Though the monster from hell is as ridiculous as can be, the tropical island horrors of this Allied Artists release scared the crap out of a number of tykes who sat through it on “Chiller Theatre” type TV programs in the 1960s and 1970s. Proving that 1950s B movie mavens were obsessed with including “It” in the titles of various scare pictures for box office appeal, FROM HELL IT CAME is 71 minutes of pure cheesy bliss, a enduring favorite whose home video debut has been way, way overdue.
On Kalai Island in the South Seas, a community of natives (the majority of the men sport messed up DA haircuts, and some maintain New York accents) have a big beef. It seems one of there men is believed to be responsible for the death of an island chief (who happened to be his father) and is put to death with a sacrificial dagger (complete with skull handle) and is buried by a witch doctor and a cluster of skirt-wearing spectators. Well, it seems the poor guy was framed and is actually innocent, so naturally he’ll come back for revenge, only he does so as a walking hulk of undead vegetation that the ever superstitious islanders dub “Tabanga” (Chester Hayes). In the meantime, a compound of American scientists is on the island treating the natives for radiation sickness (bomb fallout) and for a plague that has stricken numerous villagers. It’s these interfering visitors who dig up the “Tabanga” and are responsible for provoking its rapid early morning awakening, which is followed by a rampage of destruction.
FROM HELL IT CAME starts off very talky, setting up the characters of the friendly American scientists, particularly the budding romance between Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andrews) and Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver), as well as the bickering, double-crossing natives, most of whom resemble the cast of a third rate stage production of "South Pacific". But if you stick with the film and absorb the “Polynesian kitsch" of this "Atomic Age cautionary tale”, there’s the reward of the Tabanga itself. A walking tree with broad shoulders and an angry dog-like mug (which shows expression), its one of the silliest of all 1950s monsters, and at the same time one of the most unforgettable ones, even if it does resemble a refuge from "H.R. Pufnstuf". Since the film is pretty much played straight, it’s fun to see this limbed menace carrying off pretty girls, throwing victims in quicksand or effortlessly recovering from being trapped and set ablaze.
The Tabanga was actually designed by none other than Paul Blaisdell, but he didn’t create the costume (it sort of looks like a distant cousin of his radiation monster in THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED). Legendary make-up man Harry Thomas (FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER, THE UNEARTHLY, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, etc.) did some of the radiation burns and is at the least responsible for painting the Tabanga. Tod Andrews is a reliable, if somewhat deadpan leading man. The actor used to go under the name “Michael Ames”, appearing in two 1940s Lugosi Monogram chillers (VOODOO MAN and RETURN OF THE APE MAN). He later had supporting parts in such other genre efforts as BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES and THE BABY (both directed by Ted Post) before his death in 1972. Most of the performances in FROM HELL IT CAME are nothing to speak of (not that we would expect or want them to be), but honors (or viewer aggravation) should go to Linda Watkins as a cockney-accented horny lush who won’t shut her mouth for a second. Darrell Calker, who also composed for a number of other 1950s sci-fi flicks, delivers a marvelous score, worthy of the best “creature features” of the period and greatly emphazises the film's "scary" highlights to great effect.
Never before available on home video in any format in the U.S., Warner has elected to release FROM HELL IT CAME as part of their very popular Warner Archives Collection. That’s absolutely fine, as it’s better this way then having the film sit in the vaults a minute longer, or making us rely on the usual bootleg sources. The manufactured on demand DVD plays absolutely fine, and the transfer is terrific, presenting the black and white film anamorphic widescreen and preserving its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The black and white picture detail is very sharp and there are hardly any instances of dirt or debris. There is no doubt that this will be one of the most popular titles in the Warner Archives Collection to date. The only extra is the expected promo reel for some of the other titles available in the collection. For more information on obtaining this film for your collection, click HERE. (George R. Reis)
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