.

Prof. Clark tries to let Bill down easy. As a newly-minted doctor, he suggests, Terry wants adventure and excitement. And she's doing such great work.

But Bill is so angry and frustrated he could kick her -- meaningful pause -- teeth in. (You can't help but admire the way the script avoids offending anyone with the indelicacy of having Bill utter the word "butt" by substituting something far more brutal, not to mention permanently disfiguring.)

Bill's offered her the Sun, the Moon and the stars, he continues, bitterly, but she's more interested in her test tubes. Go fig!

The Prof tells him to get over it. Bill replies he's tried, dozens of times, without success. Unless this is an oblique reference to evenings with Master Bates, there must be far more opportunities to meet young, attractive singles on these remote South Pacific islands than you'd normally expect. Especially for baggy-eyed, dyspeptic stiffs like Bill.

A new character enters: the military contingent, Corporal Eddie. He feeds the docs a line about Generator Three acting up; fortunately, he claims he caught it in time. But who's going to know the difference? I bet he was just goofing off.

They hear a woman's desperate scream! (I forgot to mention that during the preceding dialog between Bill and the Prof, there are brief cutaways to the redhead, as she's crashing through the underbrush.) She emerges from the jungle at a gallop, an islander close on her tail. He catches up with her and begins to choke her. The men grab their weapons and hasten outside. The native scarpers, leaving the mysterious woman lying senseless on the ground.

"Why, it's Mrs. Kilgore!" exclaims the Prof. He warned her she should stay at the trading post when the natives are having one of their ceremonies. If there's one thing these islanders hate, it's party crashers. The Americans carry her inside and place her on a cot.

Meanwhile, the natives seal Kemo in that log cabin style coffin. Back to the Americans: Utilizing an Australo-Cockney accent every bit as authentic as Cory's Tiki-Hut Polynesian, a revived Mrs. Kilgore fills them in about the dirty doings she witnessed from the bushes.

Back to the natives, now lowering Kemo's coffin end-first into a deep, narrow pit. Tano the witch doctor tosses some soup bones and leftovers in after it. Eschewing the cursed high-tech of the White Man's excavating tools, his native helpers scoop the sand back into the grave with their hands. (It must have taken them forever to dig that hole!)

At the hut, Bill tells Mrs. Kilgore the native probably attacked her because she was walking past the cemetery. (I'm sure it's just a minor detail that the dearly soon-to-be-departed had to be strongly encouraged to shuffle off this mortal coil.)

Mrs. Kilgore obviously has a "thing" for handsome Dr. Arnold. Recovering with amazing alacrity from having witnessed one murder and shortly thereafter narrowly avoided becoming the victim of a second, she bats her eyes at the doc and explains she was on her way to see him, to get some more of that ducky medicine he gave her for her nerves. She's just a poor, lonely widow who's buried two husbands – the last one may not have been quite dead yet, but still ... She wriggles provocatively: Wouldn't the Doctor like to give her a quick examination, just to make sure everything's in working order?

Bill regretfully declines. Clearly disappointed, Mrs. Kilgore knocks back some more Jim Beam and declares that as soon as she can get rid of the trading post, she's heading back to 'Stralia to open up a tea room. Prof. Clark twits her over how much money she's made trading beads and cheap trinkets to the natives for copra and pearls. Hastily changing the subject, Mrs. Kilgore expresses some confusion as to why the Americans would want to study these icky natives anyway.

Bill employs heavy sarcasm: She doesn't understand them like the Professor does, who considers them delightful in their own primitive way. Why, he'll tell you a human sacrifice is no worse than a traffic accident!

And a lot more entertaining, what with the colorful costumes and the rituals and dancing -- plus sometimes you can buy souvenirs. But too bad they chose Kemo. He was so polite, muses Mrs. Kilgore, wistfully. Handsome, too ...

Prof. Clark eulogizes their departed friend: He was killed for learning something about SCIENCE! and trying to help his people. They all agree it's a crying shame. He was their one link with the islanders, but by golly, they're gonna lick this plague whether the natives like it or not! Then they'll just have to start trusting the Americans.

Mrs. Kilgore remarks that even though she's not some fancy-pants egghead, she can see there's strange doings going on 'round these parts. Prof. Clark agrees; he's going to ask for more help from Washington, to study the situation.

The next day, Terry arrives by helicopter. As Bill and Cpl. Eddie take the Jeep to meet her at the landing field, they pass the spot where Kemo was buried last night, which the natives have thoughtfully commemorated with a skull on a pole. Closeup of the grave, where something is making the soil bulge slowly upward. Looks like the groundskeeper had better set some mole traps.

Bill greets Terry enthusiastically, or at least, with as much enthusiasm as this actor appears capable of mustering. She tells him to take a cold shower. Meanwhile, four natives stand at the edge of the clearing, glowering at the Americans. Bill's uneasy. He begs her to return to Baku and send somebody else. Terry, though, is far too professional to be frightened off so easily. She insists on remaining.

Once again we get a shot of the stealthily stirring sand over Kemo's grave as they drive past.

Arriving at the hut, Terry's welcomed by Prof. Clark and Mrs. Kilgore. Because the new arrival is too special to fend for herself like everyone else, the Missus has helpfully engaged a maid for her. The girl's name is "Orchid" -- because, she says, she's wild and beautiful. She's half-islander, half-Dutch, an outcast and therefore not obligated to boycott the civilized folks. She was raised by a missionary, so her American is perfect.

After a refreshing, mildly titillating shower scene, Terry joins Bill in the lab. A couple of islanders, Norgu and his wife, Dory, have defied the witch doctor's edict and come for more of the Americans' medicine. Terry is convinced her miraculous new Formula X-37 will cure everything that ails Dory -- eczema, a touch of the plague, and a "minor radiation burn" -- lickety-split! And wouldn't you know it, she just happens to have some in one of those crates she brought. (It's indeed fortunate for these simple natives that Terry's the Amway distributor for the archipelago.)

She instructs the two to come back tomorrow for Dory's first treatment.

Cut to the village, where Cory is chagrined to discover the magic is gone: The witch doctor was merely using her for his own evil ends. While Tano's whipping up some poison darts to use on the Americans, she accuses him of dumping her so he can do the Horizontal Hula with Naomi.

Right on cue, shapely, sultry Naomi -- all the native girls are lookers, natch -- arrives, proudly bearing a bowl of poison-berries. She understands how important it is to be supportive of your man's little hobbies.

Tano's got enough berries for this batch, though; after warning Cory to keep her trap shut, he repairs to his hut with Naomi. Cory sashays off, curvaceous hips haughtily semaphoring her withering disdain for this lowlife Lothario and his hussy.

Bill and Terry take a walk in the jungle. Notice that our practical, no-nonsense doctor, who's spent some time in these islands, is wearing a cute little sun dress and open-toe pumps for this excursion into the heat and the damp, and shows no hesitation at all about parking her derriere on the purportedly bug-and-leech-infested ground when they take a breather. Despite Bill's lethargic attempts at romance, Terry's determined not to give up her career and become a housewife. (What's wrong with her?!)

The spot they've chosen to recite this tedious dialog overlooks the native cemetery. Terry is intrigued when she notices the pole marking Kemo's grave mysteriously topple over on its own. The two investigate. Dum-dum-dum: There's a stump poking up out of the sand!

Back at the hut, the Americans puzzle over this freak of nature. Norgu and Dory arrive for her first X-37 treatment. Norgu sees a sketch of the stump, and instantly connects it to the local legend of the tree monster: Long ago, a chief was murdered by his enemies and buried with some seeds. A tree-monster sprouted over his grave, and a bolt of lightning tore it from the ground. It then roamed the island, killing many people.

And the natives called it -- dramatic pause -- Tabanga! Norgu explains this means "Creature of Revenge". Incisive as usual, Terry asks how they killed it. But nobody knows -- it just disappeared, possibly into the quicksand at the edge of the lake.

Orchid interrupts this ominous narrative by rushing in to inform everybody that stump's gotten much bigger and weirder-looking. It's got a dagger embedded in it, too, and the thing's leaking sap. Ick!

Norgu and the Americans head out to confirm the existence of such a bizarre anomaly. Where formerly there was merely a small piece of driftwood protruding from the ground, there's now the entire upper torso of Tabanga the tree monster! It even has a heartbeat. We know this because there's a close-up of a slowly pulsating soft spot, just above the hilt of the dagger. That green ichorous sap oozing from the dagger wound -- which according to Prof. Clark serves the same purpose as blood -- is also highly radioactive.
You can tell me, Doc: Is it my heart?

(This is as good a place as any to mention that Paul Blaisdell created the Tabanga costume. A trained artist and sculptor, he was known in the B-movie business of the time for working fast and more importantly, cheap. Still, he managed to provide some iconic creatures for drive-in fare like It Conquered the World, The She Creature and Invasion of the Saucer Men. His creations were usually the best things about these movies, and this is no exception. The Tabanga might even have made an okay ambush predator -- with a lot of cooperation from its victims. On a moonless night. Or in a dense fog. Or both. But, as we shall see, even if it looks fairly impressive, the Tabanga has far too many mobility issues to be at all convincing as a hideous monster which lives only to terrorize and kill.)

Norgu urges the Americans to destroy the thing before it can embark on its deadly rampage. The Prof scoffs at his childish superstitions, but Terry has the eerie feeling it can understand what they're saying. Good thing, because frankly, I haven't a clue.

They return to the hut, where Eddie passes along orders from Washington to dig up the stump and bring it back to the lab. Bill thinks they should just dump it in the quicksand, but he's outvoted.

Back at the village, Tano and Maranka are hatching more evil schemes. The chief insists they must off Norgu for hanging with the Americans, but the wilier Tano reminds him that Norgu is popular with the other villagers, so they'll have to be circumspect about it. The witch doctor has a better idea: a powerful potion which he will spread around the Tabanga's roots. Not only will it make the tree-monster taller and more vigorous, it also controls aphids and root borers! Plus, it has the added benefit of enslaving the Tabanga to Tano's will. Then, he assures his co-conspirator, Norgu will die.

Tano adds he need only to wait until the fourth day after the second full moon to set his fiendish plan in motion. (No reason to be in a big rush about it.) Maranka agrees, with the stipulation that Cory must also die.

Unbeknownst to the plotters, they're overheard by Cory, who hurries off to spill the beans to the Americans. She admits to having betrayed Kemo, but Norgu -- the sap! -- believes they can trust her now. The Prof invites Cory to stay. Despite the wacky mix-ups which will no doubt ensue, he tells Norgu that he should bring Dory there, too.

And are there any island girls named, say, "Tory" or "Lori"? They could be in danger as well. (He's got an 8mm camera, you see, and Washington sent them these cheerleader uniforms by mistake ...)

After dark, the Americans take a flashlight and some shovels to the native cemetery, dig the now fully-grown monster up and transport it to the lab. Remember how they earlier discovered its blood/sap/whatever was highly radioactive? Disregarding for the moment the gooey stuff that's dripping off of it, unless the Tabanga is covered with lead-impregnated bark, it ought to be irradiating the hell out of everything in its immediate vicinity.

So do they take any precautions against radiation exposure? Hell no! Those lead overalls just get in the way, and besides, in no time at all, you're sweating like a pig and it's pooling down in your boots. A couple of hours in one of those things and you smell like mummy meat.

Terry listens to the Tabanga's heartbeat. Oh, no: Its pulse is getting weaker by the moment! Terry considers applying a few thousand volts to its adrenal gland, but the Prof reminds her they don't have the equipment for that. And it's a silly idea. For starters, how would she operate on the thing: with a surgical steel auger? A Craftsman power drill and a hole saw might do the job, or I suppose they could just pound a couple of tenpenny nails into the thing and wire 'em up.

Bill's ready to give up and toss the critter in the quicksand, or nail it in a crate and send it to Washington, where they can use it as a clothes tree. Har. I think he's intimidated by the fact there's now an even bigger slab of wood on this island.

But Terry -- fatally blinded by SCIENCE! -- is determined to keep it alive. There's only one thing that might save the Tabanga now: Formula 447 -- another wonderful new product from those fine folks at Amway! (Screenplay Tip: Whenever you want your mysterious concoctions to sound extra-special, give them a number that ends with a "7".)

Despite Bill's misgivings, they dose the tree monster with the 447. Terry says the stuff takes at least eight hours to work. Since it's ten at night, she suggests they all knock off and catch some Z's, then check back on the Tabanga at 6 A.M. It's not like there would be any scientific value in taking turns monitoring the effects of an experimental drug on a unique specimen. They exit the lab, with Bill whining about having to get up at such an ungodly hour.

Tired and worn-out from the evening's SCIENCE!-ing, Terry and company must have slept like the dead. Because, as was completely predictable, next morning the lab's wrecked and the Tabanga is nowhere to be found.

Cutaway to the Tabanga, stumping along through the jungle to your typical 50s SF theremin music. Due to some flaw in the costume (at least, I don't think this was intentional) the thing's lower jaw flaps up and down with each step. Reminding me of nothing so much as Walter Brennan's "Amos" from The Real McCoys, it hitches along like a crotchety elder with a bum hip, griping to himself about having to be up and about at the crack of dawn, and durn this lumbago, anyway! For some reason, during this sequence the camera is careful to keep the lower half of the Tabanga screened by the underbrush. I bet it has a raging case of morning wood ...

Back at the lab, Terry, Bill and the Prof survey the wreckage. Bill tries to pin the blame on Terry, claiming she must have screwed up on the dosage. So the monster woke up early, got angry -- possibly because no one had cleaned out the coffee maker -- and busted up the place. (I've never been a morning person, either.)

The Prof remains skeptical that the Tabanga simply up and walked away. After all, just because he's witnessed a stump sprout over Kemo's grave and grow almost overnight into a seven-and-a-half-foot tall radioactive tree/human hybrid with a perceptible heartbeat, that doesn't mean the thing's really alive. That's just crazy!

He posits the natives carried the Tabanga off, after acting out like a bunch of juvenile delinquents and trashing the place. Uh-oh: The radio is out of commission, too.

Meanwhile, Cory spies her rival, Naomi, taking her morning dip in the lake. Cory stalks Naomi through the jungle, then attacks her with a knife. Naomi patterns her defense on those insects which, when threatened, fall over on their backs and wave their legs around. Cory flings herself on her rival, but Naomi blocks the knife and it goes flying.

Close by, the Tabanga lumbers through the jungle.

The two women roll around on the ground a bit, pull each others hair and otherwise stage a particularly unconvincing catfight to the death.

Tabanga like to watch ...

Cory eventually retrieves her knife and chases after Naomi. She corners her hated rival against a tree, and lunges -- but Naomi ducks and the blade buries itself in the tree trunk. While Cory struggles to yank it free, Naomi grabs a stick and clouts her attacker upside the head with it. Cory falls back ... 

... into the waiting limbs of the Tabanga! What a brilliant display of teamwork and timing.

Hi, honey! Surprised to see me?

Cory screams, and faints. Naomi runs for her life -- although all she really needed to do was proceed at a slow walk, with frequent five-minute rests. The creature lugs Cory to the quicksand and unceremoniously dumps her in. Though his faithless wife tearfully pleads for her life, her erstwhile husband watches her get sucked under without lifting a twig.

Naomi finds Maranka and tells him the Tabanga's on the loose. "How do you know it is Tabanga?" demands the chief.

Well, I dunno ... how many stumps on this island are you currently expecting to go on walkabout?

Tano joins them. He also doubts the word of a weak, foolish woman, so he takes her with him to the cemetery to check on the monster. Finding it's been uprooted, he figures the Americans must have been responsible. Now he says he'll have to recruit the best hunters on the island to track it down and destroy it. Then they will kill all the meddling Americans!

He commands Naomi to take him to where she saw the Tabanga. It's no longer there, but finding a scrap torn from Cory's sarong, he instantly deduces she's been tossed in the quicksand. (We'll be right back to C.S.I. South Pacific, after these commercials.)

They hurry off in search of the monster. But the Creature of Revenge has cunningly doubled back to the village. It surprises Maranka while he's polishing his spear. (No, literally.) The chieftain hurls his weapon at the Tabanga from a distance of four or five feet, and misses by a mile. Rather than doing the smart thing by turning and strolling away from this gradually approaching menace, Maranka inexplicably allows it to back him up against a tree. In a move which gives it a startling resemblance to a determinedly leg-humping Shar Pei, the Tabanga thrusts itself against the luckless chief, crushing him to death.

Down, boy! Down!

Tano and Naomi return to the village, where he immediately organizes a Tabanga-hunt. Meanwhile, Orchid sprints over to the Americans' hut and informs them the tree monster is on a rampage.

Terry, oblivious to the danger, is ecstatic that her formula worked! But ... she never meant for the monster to kill anybody. (How many times have we heard that before?) Bill, in a sunnier mood now that he's had breakfast and got a couple of cups of joe under his belt, thoughtfully attempts to lessen her guilt by theorizing that "the radiation dormant in the monster must have caused a chain reaction".

Because ... SCIENCE!

They briefly consider trying to do something about this monster they've unwittingly set loose on the islanders, but Prof. Clark suggests those hotheaded natives might be feeling a bit resentful about that. Better hole up in the hut and let the locals deal with it.

I tell you, the example of bravery and dedication set by these Americans should be a constant source of inspiration to us all.

Cut to the hunting party, who're busy digging a pitfall for the Tabanga while Tano supervises. I really have to wonder why they're going to all this trouble, when all they have to do to render the thing completely helpless is push it over on its back.

Tano decoys the Tabanga into their trap. It tumbles into the pit, and the natives toss some torches in after it. Certain now that they've put an end to this menace, they walk away from the flaming pitfall, congratulating themselves on a job well done.

Of course it's not going to be that easy: After the flames die down, a slightly charred-around-the-edges but otherwise unscathed Tabanga emerges from this impromptu barbecue pit, ready to kill again. (That's what they get for trying to burn a green Tabanga: You really must let it season first, if you want to get the best results.)

The Tabanga seeks out the final target for its ruthless vengeance: Tano.
I'm comin' for ya, Witchy-poo!

Confronted by the Tabanga, the witch doctor backs away, while maintaining eye contact. That's supposed to work for bears, so why not with animated killer stumps?

But, in a trick familiar to every middle-schooler, one of the Tabanga's sneaky arboreal allies has previously laid itself on the ground behind Tano. He trips and falls over backwards. But he keeps his head and quickly assumes the traditional island "legs in the air" defense stance. The Tabanga ambles up to the witch doctor as he sprawls on the ground, too paralyzed with terror to get up and walk away at a moderate pace. The tree monster bends over creakily and somehow manages to kill him (off-camera) with one of its branch-arms.

Thus showing that, just like Maranka the chief, Tano is literally dumber than a stump.

Two natives run to the Americans' hut and beg our heroes to save them from the Tabanga. Arming themselves with carbines and accompanied by the islanders, Bill, Eddie and the Prof troop through the day-for-night jungle, with pistol-packing Mrs. Kilgore trailing behind them, chattering incessantly, while the Professor calculates the odds of successfully staging a fatal firearms accident.

Terry brings up the rear. For trekking through the jungle at night, the doctor's chosen a more practical albeit rather tight calf-length skirt, but she just can't seem to give up those satin open-toe pumps for something more practical. A pebble becomes lodged in her shoe, so what does she do but stop and lean against a tree while she takes it off.

Does this brilliant, take-charge scientist, fully aware that a murderous monster may be lurking somewhere in the vicinity, think to call out to the others to wait up a minute? Of course not. She fiddles with her shoe while the rest of the party disappear into the jungle, giving the Tabanga plenty of opportunity to sneak up and surprise her.

Funny: I could swear I smell charcoal lighter ...

Besides the fact that on this plague-ridden isle every native we've seen during the course of the film appears quite hale and hearty, it really is remarkable that this seven-and-a-half-foot tall, three-foot wide tree monster with spiky branches sprouting from its shoulders, which can only get from one place to another by scuffing its size 16 roots along through the dirt and detritus, can nonetheless slip through this dense underbrush with ninja-like stealth.

Terry, like all the Tabanga's prey, doesn't attempt to evade the clumsy, slow-moving creature. Though I'll say this much about the actress, Tina Carver: She appears quite convincingly freaked-out by the monster, and her frenzied screams are the one believable thing about this crappy film.

It carries her off, while she beats her fists against its unyielding bark. Well, okay, she just sort of lightly slaps at it -- the foam rubber probably couldn't take much abuse. The hunting party halts at the sound of Terry's terrified shrieks. They finally realize she's missing and hurriedly retrace their path.

They find the trail of the Tabanga and follow it, catching up with the monster as it nears the quicksand, apparently intent on dumping the heroine into the muck. Which if you ask me is a stunning example of ingratitude. After all, if hadn't been for Terry's inspired use of Formula 477, the Tabanga would presently be pushing up the shitake mushrooms, and just forget about that whole vengeance trip. But a tree monster's gotta do what a tree monster's gotta do, so tough beans, lady.

The men start shooting at it, to no effect. Bill justifies his presence in this film when that 10-watt bulb in his cranium lights up and he conceives the brilliant notion of shooting at the dagger. If they hit it just right, that might drive it all the way into the Tabanga's heart!

Good plan, except that the critter's got its back to them as it shuffles toward the mire, while Terry squirms in its woody embrace. Oh, and by now she should have gotten another hefty dose of radiation from the creature, but who's noticing? Certainly not this story. They blaze away at it -- without hitting Terry, or even so much as nicking her with a splinter -- in the desperate hope it will turn around and give them a shot at that dagger.

But then the Tabanga obligingly drops her and does precisely that. It should go without saying that Terry doesn't take advantage of the monster's sudden suicidal impulse to scramble away from it. And of course it's Bill who snaps off that "Annie Oakley" Class trick shot, striking the dagger on its butt and driving it into the thing's heart, thus putting an end to the Tabanga's reign of terror.

It topples into the quicksand and slowly sinks from sight.

The natives are overcome with gratitude. They fawn all over the Americans, even offering to make the Prof their new witch doctor. He decides to take them up on it, at least, temporarily. (Or so he says.) This scientist grift was getting kind of old, anyway, and sooner or later Washington's bound to find out his Ph.D is from the Miami Institute of Technology.

Bill's heroic display of marksmanship (or plain dumb luck) has finally overcome Terry's objections to chucking her career in medicine, and guaranteed spinsterhood, for a life of wedded bliss back in the States. Good girl! Besides, she's pretty much saturated the market in this archipelago for carb blocker and foot therapy cream.

Mrs. Kilgore watches them lock lips, and thinks maybe the third time will be the charm. "Professor," she coos, striking a pose which just happens to highlight how nicely her Maidenform bra lifts and separates. "I never asked: Are you married?"

He dives head-first into the quicksand.

The End.

Sure, I get it: Bill – standing in for hard, masculine SCIENCE! – vanquishes the dark, feminine forces of superstition with his long, shiny rifle. Order is fully restored when Terry agrees to mate with him.

And so we bid farewell to another tropical isle, where -- as in Brides of Blood -- once again the restless discipline of Anglo-Saxon Civilization has brought a better life to these benighted natives. That is, the natives who survived the plague Civilization brought to their island -- which seems to have run its course now, anyway, without much help from Bill and company -- will have a better life. Just think of all the wonderful things the survivors will be able to buy in the future, with the money they'll be raking in from the sweatshops, and that nuclear waste processing facility.

Because if there's one thing this informative little film shows us, it's that radioactivity is nothing to get your knickers in a knot about. Heck, look at the Tabanga: It positively thrived on the stuff!

Though I'm a bit unclear on how the thing got so radioactive in the first place, since Bill said there was only a teensy bit of fallout: Did it suck it up like a sponge? How exactly does Formula 447 cause “dormant radioactivity” to undergo a chain reaction? Is it really true that radiation won't hurt you if you just ignore it?

And why was Kemo the only islander allowed to wear pants?

I'm afraid someone else will have to enlighten us with the answers to these questions, because frankly, I'm stumped.

14 comments:

acrannymint said...

Back in the days when you looked at the TV Guide or the schedule in the news paper, there used to be a brief blurb about the movie. A blurb for this one has stuck with me - "Back send it"

meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...

Heh. Makes me want to see it again, for the first time in, um...times 3, carry the 2...59 years. Saw it at the Elko in Elkhart IN. I remember it for a couple reasons: It was the first "tree monster" I ever saw (and for some odd reason, not the last) and why wouldn't the rifle bullet just shatter the knife? Also the fact that on the way out, we stopped to look at the poster for next week's movie. It was Spacemaster X-7, which...I never got to see because we didn't get to go to the movie next week. That still pisses me off...

meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...

Kreckshun! Make that 1958. Spacemaster was a '58 flick. "58 was my last year in Elkhart, so not '59. The FHIK/Spacemaster memory has been firmly embedded in my memory for decades, so I'm sticking with it, especially since the Elko played a lot of non-first-run stuff, especially on Saturday afternoons. Downloading it off YT as we speak. Let's see how far I get before the corn and cheese get to be too much...

Scott said...

Let us know your thoughts, m-mtap. I'm very curious to see how it strikes you now, compared to your recollections, and frankly it would be a dream come true -- a dream I never even knew I had -- to turn the blog, if only for a day, into a learned symposium on From Hell It Came.

Robert Muir said...

Last time I watched this (yes I've seen it more than once - I have no life) I really felt bad for the actor in the Suit (Chester Hayes) - I'm sure he couldn't see and the suit must have weighed a ton. I'd think by the end of the days shooting he'd be drowning in his own sweat.
The other thing that stuck me was just how small the quicksand pool was - it really looked like a slightly larger version of a child's wading pool.
Thank you for suffering though this - and yes the whole thing with the chickens was deeply puzzling.

M. Bouffant said...

This guy looks like an evil Ent-cousin.

Xavier Cougat
A horrid concoction of rum & nougat, perhaps?

Meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...

Still waiting for FHIKto download (thanks, Sprint), but I got Spacemaster X-7 off youtube before Sprint increased its suction to oh-fuck-it-I'll-go-read-a-book levels, and....boy am I glad we didn't get to go to the movies that next weekend. Your basic '50s C-grade sci-fi flick that would have been drive-in only, if they did that back then.
Basically a sci-fi flavored quasi docudrama with a lot of reddish (we assume, it's in B&W) plastic puke as the monster, and the neato pointy-nosed spaceship from the poster nowhere to be found. 8 year-old Meanie would have felt *so* ripped-off, even though I would watch literally anything sci-fi. I even liked the mid-'50s Flash Gordon TV series, which was so bad it made the Buster Crabbe serial look like Star Wars.
Not that it amounts to "socially redeeming values", but the movie featured Paul Frees in a rare live appearance. 8 year-old me would have recognized that voice instantly, even if I didn't have a name to put with it. Took me a few minutes, but it was nagging at me, so I backed it up to the credits and spotted the name I'd seen in the credits of damn near every cartoon I'd ever watched. His part? Total asshole biologist who lets the Plastic Puke from Mars loose in the world.
Another voice was nagging at me, and ziiiip, back to the credits: yep, the cab driver was Moe Howard. Didn't recognize him without his Moehair, and Stooge-itude. He had the best--and only good--scene in the whole film, where he helps the cops IdentiKit the woman carrying the Plastic Puke's spores everywhere she goes (and did it perfectly. I mean, like a picture of her, right down to her current hair-do. You don't think they cheated, do you? Naaah...). 3 Minutes tops, and he out-acted the whole cast. Shoulda Stooge-slapped the lot of 'em...

Meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...

Well, that's an hour and a half I'll never get back. I made it all the way through, doing 3 30 min sessions on the exercise bike (I have a laptop on a stand as a distraction from the fact that I'm actually exercising). Never could have done it otherwise. In this case, the spinner served as a distraction from the "entertainment"...
Scott, you seem to have an ability to see--or hallucinate--some sort of grace and beauty in this celluloid wreckage that's just beyond me. When I was 8 I probably liked FHIK. It was scifi(ish), and had a type of monster I'd never seen before. The acting and writing was typical '50s crap, which, this being the 50s, was all there was, mostly. Yeah, 2 years earlier they made Forbidden Planet, still one of the few really good SF movies, but that sort of quality is rare even today. One thing I know would have got right past me back then is Linda Watkins' godawful Fauxkney accent. Blecccch. And I certainly wouldn't have known that South Sea Islanders wouldn't have sounded anything like that. Moe Howard would have fit right in...
I do think my memory somehow shortened the shoot-the-dagger scene to one heroic Annie Oakley trick shot, rather than the 30 or shots they actually took, in a refreshing stab at realism.
Watching the Tabanga (loved the way the one native pronounced it "Ta-bang-ah", and was immediately corrected by Tod Andrews calling it "Ta-bong-ah") shamble through the woods, I found myself wondering if it was a distant cousin of Cousin It...
Now to clear my palate with some SG-1.

Scott said...

I've always thought that Forbidden Planet proved science fiction could have been a viable big budget genre for the major studios in the 1950s. The effects were more than serviceable by that time, but still labor-intensive enough that they couldn't simply take over a film the way CG sfx do now, and there were a multitude of ideas -- not just story ideas, but stories of ideas -- available from novels and magazines.

I can't take credit for this in-depth review, since it was written by Hank. He was gentleman (or sadist) enough to offer me first crack at FHIC, but I told him -- hastily, and with perhaps a touch of sadism myself -- that he was more than free to exorcise this childhood demon. And I think we're all better for the experience. (Except maybe meanie, because as much as I enjoyed Hank's writing, it didn't come close to tempting to watch this crap again.)

Hank said...

Having my writing mistaken for Scott's is always one of the nicest (and sincerest) compliments I can imagine.

I missed that bit, meanie. It seems an easy enough mistake to make, what with "Tabanga" being only a vowel and a consonant away from "Topanga".

I can see my similarly SF-fanatical eight-year-old self being somewhat more impressed by FHIC, if I'd seen it in the theater. It was probably the combination of the small screen TV and being cooped up inside on a rainy weekend that really did it for me.

And yeah, AFAIC Forbidden Planet was pretty much the apex of 50s' SF cinema. Back in the 1980s, I was lucky enough to see it once on the big screen, in a really good print, and was completely blown away by the incredible detail of the sets and props. And of course, the effects were absolutely stunning. The amazing thing is that a major studio was willing to gamble so much time and money and talent on such an unconventional (by the standards of the day) story line.

meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...

Actually, I probably saw your name up top there, Hank, but when I was writing my comment I had forgotten, as I tend to do these days, so I peeked back at the bottom, and it said posted by Scott, so I went with that. I saw my mistake later but it was too late, and you guys could sort out whom I'd just insulted on your own...:)

The '50s actually has its share of SF that went beyond "they didn't totally suck", like the Gene Barry War of the Worlds, which I still prefer to the Cruise remake, the Michael Rennie The Day the Earth stood Still ditto the Keeno version. And I still occasionally watch Them It doesn't really rise to the TDTESS or WOTW level, but it's fun, and I've always liked Whitmore. And if you like realism in your space junkets, Destination Moon's got it, even if the story is a bit hackneyed by today's standards. Or even yesterday's.
And I really did type "FHIK", didn't I. Three times. Yikes...

Scott said...

I am happy to pretend the Cruise version never happened, but I loudly second your vote for The War of the Worlds. I love the Martian war machines (although I was initially confused by their appearance, since my first exposure to the design had been in Robinson Crusoe on Mars, the toppling of our local landmarks (the Art Moderne Los Angeles City Hall), and particularly Gene Barry's Dr. Clayton Forrester, whom I adore not just because he's the namesake for Mystery Science Theater 3000's chief villain, but because he's such a science nerd that when he first sees the shields (or "protective blisters") that make the invaders impervious to our weapons, he squeals with delight, "This is amazing!" And of course, the Technicolor. I was lucky enough to see this film for the first time at the American Cinematheque in a special dye transfer print that made very frame look like it had been hand illuminated by high tech monks.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a perfect example of a "story of ideas" -- good effects, but used economically (Michael Rennie's alien spends less time in his space suit and star ship and more in a suit and a boarding house). And although I enjoy Them quite a lot, I don't think I'd put it in the same category as the previous two, since its ideas are mostly pulp; I'd mentally shelve it next to The Thing From Another World -- less sci-fi films than monster movies updated with scientific explanations and moral ambiguity for the Atomic Age.

Hank said...

Very much agree about both the Cruise remake and the George Pal War of the Worlds. That would be another classic SF film I'd very much like to see on the big screen. For one thing, those Chesley Bonestell astronomical mattes from the intro would be awesome at that scale. And yes, the fact they borrowed the name of the lead in the Pal film is one of the reasons I immediately fell in love with MST3K.

Although I still think it's kind of a shame that Ray Harryhausen didn't get a chance to do his version of WotW. He was going to set it in Victorian times, with stop-action animated Martian war machines. That might have been rather cool.

You'll have to excuse my crankery, but if someone nowadays is going to do a remake of WotW, imo there's really no excuse for not returning it to the novel's late 19th Century setting. Not with the effects technology available now. At least one thing taking it back to the original would do is obviate the contortions the remakes had to go through to keep the Martians from being outmatched by modern military tech.

meanie-meanie, tickle a person said...

If you must put Them! and The Thing From Another World on the same shelf, at least put Them! in front. You could always say the cleaning lady did it.

I never got to see WOTW at the theater--I'd have been 3--but that color still grabs your eye on a 22" LCD.