Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

Author: jdp (Page 3 of 57)

The Old Dark House: 31 Days of Horror

#18. The Old Dark House (1932)

old dark house 1932

Nature of Shame:
No shame. Just a brilliant new restoration on the big screen at the Hollywood Theater — Dormont, PA.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1930’s
Pre-1970’s

99% of all movies merely exist. They’re created to make money. They play in theaters. And then they disappear. Sometimes people remember them. Sometimes they don’t. There’s no sense of divine intervention or immaculate conception; they come about as the result of a screenwriter sitting at his desk wondering what someone might want to see.

And then there’s James Whale’s The Old Dark House. The Old Dark House doesn’t give a damn.

old dark house 1932

The Story

At face value, The Old Dark House descended from “the wayward travelers stranded in a spooky house” boilerplate. One might easily mistake it for any of a dozen other films where doors creak, lightning crashes and a damsel leaps into the arms of her rock-solid man-hero.

We’ll skip ahead to the part where the wayward travelers (Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart) learn that their host, Horace Femm, a man with twitchy, cavernous eyes, is on the run from the law, and his overbearing, bible-thumping, disapproving sister Rebecca Femm believes all modern humans are condemned to rot in hell. Oh, and then there’s Boris Karloff’s Morgan, the alcoholic mute butler with a streak of sociopathy. You apparently couldn’t even get good help in 1932.

While it’s true that The Old Dark House is filled with long shadows, billowy drapes and mysterious voices, the film differentiates itself because screenwriters R.C. Sherriff and Benn Levy populated the film with properly bizarre and often untethered moments. You’ll never look at a bowl of potatoes the same way again.

Credit owed to Universal’s Carl Laemmle. Laemmle fancied himself a lover of film, a champion of the artist’s vision. Uncle Carl admired Whale’s and Levy’s Waterloo Bridge (1931) and brought them together again to work on an adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s Benighted, a novel about post-World War I disillusionment. Sherriff came on to add that touch of comedy to the script.

 

Despite garnering mostly popular reviews, The Old Dark House fared poorly at the American box office. According to the booklet accompanying the Kino Lorber DVD, poor word of mouth sunk the film after its initial weekend. Rialto Theater in New York City pulled The Old Dark House only ten days into its initial three-week run.

Disappeared from the public conscience, the film maintained a critical reputation as a stunning example of the gothic style of early Universal horror. After Universal lost the rights to the story in 1957, William Castle remade the film in 1963. The original became a forgotten commodity and potentially a lost film. Whale’s friend, director Curtis Harrington (Queen of Blood), went on a quest in 1968 to assure the film’s survival. He discovered a print in the Universal Studios vault and persuaded the George Eastman House to finance a new print and a restoration of the nearly destroyed first reel.

Even though we can still enjoy the perverse pleasures The Old Dark House (in a newly and beautifully restored Blu-ray from Cohen Media to boot), it saddens me as a lover of classic film that something so singular very nearly disappeared forever — despite being the product of a revered filmmaker such as James Whale. What other treasures have slipped through the cracks from directors we never had the pleasure of knowing? What other films debuted decades ahead of their time only to be met with public confusion and disinterest? These are no new epiphanies; certain films just rekindle old standard film-lover woes.

Final Old Dark House Thoughts:

Top to bottom, The Old Dark House wriggles beneath under your skin — not in that lingering gonna-haunt-your-dreams way. You’ll be thinking about The Old Dark House for days after viewing, whether its your first or your fourth. It’s all the little things that add up to something unforgettable.

the old dark house staircase

The old woman dressed as an old man because Whale couldn’t find an old man worthy of playing a frail character of 100+. #HaveAPotato. Gloria Stuart making shadow puppets as if she had merely found some downtime on set. Melvyn Douglas taking time out to woo Lillian Bond in the garage while chaos ensues inside the house. The ornate and shadowy staircase and bannister. Boris Karloff’s hulking and mischievous servant, falling off the wagon and glaring through broken windows. I could come up with 100 reasons why The Old Dark House is worth your time, but then what would be left for you to discover? Or discover all over again?

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

Availability:  

old dark house blu-ray

 

Buy this brand new Blu-ray immediately. The film will never look better and this is an essential film in any self-respective classic horror lover’s collection. Check that. It’s an essential in any self-respecting film lover’s collection.

amazon-buy-button

2017 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Shame Statement
31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews.

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. Suspiria (1977) / #23. The Invisible Man (1933) / #24. Spider aka Zirneklis (1991) / #25. The Wife Killer (1976) / #26. Cannibal! The Musical (1993) / #27. The Wicker Man (1973) / #28. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) / #29. Night Creatures (1962)

Spellcaster Bunty Bailey

Spellcaster: 31 Days of Horror

#17. Spellcaster (1988? 1992?)

spellcaster 1988

Nature of Shame:
Shame for wanting to watch it, maybe.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s

Sometimes it’s okay to be fashionably late to the party. Maybe you were avoiding someone. Maybe you just needed to make a short appearance before heading home to binge The Great British Baking Show. Maybe it was a sushi-making party and goddamn you’re not eating any homemade sushi, but you wouldn’t want to offend anyone.

Let’s consider the worst case scenario. You misunderstand the invitation, show up a day late. Your host greets you in his sweatpants and Slippery Rock University hoodie and invites you in for leftover sushi while watching some west coast NBA action that doesn’t feature the Golden State Warriors. Sincerely invites you in. Not that obligatory invitation. He seems genuinely interested in your company.

That’s Spellcaster. A 1983 premise filmed in 1988 and released (finally) in 1992.

spellcaster

The Story

The fictional music video channel Rock Television (R-TV) has put on a contest whereby seven lucky finalists get to join booze-soaked pop superstar Cassandra Castle (Bunty Bailey, made famous as the girl in A-Ha’s “Take On Me” music video) in an old Italian castle for the weekend and compete for a $1million cash prize. All they have to do is find the $1million dollar check.

Spellcaster Bunty Bailey

Downside: R-TV has no plans to give them any money and the castle is owned by Satan.

Upside: Satan is played by Adam Ant, which is an inspired bit of MTV-era casting… if director Rafal Zielinski had any clue what to do with this gift.

Spellcaster aims to latch onto a fleeting zeitgeist at the intersection of the slasher-crazed 1980’s and the music video generation. With the contest hosted by real-life famous Los Angeles DJ/VJ Richard Blade, the movie aims for a measure of authenticity. Aims. It fails as a slasher (with a few exceptions), though the premise has been giftwrapped, and it fails as a winking extension of the music-video era.

Even though the film professes self-awareness, it never actually embraces the meta-fantastical nature of the production nor the music that should become the core of the film. Murder and rock make delicious bedfellows when done with a little bit of competency.

When I saw Charles Band’s name as executive producer in the opening credits, I probably should have questioned my decision making. Band, you may recall, has been responsible for some of the most legendary trash of the 1970’s and 1980’s including Laserblast, Troll and Ghoulies. Band has 273 production credits as of this morning; he’ll no doubt add ten more before afternoon tea.

spellcaster 1988

Band had no interest in nurturing the film’s musical aspirations — the part of Spellcaster that would have required some, you know, actual filmmaking talent. Instead it errs on the side of cheap slasher. With the exception of a few inventive kills, Zielinski fails to build any tension. It’s not like he had any tools at his disposal. Gothic castle. Mysterious count. Plenty of atmosphere. A killer chair.

Ahh, yes. The killer chair. If you’ve actually heard of Spellcaster, you’ve likely heard of the murderous chair that begets the film’s only good sequence. And it’s an inspired slasher setpiece with some really nice practical effects. Spellcaster dispatches its victims with a measure of creativity — yet the space between the murders lacks any personality. The characters are one-dimensional and/or annoying and/or anonymous. Only Bunty Bailey’s pop damsel develops any personality with her time on screen.

spellcaster 1988

Spellcaster squanders so many ideas that its hard to credit the filmmakers for even having them in the first place. A movie about rock music — featuring Richard Blade and Adam Ant! — with no music. None. The reality-TV contest for the million dollars could have been rather inventive for 1988. Yet, R-TV sent one host and one camera and they don’t even film the contest, just Richard Blade doing intro bits. And the film’s most egregious offense by far is filming in a gothic castle and failing to create any unique sense of place or tension through isolation.

 

Final Spellcaster Thoughts:

But I didn’t turn the thing off. Why? Spellcaster plays like cotton candy. An attractive cast, fun makeup effects, and a brisk delivery. Plus the film withholds Adam Ant (to its own detriment) until the final moments of the film (and you’ve got to stay to see Adam Ant, who proved to be a terrific screen presence in the underappreciated Slam Dance). Of course, in the end, the film does nothing with Ant because if there’s anything that Spellcaster does well it’s waste inspiration.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

Availability:  

spellcaster 1988

 

Stream it on Amazon. I can’t recommend a purchase, though the film is available on the MGM Limited Edition BOD Collection. For some reason.

amazon-buy-button

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2017 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Shame Statement
31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews.

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. Suspiria (1977) / #23. The Invisible Man (1933) / #24. Spider aka Zirneklis (1991) / #25. The Wife Killer (1976) / #26. Cannibal! The Musical (1993) / #27. The Wicker Man (1973) / #28. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

eating raoul

Eating Raoul: 31 Days of Horror?

#16. Eating Raoul (1982)

eating raoul poster

Nature of Shame:
Unwatched Cult Classic

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s
Cannibal Challenge #1

Many moons ago, I picked this disk up secondhand. The cult comedy had the Criterion Collection seal of approval. I’m drawn to oddball black comedies; therefore, it required a watch.

Still, Eating Raoul sat and sat and sat, growing moldy in the watchpile until the Cinemonster had the good sense to include a “Cannibal” require in this year’s Hooptober.

I don’t mean to be the guy that skirts the rules, but the movies I wanted to watch featuring cannibalism aren’t necessarily part of the horror genre. I lined up three such films that I’ve been meaning to watch: Eating Raoul, Cannibal! The Musical and The Green Butchers. Hence, Eating Raoul counts for this year’s 31 Days of Horror Festival. The Watchpile wants what the Watchpile wants. If you’re imagining a Watchpile that’s something akin to Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, you’re on the right track.

But let’s talk no more about plants; this is a post about cannibalism. Om nom.

eating raoul

The Story

Two upper class twits named Paul Bland (Paul Bartel) and Mary Bland (Mary Woronov), that could have been transplanted from Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May, dream of opening their own pretentious country kitchen restaurant. They’re grinding away at their 9-to-5s (liquor store clerk and nurse, respectively), scrimping and saving up enough to put the down payment on the most precious little country kitchen where Paul can serve his priceless wine.

Paul gets fired for refusing to push the crappy, overpriced swill at the liquor store, and then the couple accidentally kills a randy swinger who happens to fancy his wife. You see, since this is 1982, swingers roam the cityscape like feral cats and populate the building in which the couple lives. One wanders in for a big of a shag and meets his maker.

They dispose of the corpse, grift some spare change, and wonder just how much money might be made off of these carefree swingers. They carry plenty of cash to appease their sexual fantasies and wander about desperate and often intoxicated. If they just, say, knocked a few off, how much cash might they then tuck away into their nest egg? They’d be doing a public service. What could go wrong?

eating raoul 1982

With the help of a housewife/dominatrix acquaintance, Paul and Mary produce a newspaper advertisement showcasing their S&M services. Those that answer the add — those deplorable swingers — get a frying pan to the head and an early demise. But how to dispose of the bodies? Enter Raoul, a slick little schemester/ladykiller who happens to know a thing or two about disposal. For a small cut, he could take those bodies off their hands.

It turns out that Raoul does a little more than body disposal. He sells the “meat” to a dog company and trades in the deceased’s car without cutting the actual criminal masterminds in on the take. Raoul is just up to no good. Mary eventually succumbs to his greasy charms and the pair embarks on a little torrid affair. Paul catches wind of the tryst and decides its high time Raoul gets whats what.

eating raoul

Now, some days removed from my viewing, individual scenes and certain Paul Bartel line deliveries (the man had a wheelhouse, let me tell you) give me the giggles in fits and spurts. Eating Raoul features inventive, isolated comedic set pieces and two pitch-perfect lead performances, but the overall enterprise left me a little cold.

The black comedy leans so heavily on the schism between these prematurely aged fuddy-duddies and this notion of an increasingly unrestrained and modern sexual freedom. The swingers themselves aren’t necessarily a specific target for Bartel (that trend would have been on the pop-culture decline in 1982); it’s merely the social norms that they openly flaunt and how that infuriates his protagonists.

The specific satire directed at the sanitized middle-class bourgeois bullshit world in which our “protagonists” reside — safe from experience, safe from life — gets great mileage, yet the precision of the attack feels muddied by on-screen events.

eating raoul

Even when they reach beyond their security to obtain their financial goals — while still embracing their conservative tendencies (the image of Woronov dressing up as a German wench for a Nazi fetishist resonates) — there seems to be no recognition of their specific folly. And I get that that’s the point. And I get that the lack of self-awareness remains vital to the joke.

But something about this entire premise plants it firmly in the realm of “pretty good” and well shy of contemporary classic. Maybe that’s the lot in life for black comedy. Success leans so heavily on the viewer’s whims and frame of reference. Subjectivity rules, more so than any other specific genre.

eating raoul

Final Eating Raoul Thoughts:

 

For a movie called Eating Raoul, it takes a long time to taste Raoul, but I suppose you had to first justify the consumption of Raoul before actually doing the dining. For a “Cannibal” movie choice, this was definitely wanting, but there’s only so many times you can watch Ravenous before getting bored with the same old dish.

I could see this growing on me enough to warrant a second viewing. So for now let’s call Eating Raoul a decent food truck offering — that’s not quite ready for Michelin star status.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 

Availability:  

eating raoul criterion

Available wherever fine Criterion Blu-rays are sold. Also Amazon, obviously. So I linked it below.

amazon-buy-button

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2017 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Shame Statement
31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews.

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. Suspiria (1977) / #23. The Invisible Man (1933) / #24. Spider aka Zirneklis (1991) / #25. The Wife Killer (1976) / #26. Cannibal! The Musical (1993)

symptoms 1974

Symptoms: 31 Days of Horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews.
View my ’17 Cinema Shame/Hooptober Shame-a-thon Statement

Nature of Shame:
Unwatched Mondo Macabro Blu
I’d never seen a film by Jose Ramon Larraz.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s
Country of origin: UK


#15. Symptoms (1974)

symptoms 1974Preconceptions can be damning. Especially, I think, when it comes to horror filmmakers. For example, I toss around the term “schlock” too cavalierly, and I’m quite sure most people misunderstand the affection I have for films falling under this umbrella.

After the Cinema Shame podcast I just released about Friday the 13th, I noticed that I used the terms “schlock” and “trash” to describe a certain genre of European filmmakers that indulge their baser instincts, mingling sex and bloodletting as if the two were inseparable parts of the same whole. These are not the correct usages of the terms, but I’ve come to use them both as shorthand.

Somewhere along the way “schlock” and “trash” became more prominent in my own lexicon. Shame on me. Words have meanings. Irony and certain twists of phrase are understood by those familiar with our tastes — not casual conversationalists.

Maybe a review of Jose Ramon Larraz’s brilliant Symptoms isn’t the place for soul searching about the way we present and interpret film criticism. Then again, I had prejudged Larraz based on the way other people used those very same terms to describe his work. It’s a commentary on how easy it is to misappropriate these blank and banal verbal shortcuts and how dangerous they can be when used unconsciously.

in my defense, however, I’d read plenty of discussion that superficially linked José Ramón Larraz with Jesus Franco, and while I hold great affection for a few of Franco’s films, a great auteur Franco was not. I made the shortsighted assessment that I did not need another “Jesus Franco” in my life, and therefore, Larraz waited on the sidelines until I finally uncorked this beautiful Mondo Macabro Blu-ray.

symptoms 1974

The Story

A young woman, Anne, is invited by Helen (Angela Pleasance) to stay at her English country mansion. She encounters a repulsive male-gaze creeper outside the estate and the increasingly off-kilter and fragile disposition of her host. Any further narrative detail would overburden Symptoms‘ efficient slow-burn efficacy and betray the final revelation.

Much to my surprise (and counter to Larraz’s well-documented reputation), Symptoms‘ pacing belongs to the realm of gothic horror. The film most obviously recalls Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), but further scrutiny reveals flavors of Hitchcock. A heaping tablespoon of Psycho (1960) and a dash of Rebecca (1940). One particular scene might even rekindle memories of The Innocents (1961).

symptoms 1974

Mood and tone dominate the film. Suspense lies in the anticipation, the constant sense that something — you don’t know what — will divert the film’s narrative at any moment. Larraz patiently invokes multiple sources of voyeurism, and John Scott’s score perfectly complements the camera’s study of the voyeurs’ uneasy objects of obsession.

The primary object, Helen (Donald Pleasance’s daughter, by the way) graces the screen with a porcelain countenance undermined by a tremor of madness. Despite her frail, vulnerable beauty, the viewer comprehends something terrifying within. Liken her to Norman Bates, Anthony Perkins’ boyish everyman. Norman differs because he projects his crimes onto another and that act of projection ameliorates the transgression behind the placid exterior. In the role Angela Pleasance is mesmerizing.

As an uncertain testament to the artistic value of the film, the British film board submitted Symptoms as the UK’s official Cannes entry in 1974. Produced in England, but directed by the Catalonian Larraz and funded by the Belgian Jean Dupuis, the international flavor of the production may have made it an unusual choice. (Fun fact: Smurf money paid for Symptoms. Jean Dupuis was heir to the Éditions Dupuis S.A empire — the Belgian publisher responsible for European comics such as The Smurfs and Gaston Lagaffe.)

smurf

Final Symptoms Thoughts:

Back in 2010, the BFI placed Symptoms on its short list for most wanted missing British films. Long unavailable on anything but a fuzzy VHS tape, the discovery of a new print in 2014 set in motion the events that brought this Mondo Macabro Blu-ray (and a Region B/2 BFI release) to fruition and hopefully a modern re-evaluation among the great films of 1970’s horror.

The flawless restoration work that appears here would never betray Symptom‘s longstanding status as a so-called “lost film.” José Ramón Larraz’s film not only deserves mention in the same breadth as Polanski’s Repulsion, but it might just be the superior film. Lingering and unsettling psychological terror characterizes Larraz’s masterpiece. “Schlock” this is not.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 

Availability:  

symptoms blu-ray

I might require another viewing to unpack this movie, but in the meantime, you’d be well Smurfed to pick up Mondo Macabro‘s pristine Blu-ray release.

amazon-buy-button

diabolik dvd.

2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. Suspiria (1977) / #23. The Invisible Man (1933) / #24. Spider aka Zirneklis (1991)

from hell it came

From Hell It Came: 31 Days of Horror

from hell it came

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Unwatched Warner Archive Blu

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1950’s
Pre-1970’s


 

#14. From Hell It Came (1957)

from hell it cameThe “Killer Tree” sub-sub-subgenre has deeper roots than you might imagine. Off the top of my head, you’ve got the tree from Evil Dead (1981), The Guardian (1990) starring my muse Ms. Carey Lowell, Day of The Triffids (1962), and a brief segment in Poltergeist (1982). But we’re really just scratching the terra firma of this fertile film forest.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention The Crawlers (1990), Trees (2000), and Trees II: The Root of All Evil (2004). The last of which is notable because it stars Ron Palillo (aka Arnold Horshack). You haven’t seen any of these, and I haven’t either. (Though, Trees II boasts a good pun and I can’t often resist titular punnage.)

Without a doubt, however, the grandaddy of them all was 1957’s From Hell It Came, a film that is unfairly maligned as one of the worst movies ever made. None other than Leonard Maltin gave this film his backhanded seal of approval by saying, “As walking-tree movies go, this is at the top of the list.”

That said, let’s look at this logically. If a movie resides in the canopy of its particular sub-sub-subgenre, how can it possibly belong on your or anyone’s worst movie list? I’ve already named a handful of films that live in the shadow of From Hell It Came.

from hell it came 1957

The Story

On a South Seas island, a prince is wrongly “convicted” of murder after he embraces the devil medicine brought to the island by Western doctors hoping to wipe out the island’s plague / potential nuclear fallout problem. That the tribe’s witch doctor did the killing, framed the prince, and judged him guilty of murder represents perhaps a glitch in the island system of law. Before being put to death with a dagger in his heart and buried in a hollow tree trunk, however, the prince vowed to return and seek revenge on those that had wronged him.

No doubt you can see where the movie’s going with this. As a result of the nuclear contamination — because you positively cannot have a 1950’s monster movie without some sort of atomic age panic — the prince returns as a scowling tree stump known as “Tabanga,” the legendary tree monster of the South Seas.

Paul Blaisdell’s original sketches for the Tabanga in From Hell It Came.

Produced and directed by the Milner brothers, From Hell It Came represents their second and final creature feature after The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955). Without belaboring the point, there’s a good reason they only made two.

From Hell It Came gained due infamy from the remarkably labored tree monster that lumbers (pun intended) around screen terrorizing island wrongdoers. The Tabanga effects have been credited to the legendary 1950’s effects man Paul Blaisdell. Blaisdell monstered up films such as Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and It Conquered the World (1956) among many others. After submitting a few color sketches to the Milners with no response, Blaisdell figured the filmmakers had passed on his ideas… until he saw the film and recognized his concept — in a laughably lesser package.

I’m going to shop short of crediting Tabanga’s comical “guy-in-a-tree-suit” appearance for the lasting appeal of From Hell It Came because the film contains more than just ironic entertainment. Not much more, but perhaps as a result of the Milners’ lack of any formal filmmaking skills they ignored screenwriting and narrative convention as much as they embraced face-value 1950’s science fiction tropes.

from hell it came

The way the Milners force the “Tabanga” legend into the story of American doctors investigating nuclear fallout, never comes together — but a viewer steeped in 1950’s science fiction will note the bubblegum holding the operation together.

When the Tabanga first begins to grow up from the ground — his pout face and permanent frown lines betraying the sadness in his lonely, still-beating heart — the doctors’ first reaction to exhume the thing to take it back to the lab. To study? To nurse back to health? The true motivations remain slightly unclear and grow even foggier when they determine that the “life” begins ebbing from this roadside stump carving. To break this down, they took the pulse of a tree stump and then decided to inject it with a serum that’s proven successful at exacerbating radiation effects in monkeys.

They’re justifiable shocked when the arrive at their lab the next morning to discover that it’s been trashed, and Pouty McStumpface has disappeared, having already commenced his comeback tour of revenge. Tabanga’s targets offer little resistance as he systematically dispatches them in quicksand and apparent strangulation. There’s no will they or won’t the survive. The wrongdoers die and the doctor’s go on a half-hearted crusade to maybe dissuade a tree from killing or maybe not. The plan’s not entirely clear; they’re armed with a mild case of righteous indignation and rifles.

from hell it came

Final Thoughts:

I won’t oversell this. The locals dress in cabana wear from Tommy Bahama and the doctors dote over a grotesque tree-stump like it might potentially cure cancer — yet it seems overtly clear that a frowny-face tree stump that grows magically from the ground would most certainly harbor ill will.

The off-kilter dialogue between the American doctors contains upwards of 75% sexual innuendo, and veteran character actor Tod Andrews in particular delivers his share of lecherous lines with unrequited panache. And most notably, From Hell It Came lacks any particular moral compass. The doctors recklessly engage in pseudo-science and local politics. The islanders murdered an innocent man in cold blood. The tree monster — who should be our rooting interest by process of elimination — doesn’t return with conscience enough to differentiate between those that deserve a comeuppance and those that do not.

All this adds up to a film that can’t be pinned down despite the fact that as viewers we’ve seen this particular story play out in dozens of creature features from the 1950’s. Odd, offputting and poorly conceived, From Hell It Came might not be the result of great minds, but the baffling filmmaking decisions that came together to create the great Tabanga stumbled into an unforgettable branch of inexplicable entertainment.

Now, Warner Archive, as long as we’ve deemed From Hell It Came worthy of a Blu-ray, where’s my SHH! The Octopus 3-disc Special Edition?

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


 

Availability:  

from hell it came warner archive

A 1957 killer tree movie doesn’t deserve to look this good. But as long as it does, let’s embrace the absurdity and applaud Warner Archive’s efforts.

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diabolik dvd.

2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. The Old Dark House (1932) / #19. House (1985) / #20. House II: The Second Story / #21. Christine (1983) / #22. House III: The Horror Show (1989) / #22. House IV: The Repossession (1992)

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