Welcome to Tree Week! Yes, I can believe this announcement will leave you rather stumped (we might as well get this one out of the way first), but this week’s updates (all tree of them – yes, that pun was intended and it sucked) of Avenue Kurtodrome feature movies starring the most underrated extra of them all: the noble tree. Maybe it’s because certain lousy actors are so jealous a tree is able to be less wooden than them, maybe it’s because their screen performances are generally not that moving… whatever the reason, here’s Tree Week!
And which better movie to kick that off than From Hell It Came, the 1958 masterpiece. The New York Times reviewed it in one line (“From Hell it Came and to Hell it can go”) and the BBC once introduced it in a similar way: “And now on BBC2 From Hell It Came. It certainly did.”
From Hell It Came opens with a spectacular scene, set somewhere in a supposedly exotic region. A young prince is wrongfully murdered and buried under a tree. So far so good, but here’s where it gets special: he then comes back to life as that tree and starts slaughtering the people who were behind his murder (you see, it was all a power struggle).
Of course, a B movie with only ‘natives’ (read: American Z-list actors in ridiculous outfits pretending to be exotic) wouldn’t really work, so From Hell It Came throws in a bunch of American scientists who are lucky enough to be around and who have to save the day.
Which is a bit odd, given the vicious murderer is a walking tree stump and thus has the wonderful speed of a crippled tortoise. Given the fact that there might be an initial shock when you see a tree walking towards you, there’s still a 100% chance you’re able to outrun the tree.
This of course is quite a problem for the makers of the film. It looks as if they were surprised themselves by how slow the stump was and one overnight meeting later they must’ve decided the only way the film could still make any sort of sense was to have the tree approach them behind their backs or to have them faint.
Which doesn’t alter the fact that the tree doesn’t look awfully scary (well, it does look awful, just not scary), which leaves you as a viewer with only one conclusion: the only way this tree can kill you is to die from laughing at it.
The tree isn’t the only special effect that had an offday when the film was made: one of the victims ends up in a pool of quicksand. Which may be a bit dangerous for the actress who has to drown, so the makers came up with an excellent solution: why not use a regular pool which looks a bit dirty?
This might not have been a problem if anyone involved with this film had shown the tiniest bit of talent. Sadly, this is not the case. The pool is visibly so shallow the poor actress has to bend through her knees in order to look like she’s drowning. She does look a bit frightened, but maybe she was thinking of her career in movies.
Still, never lose the trust that From Hell It Came can sink even lower in your expectation. This film even features an Australian woman who is terribly impressed by the American scientist and who keeps trying to seduce him. Sadly, the entire country of Australia was sick with the flu the two days it must’ve taken them to film From Hell It Came because the actress manages to come up with the most dreadful fake Australian accent ever.
But the most surprising fact is that someone must’ve thought this awful idea could be turned into a movie. The idea is so ludicrous the screenplay must be too. And it is. I don’t think it will be much of a spoiler if I tell you the American scientists manage to kill the tree (but I won’t tell you how) and this allows the native chief to remark that American witchcraft is vastly superior to his witchcraft. This may not be the case for American storytelling, it seems.
I don’t think anyone is able to deny that From Hell It Came is one of the worst movies ever. It doesn’t even help that the scenes which aren’t downright silly are quite tedious. Yet this is a masochistic trip you may want to suffer through, because From Hell It Came is so bad it eventually becomes a standard, as in: “Be Kind Rewind is a bad movie but not as bad as From Hell It Came.”
The director, Dan Milner, made two other movies: a detective movie in the 30s and another 50s monster movie, The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues. I liked that one, but not From Hell It Came. As much as I’d wanted it to be a guilty pleasure, it’s more of a guilt trip. But as much as I’d like to hate the film for its awfulness, I can’t do that either.
But don’t take just my word for it: here’s director Joe Dante, introducing the film for Trailers From Hell:
That’s pretty much all there is to say about this movie. It’s time to leave you with a scene that proves everything I’ve been telling you so far. In this scene a catfight between two native women is interrupted by Tabonga. There’s no need to inform you what to look out for, it’s all magic. Enjoy!