From Hell It Came



1957 | B&W | 71min

Starring: Tod Andrews, John McNamara, Tina Carver, Linda Watkins, Gregg Palmer, Robert Swan, Baynes Barron, Suzanne Ridgeway, Grace Mathews, and Chester Hayes (as Tabonga).

Directed By: Dan Milner

 

A word from the reviewer:

I’ve noticed most reviewers tend to employ a staggering number of tree puns when reviewing From Hell It Came, but please don’t expect to see those from me. Although they may be quite “poplar” with some, they are “rooted” in laziness and are really “knot” very funny. I, for one, refuse to “embark” on such a “sappy” course of action. So, if you have taken a “lichen” to puns and are “pining” to read that sort of thing, I suggest you quickly “leaf” to another review. Forgive me for going against the “grain,” but that’s just how I am.

 

As a writer, I take a certain amount of pride in my command of the written word. I’m not as proficient as I would like, but I am proud of my ability to find just the right combination of words to illustrate a point in a humorous, yet informative way. I take great pleasure in being able to accurately convey my opinion on any subject I so choose. Of course, there are still times when words completely fail me and despite my best efforts, nothing seems to bring them back under my control. Times when something so absurd is presented to me that my mental faculties threaten to shut down completely and I can do nothing but sit in stunned silence. When I witness something like this, for example:

“I'm gonna love her and squeeze her and call her George.”

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that saying holds true for this picture, than surely nine hundred or so of those thousand words must be synonyms for “goofy.” Just in case you are wondering, that is a picture of Tabonga, the star of the otherwise forgettable piece of 50’s sci-fi known as From Hell It Came. You can trust me when I say that few things have ever so completely embodied the phrase “what the hell?” better than Tabonga.

Despite sounding suspiciously like a Brazilian thrash metal band, Tabonga is actually the arboreal reincarnation of a native named Kimo. After being wrongfully accused of killing his father, Kimo vows revenge on those who framed him. He exacts his revenge by transforming himself into a stumpy wooden zombie (or “The Tabonga” as the natives call it) and systematically murdering his enemies by tossing them in quicksand. Seems needlessly complicated to me, but then again I’ve never been framed and executed.

Standing in Tabonga’s way are Dr. William Arnold and Professor Clark, two scientists who are studying the effects of radiation on the native peoples. Dr. Arnold is a fairly standard 50’s b-movie scientist, while Prof. Clark is a somewhat dandy fellow who is almost always wearing a neckerchief. He reminds me of a foppish Billy Bob Thornton, and that’s an image I really didn’t need in my head. These two are eventually joined by Dr. Arnold’s obligatory love interest, Dr. Terry Mason.

“It's Dutch Elm Disease. He won't last the night, I'm afraid.”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the film’s comic relief, Mrs. Kilgore. In addition to being a boozy, sex-starved scatterbrain, she also happens to speak in the seldom-heard “Cockney Australian” dialect. Truthfully, I find her to be more annoying than comedic, although I feel the same way about Adam Sandler, so your mileage may vary.

Together with the curiously Caucasian natives, these four eventually track down and kill the lumbering avenger by driving a ceremonial dagger through the vengeful monster’s wooden heart. The vanquished Tabonga collapses and falls into a lake where he—I can only assume—slowly becomes driftwood, is found by a little old lady, chopped into several smaller pieces, decorated with plastic birds and squirrels, and finally sold at a high school arts and crafts fair.

“Of course I'm a native. Can't you tell by my crown of plantains?”

I would probably advise all but the most hardcore b-movie fans to completely skip this one, if it weren’t for Tabonga. There is something positively sublime about watching an anthropomorphic shrubbery waddling around in a mad quest for revenge. This ridiculous premise is made even better by Tabonga’s equally ridiculous design, done by b-movie legend Paul Blaisdell.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Blaisdell’s work, he designed and created some of the most memorable monsters of the 1950’s, all on impossibly minuscule budgets. His works include the evil Venusian pickle from It Conquered the World, the saucer men from Invasion of the Saucer Men, and even the giant hypodermic needle from The Amazing Colossal Man. Unfortunately Mr. Blaisdell was never paid, or even given proper credit by the producers of this particular film for his wonderfully absurd designs.

While it is difficult to be terrified by a monster that the average beaver could render completely immobile, Tabonga is still one of my favorite b-monsters of all time. And I’ll be honest, aside from Tabonga, From Hell It Came doesn’t have much going for it. Its narrative has a very “soap opera” feel to it, the dialog itself ranges from stilted to just plain bad, (for example, at one point Dr. Arnold utters the unfortunately-worded phrase “lick the plague.” Yuck.) and its humor (Ms. Kilgore, specifically) is usually groan-inducing at best. As for the acting, well let’s just say that our homicidal tree friend isn’t the only “wooden” member of the cast.

“Heeeey, Macarena!”

Admittedly From Hell It Came is poorly written, poorly acted, and does manage to drag for most of its seventy minute running time, but it is all worth it for Tabonga. Trust me, once you lay eyes on his gnarled grimace staggering awkwardly through the jungle, all will be forgiven. Seriously though, if I have to try too hard to convince you to see a “killer tree” movie, I think you’re probably reading the wrong magazine.

Reviewed by Derek Miller
Posted December 3, 2009

 

This review originally appeared in So Bad, It’s Good Movies, Issue #2.


Video Clip

Here’s a tip: If you you ever happen to be thrown into quicksand by a murderous tree, don’t swim away from shore. I’m just saying…







2 Comments




Sven Golly on December 19, 2012
TABONGA, Sounds like a south seas pot smoking bong! "Hey, lets get the TABONGA out and party!"
 
Derek Miller on December 21, 2012
I don't know. "Taking a toke from the Tabonga," sounds like a euphemism whose meaning I'd rather not spend too much time contemplating. :P
 

 

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