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, an enduring favorite whose arrival on Blu-ray comes as a welcomed surprise.
On Kalai Island in the South Seas, a community of natives (the majority of the men sport messy DA haircuts and some maintain New York accents) have a big beef. It seems one of their men is believed to be responsible for the death of an island chief (who just happened to be his father), as he’s 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, VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS). 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 Yankee visitors who dig up the “Tabanga” and are responsible for provoking its rapid early morning awakening, which is followed by a rampage of death and 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, BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL) and Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver, THE MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE), 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, dangling arms and an angry dog-like mug (one single expression), it’s 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 Bela Lugosi Monogram chillers (VOODOO MAN and RETURN OF THE APE MAN). He later had supporting parts in the Western HANG ‘EM HIGH and such other genre efforts as BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES and THE BABY (all three 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 (BAD RONALD) as a cockney-accented horny lush who won’t shut her mouth for a second and Suzanne Ridgway (THE SHE-CREATURE) as a shapely brunette native woman who manages to drown in quicksand after getting into a catfight. Darrell Calker, who also composed for a number of other 1950s sci-fi flicks (including VOODOO WOMAN and BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER), delivers a marvelous score, worthy of the best “creature features” of the period, and it greatly emphasizes the film's "scary" highlights.
FROM HELL IT CAME made its home video debut as part of the Warner Archive Collection as an on-demand DVD; in fact, it was one of the earliest genre titles to make it to the line. So its Blu-ray release comes as a major surprise and serves as a measuring stick for what might become available from Warner on the HD format in the future (anything is possible now!). The film is presented here in 1080p HD in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the transfer is terrific. The black and white picture detail is very sharp, with good, consistently organic grain, and there are hardly any instances of dirt or debris on the source element. Contrast is excellent, and the gray scale adds excellent depth and texture. Black levels are rich and solid, and whites also hold up well. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is clear and natural-sounding, so dialogue and the memorable score hold up well. English SDH titles are included. Not included on the Warner Archive DVD but present here is the original theatrical trailer (1080p HD, 1:56), and look carefully in it for an alternate shot not in the final film. (George R. Reis)
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