From Hell It Came is a pretty good title for this schlocky example from the golden age of science fiction. The title also points out a problem with the admittedly original premise. Is this horror–with the supernatural on hand? Or–with South Seas nuclear testing and subsequent radioactive fallout on tap–is it sci-fi? It’s both, I suppose. But the revenge plot only works with the Tabanga as a supernatural manifestation.
With black magic, murder, a curse, and mythological creature emerging–all products of the traditional culture, who needs science? There could still be Yankee interlopers to witness the drama; but, instead, the narrative is sort of hijacked by the American scientists’ parallel story. Suspension of disbelief should have an internal logic to build it up and hold it together. That is, I can accept a tree-monster as a wronged tribal chief seeking vengeance, but not if he’s also the mutant result of radioactivity.
I’m taking From Hell It Came seriously because it did have enough elements to more or less carry it along. The acting wasn’t too bad–although Mae seemed just to waste time with her everlasting annoying chatter. The Tod Andrews/Tina Carver romance was similarly just a distraction. Most of the natives had little to do. Actually, the Tabanga works well enough: it does look creepy, and, fittingly, does get its revenge. Interestingly, the evil chief wants to use it more or less like a zombie. Poison supposedly will tweak it into becoming a hit-man role for the bad guy. Once that idea’s raised, though, we never hear about it again.
It might’ve been cool if the Tabanga, sort of Frankenstein-monster-like, has to wrestle with his ‘conscience’. Does he carry out his righteous vendetta? Or give in to the poisoness influence of Maranka? (Or is it Tano?). I like how the natives think they’ve killed the Tabanga, and, in typical sci-fi/horror fashion, they’re wrong–the thing is still out and about. Similarly, when the scientists inject the Tabanga with their reanimating junk, they leave it be, not expecting anything. Then, like the monster in The Thing, it gives the humans a nasty surprise by getting a head start.
A movie of this sort should have some sort of palpable tension. But only the natives seem very worried when the Tobanga starts to sprout out of Kimo’s grave. The scientists act as if they’ve discovered some new specie of wildflower; they’re surprised, but the Tobanga doesn’t keep them from their subplots. They only perk up when it escapes. That leads, strangely, to Terry’s (Carver’s) desire to keep it alive. The old ‘quest for scientific knowledge’ excuse; another device used better in many other sci-fi films of the era. It’s something mentioned, like Tano’s zombie idea, then just as quickly dropped.
Maybe the horror/sci-fi blend would’ve worked better without the huge ethnocentric dose dumped on the natives. It’s not just that they’re referred to as having “stupid blind ignorance” since they’re “children”, not to mention “cannibals” (that one admittedly from the loony Mae). The worst is the patronizing tone with which their “medicine” is dismissed. Ok, maybe their “medicine” depends on magic or whatnot, but one such context is in a discussion with a native girl who’s suffered disfiguring effects from radiation. Who’s fault is that? Who has the black magic? Well, I’d like to think that those scenes and dialogue were merely clumsily done, the result of amateurish filmmaking.
Neither the unconvincing attempt to blend genres, nor the weak attempt to focus on two cultures worked decently enough. Still, I don’t think that From Hell It Came is terrible, and certainly not one of the all-time worst sci-fi movies. It’s deeply flawed, but entertaining here and there. 4/10.