Jun 13, 2017
On Blu-ray: Killer Tree Rampage in From Hell it Came (1957)
He was buried with seeds and came back as a tree monster!
How to describe From Hell it Came (1957)? It stars an angry, creakily mobile tree. The mood: a little Wizard of Oz (1939), a lot of Robot Monster (1953) and a hint of zombie and Godzilla radiation action. That's a start, but it's better for the sanity if you don't try too hard to analyze a movie about a demonic tree. Now the film is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, reportedly due to huge customer demand.
In the opening scene, tribal prince Kimo (Gregg Palmer) is executed by order of his tribal chief on a South Seas island, supposedly because he has killed a tribesman with modern medicine. In fact the chief has poisoned the man to discredit the research scientists on the island attending to the ill so that he can maintain his power. Forsaken by his wife and the tribespeople as well, before he is stabbed in the heart Kimo swears he will come back from the depths of hell to have his revenge.
While there's plenty of racism and half-hearted attempts at hula dancing in this sequence, it would be a lot more offensive if the chief didn't talk like a dude hanging around a street corner in Brooklyn. It plays like a Z-grade noir where everyone picked up the wrong costume and stumbled onto the island set.
Kimo is buried, and a new drama unfolds elsewhere on the island. Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver) arrives to join the research scientists, who have been studying the effects of radioactive fallout blown to the island from a atomic explosion in a small lab. There she is immediately pawed by old acquaintance Dr. Bill Arnold (Tod Andrews), who is using the sexual harassment ploy to break down her resistance to marrying him. The good doctor is missing an opportunity in Mrs. Mae Kilgore (Linda Watkins), widow of the trading post operator, and cheerfully willing to submit to an examination.
While on a walk, Terry and Bill come upon Kimo's grave, and notice a tree with an angry face growing out of it. With no thought as to whether tampering with this odd growth is a good idea, the scientists bring the tree to the lab, where they find it has a beating heart and is oozing green goo from a knife wound. Then, in their absence, the radioactive timber comes to life and trashes the lab before escaping. Unfortunately we don't get to witness this destruction.
A friendly native tells the scientists that this isn't the first time a tree haunted with an angry spirit has gone on a violent rampage. They even have a name for it: Tobanga. While they discuss the then clearly questionable practice of burying bodies with seeds, Tobanga goes on a murderous rampage, snatching up his unfaithful wife and killing the chief.
Once you actually see the tree in action, it becomes clear why we didn't get to see it destroy the lab; it can barely move its split trunk "legs" and doesn't appear able to raise its tree branch "arms" either. In fact, much like in Robot Monster, this creature is so clumsy, slow and lacking in flexibility that it is baffling that anyone could be killed by it. To escape it, all you need to do is walk away, slowly. But these are the people continuing to plant seeds with bodies, even after all the attacks and uprooting angry-looking trees without hesitation. Walking away is plausibly a challenge for the residents of this island.
When Tobanga dumps his wife in quicksand, she not only has failed to walk away, but once in the muck she seems to be doing her best to sink under the surface. With hardly a struggle, she slowly slides into the sludge, until she sticks a bit and tucks her arm in so that she'll go all the way under.
The tree itself is a work of 'B' movie brilliance: expressionless, almost completely inflexible, but fascinating because never before, or likely never again, has there been a screen monster quite like this one. It is one of the most bizarre of the sci-fi monsters and watching it waddle around gives this stinker of a movie much of its entertainment value. Add to this a cast of amusingly inept dimwits and a leading lady who screams more like an angry monkey than a human being, and you might not have a classic, but a memorable experience nevertheless.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.