Tuesday, May 16, 2017

FROM HELL IT CAME (1957) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Warner Archive
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 71 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Dan Milner
Cast: Tod Andrews, Tina Carver, Linda Watkins, John McNamara, Gregg Palmer, Robert Swan, Baynes Barron, Suzanne Ridgeway, Mark Sheeler, Lee Rhodes, Grace Mathews, Tani Marsh, Chester Hayes, Lenmana Guerin 

Synopsis: Beware Tabonga! On a remote South Seas island, no one is safe from this hideous...and unique...monster. Tabonga is part man, part tree, all doom. Formerly an island prince, he was unjustly put to death by a witch doctor. Now he's returned to life with roots, branches and a vengeance. Against natives. Against visiting American scientists who investigate the tree's radioactive green sap. Against anyone unwise enough to expect a tree to stay put. A macabre medley of creature feature, Polynesian kitsch and Atomic Age cautionary tale, From Hell It Came is the killer-tree movie you woodn't want to miss!

This 50's atomic age monster/jungle voodoo mash-up features a group of American scientist on a South Pacific island, ostensibly there to do research on the radioactive fallout from nearby atomic weapons test, but they've also committed to help find cure for the black plague which has afflicted the local indigenous people, whom are played with all the appalling stereotypical and condescending tanned awfulness you'd expect from the 50's film. At the top of the b-picture we have the tribe's prince, Kimo (Gregg Palmer), being executed for the poisoning of his chieftain father, the ceremony has all the campy charm of a 3rd grade lulua complete with hula skirts and tiki torches. Kimo is staked to the ground and a ceremonial dagger is plunged into his heart, but not before he swears he will have his vengeance from beyond the grave, in a way that is part Salem Witch Trial and sort of along the lines of Obi Wan's  “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine" speech from Star Wars. Turns out that poor Kimo was framed by the the tribes medicine man, a rival, and his own damned wife, the sexy liar Korey (Suzanne Ridgway, The She-Creature), who betrays Kimo for the chance to marry the new chief.

After killing him they bury him in the ground, and soon a strange wooden faced figure begins to sprout from soil, said to the dreaded Tobanga, a tree of terror! The trio of scientist, Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andrews), cute lady doc Terry Mason (Tina Carver) and Dr. Clark (John McNamara), along with a the horny Cockney widow Mae Kilgore (Linda Watkins) and the ex-communicated local servant girl Naomi (Tani Marsh), look into the growing tree menace. While noting that the wooden growth is strange the science-types do not believing it will rise from the ground and take it's wooden revenge as foretold by the indigenous people, but of course they are so wrong.

The movie is a bit plodding at the beginning, it drags along like a 50s soap opera for far too long with widow Mae Kilgore shamelessly begging to be examined by the hands of a handsome doctor, there a burgeoning romance between two of the docs, and the tribe offers some minor menace towards the Americans as they are wary of the American medicine, which they blame for killing their chief. Then there's the lovely native Naomi speaking at length about how she was cast out of the tribe because of her mixed heritage, and loads of science mumbo-jumbo about radiation and the plague, but once the knotty and vengeful stump emerges things pick up considerably, beginning with a native-girl cat fight! 

Eventually Tobanga uproots himself and sets about having his revenge as promised by Kimo, the lurching tree stump is a hoot, the kitsch factor come on full-tilt with this scowling wooden golem, complete with an exterior beating heart and the very same dagger used to kill Kimo protruding from said heart. The damn thing moves so slow you almost have to fall into it's arms for it to get you, and that's exactly what happens, tossing his first victim, that lying bitch Korey, into some quicksand. Other encounters have a native warrior chucking a spear from three-feet away only to miss, and Tobonga hiding among the trees, clever tree, and snatching the science lady. 

The design of the Tobonga creature is, in my humble opinion, pretty awesome, a deeply grooved wooden visage with loads of texture, that creepy exterior heart pumping away, and large goofy eyes and a permanent scowl plastered on its face. The damn thing is silly as shit, but also loads of bad b-movie fun, which is a good summation of this movie, a movie so over-the-top with z-grade awfulness that it has somehow manages to come all the way back around to becoming good, in a bad way.   

Audio/Video: This clunker from Hell arrives on Blu-ray from the cinema archivists  over at the Warner Archive with a brand new 2017 2K restoration, presented in the original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The black and white image looks crisp and nicely detailed, the grain can be a bit chunky during a few scenes, but this is a nice upgrade from their previous DVD. The nooks and crannies of Tabonga's rubber-barked visage look fantastic, with a ever-present scowl on his wooden face, and the tiki-fashion of the island natives have never looked more machine made, like they pulled them right off the shelf at the local Woolworth's department store back in the day. The black and white image looks wonderful, nicely detailed and with good contrast. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono audio does the job, but just that, cleanly and crisply exported, within the limits of the source material. The Darrell Calker score, like the dialogue and creature, is good for a few laughs with some odd choices peppered throughout, optional English Subtitles are provided. The only extra on the disc is a theatrical trailer for the movie.  

Warner Archive have been swooning me as of late with loads of b-movie offerings on Blu-ray, we've seen crisp 1080p presentations of menacing artificial intelligence, stop-motion dinosaur action, and now a wonderfully awful slice of kitschy treevenge, they're doing the cinema Lord's work, and I love 'em for it, keep it up!