Wednesday, June 27, 2012

From Hell it Came (1957)


JLP OK so here we are again, this time talking about FROM HELL IT CAME, quite possibly one of the best walking killer tree movies ever made.

It's 1957 and we are in the frankly less than capable hands of the Milner brothers, Dan and Jack, who had a pretty undistinguished movie career of which this is the high or low point, depending on your tastes.

A quick look at the credits here reveals absolutely no-one of any significance at all so let's move smartly on to the opening scene in which young Kimo (Gregg Palmer) seems to have been accused of a crime he says did not commit. Things of note here (to me anyway) include some strategically placed (and very well behaved) chickens, a wife character who can't act or even look in the right direction but who nevertheless oozes naughty ladyness, and an evil chief who may well trying to cover up a New York accent. It's all going to end in tears (or in fact with a big knife through the chest) and the chickens don't seem to be in the slightest bit bothered, probably because when Kimo comes back from HELL they're not the ones who are going to be enduring death at the end of a serious piece of wood. And with that double entendre I'll turn over to you...

GA I'm feeling the strain already. Shoe-polished yanks gather in a park to talk backstory while, close by, someone is heating a horn section with mallets. This is the sort of high drama that makes your ears want to crawl off your head and dip themselves into something soothing.

The ill-fated Kimo is stabbed in the back (and indeed the chest). And, yes, his wife appears distracted from rubbing herself up against a tree in order to deliver her lines. I have a feeling that's an image that will come back to haunt us. She speaks with the bizarre cadence of a woman to whom language is a second language.

Perhaps it's the drums, they're certainly distressing our Wise American Scientists as they loll manfully against chemistry equipment, Brylcremed to such an oily perfection you could slip one up a buffalo without it wincing.

'I don't mind the drums,' says one, 'they have a nice anthropological beat.' A line later used by Paul Morley in the NME to describe Chumbawamba.

Shush. They're talking plot again. Nuclear bombs, devil dust, radiation, love interest, want to go home, monkeys... Dear God, there's enough backstory here to kill a weaker viewer. And if that doesn't do it Tod Andrews (Scientist No. 1) will. He's a hard man only too happy to admit there are times he'd like to kick the love of his life's 'beautiful teeth in'.

Then, one can hardly blame him, I've only just met her and want to do the same, if only to stem the flow of what must be the worst Faux English accent committed to film. 'Gor Blimey, savage 'eathens, I'll never see summink so 'orrible in all of moi loif...' Yes, dear, I must admit that self same thought was crossing my mind too.

Wait... Tod's not that mad, it's not the love of his life, just a passing widow (two down, they no doubt died stabbing bread knives into their ears) and she's off to 'open a bloomin' pub in Australia'. You know, Australia, on the Northern Line. London Ingurland

I must find more scotch, if this lot aren't willing to improve the film then the onus falls onto me to do it for myself.

JLP Yes indeed. From that opening scene we move indoors to a laboratory that has a gas cooker (in case one feels like a boiled egg whilst counting Geigers) and the usual bunch of dopey, delinquent, alcoholic scientists who have obviously been sent as far away as possible by their employing organisation to not get in anyone's way.

There's talk of plague, radiation and curses so that's all the bases covered, and let's take a moment here just to point out how very boringly this entire movie is filmed. Unlike last week's CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN I think you'll find there isn't a single shot in FROM HELL IT CAME that's worth pointing out as 'any good at all'

GA Tod's trying to convince the love of his life that she wants a husband and children 'just like other women'. His cunning plan involves taking her to a native burial ground to attack her face with his mouth.

JLP Was it just me who found the scene between the showering lady doctor and the only attractive island woman in the entire cast mildly charged with erotic tension? Did you get the feeling that's why she doesn't want to kiss Tod Andrews? Aha!!!!

GA I wish I did get that. But I don't. The only sexual tension ever experienced on this island is when the envelope won't tear open on Andrews' Penthouse subscription.

But wait! A trunk is beginning to form out of Kimo's grave... Perhaps with it will sprout some excitement, for a short film FROM HELL IT CAME seems surprisingly content to shuffle its feet for half an hour.

JLP Yes it IS a bit slow, isn't it? And I missed the bit where they explained why Kimo was buried standing upright in a box. Surely if they were worried about him coming back they should have buried him upside down so that he escaped the wrong way...

GA They're investigating the trunk, warned by Friendly Native that it is a ‘Tabonga’ a living tree spirit that will kill them all.

'What's that green stuff leaking from it?'

'Probably its version of blood, what keeps it alive...'

What? Sap? One gets the impression that the Milner brothers were not commonly troubled by knowledge. About anything.

JLP What really gets me about this bit is - if you were a scientist, any scientist, even if you spent your days trying to do stuff to parrots and monkeys like our lady doctor admits to later on, if you saw a bit of a weird-looking tree sticking out of the ground would your first reaction be to listen to it with a stethoscope?

GA And to uproot it they sever it at ground level as if it were nothing but a dandelion. We see the ground where it lay, later, not even dug.

Oh God, they keep showing it wander from left to right, then right to left, across the same bit of grass.

You're shooting a living tree picture, you see the rubber suit, your first thought, surely, is to shoot this in a way that it might retain some menace.


Not here. Here we keep shooting the one thing it can never be reasonably expected to do: walk believably.

Nobody wishes me to suspend my disbelief, and they should have tried, because frankly it's easily suspended. I'm a bit of a fool when it comes to these things...

JLP There'a a very strange part of me that likes to think the monster in this is real, that if there were monsters they'd actually be a bit laughable and rubbery and instead of feeling threatened you'd actually just stand there and giggle, even if it might piss off the Gods.

GA A monster story where the monsters are all like this... Rubbery, laughable but still deadly... There's a story in that. I bet Rhys Hughes has already written it.

JLP Oh yes probably. Oddly enough before I ever saw it I presumed GREMLINS was going to be like that - silly little creatures that pulled your head off while you were still chuckling at them.

A word here about the monster design. It's by Paul Blaisdell who I'm sure was a very nice man and he even had an entire issue of Cinefantastique devoted to him after he had passed on, but his monster designs all had the same aura of, well, lack of verisimilitude? I mean I know he made them in his garage but Hammer managed a whole oeuvre like that and didn't skimp on the quality. Poor old Paul - he did his best but all his monsters look a bit Halloween-costumish.

GA Budget is no excuse. What made so many of these movies great was the fact that they succeeded when they had no right to do so.

JLP Weirdly enough I like the island atmosphere. The weather seems to be bordering on a storm most of the time, which can't be any intention of the film-makers. And the natives look perpetually cold and embarrassed, like performers in a 1970s British sex film.

GA The Tabonga is now well and truly on the move.

'But how do you know it was the Tabonga?' asks one of the natives of Kimo's poisonous widow.

'Because I recognised its face,' she explains, differentiating it clearly from ALL OF THE OTHER WALKING TREES

JLP OK I will freely admit that the Tabonga is one of my all time favourite crap monsters - better than the rubbish you can find in VOODOO WOMAN, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD and others. I'm not sure why - maybe it's the disproportionate head, the silly eyes, the flapping mouth or the way it walks, or it may just be that it appeals to my inner child - the one who used to judge how good a film was by how much you got to see the monster (inner child hated Val Lewton's CAT PEOPLE, for example). Despite a slow start you do get to see the monster a lot in this, and all by daylight, presumably because they didn't have the money / technical ability / thought to shoot at night. I like the knife in his heart - a nice, really stupid touch.

GA The design of the monster isn't that bad. it's aesthetically pleasing. But the actor controlling it cannot move in it, he is constantly at the point of falling over. Which is why you would loosen the lower section and shoot the whole thing higher, so that it could move with something approaching stability and strength.

JLP The tabonga (it sounds too much like toboggan for my liking) is off to kill the naughty tribespeople which consist of badly-acting ladies and those two blokes with the most amazing headgear for a low budget film I'v seen in a while - the pointy teeth thing is great and the other bloke had some kind of massive Carmen Miranda affair made of straw earlier. Nice.


JLP I know! The woody death is a continuing motif in this movie. I think there's a lot of very heavily disguised sexual subtext in this that we're only just scratching the surface of.

GA Carmen Miranda has felled it using a trap and some fire! Poor old Rosebud.

No! Nothing can stand in the way of Tabonga! It's back and now it's singed!

JLP Yes - if you were fighting a monster from the depths of hell wouldn't you hang around to make sure your plan to kill it had worked? Mind you if you did that with Michael Myers we all know what would happen.

The last 20 minutes are such a tour de force of rubbish monster moviedom. If anyone asked "Ok - show me a bit from a crap monster movie that will make me laugh" you could show them scenes from this and if they didn't laugh they'd be dead (and I don't mean that as a threat).

Even the ending is spectacularly incompetent - he falls over and that horrible cockney woman makes a joke. The End. Oh for God's sake let's get on with the A feature before we all go insane.

GA Don't call her Cockney, she hasn't earned the right.

It is funny, yes, it's bad movie comedy. But after last week's surprise pleasure I wanted to find something genuinely successful here, one thing you could point at and say: 'never mind the budget, or the concept, look at that! Isn't it lovely?' Perhaps it's the witch doctor's hat.

JLP Ah - sorry, no this week it's the turn of what I must somewhat embarassingly call 'proper rubbish'. No redeeming features in this one apart from the unintentional hilarity. And hey - it's not very long! (Ooer).

I first saw this on a double bill with William Friedkin's THE GUARDIAN, by the way - another killer tree movie.

GA Steve Volk wrote The Guardian! Clearly he ripped it off from this the thieving hack.

Well, the Tabonga has been felled and so have I.

The fault is mine, I'm so determined to find the genuine, intentioned, good in these movies that when, as here, there simply isn't any I feel frustrated.

There's no getting away from the fact that it's funny, there were a couple of moments when I genuinely got the giggles because it did something so absurd, so ineffectual that it was comedy gold.

JLP I dare say we've got as much out of it as anyone could hope to and besides - I suspect next week's offering will have enough worthwhile moments for several films (not that I'm suggesting we watch FROM HELL IT CAME again - ever)

GA Here it is: my problem...

A good B picture is designed to do many things: excite, titillate, horrify, amuse... but you have to TRY. I love a noble failure, rub my face in the trash, demand a response, I'll love you for it. But be boring? Shoot your picture with no effort at all? Then you've made me cross.

But yes, next week will not have these problems, it will have others, for sure but nobody could accuse SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN of being boring.

JLP No indeed. Onwards and (in this case very much) upwards!


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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)


JLP: OK so I'm going to kick this one off by saying that for some reason I quite like it. I'm not sure why but I am a bit of a sucker for horror movies set in museums. Hammer's THE MUMMY'S SHROUD is another - in that one the head-crumbling climax takes place in a museum. Peter Hyams' THE RELIC is fun as well. But back to CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN. I think it's a fun way to open the film by showing you the monster. He's not an especially clever or imaginative creation, but the whole faceless thing works for me - a man made of stone with no face chasing you around. That's scary, isn't it? Finally for now - the credits. The only actor I recognise is Oscar Goldman himself, Richard Anderson, who ended up in a lot of US TV in the 1970s, including Dan Curtis' second Kolchak movie THE NIGHT STRANGLER. Otherwise screenwriter Jerome Bixby was famous for writing IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, the 'It's a Good Life' episodes from TWILIGHT ZONE, and some STAR TREK episodes. Director Edward L Cahn made some amazingly watchable tat, including FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (another JLP favourite), Alex Gordon's SHE CREATURE & VOODOO WOMAN, and of course IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE.

GA: Well, of course you quite like it, your sense of taste is shattered, a cracked crystal goblet you would as happily drink meths from as Sauvignon Blanc. But then, mine's broken too so obviously I'm in full agreement (so far, I'm only twenty five minutes in).

Still, what's not to like about this "startling narrative" that begins ‘seventy-nine years after the birth of Christ’ and finishes at quarter to Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba?

It certainly doesn't miss a trick in keeping its viewers on track with Richard Anderson assuring us that the strange body they've found is Very Worrying. After all, it must be 2000 years old and he explains that 'it's been scientifically proven that something that old couldn't support life.' Wise words. It's words like that that make a woman fall in love with a man as his old flame proves, turning up with her new boyfriend and assuring him that her feelings are old news before promptly grabbing Anderson's arm and dripping poisonous insincerity all over his news that he's engaged to Tina Enright, an artist.

And what an artist! She's been chalking-out Mapplethorpe-lite sketches of male torsos, dreaming of a Faceless Man who will Do Precisely What Has Happened Thus Far In The Film. Still, Anderson is not convinced, 'it's an odd coincidence' he insists. Why don't they just run off and get married instead?

Thankfully the voiceover reassures us that Anderson is suspicious and that the rest of the movie will not be a wedding reception in Florida. You know, this is a cunning move on the production's part, the voiceover tells us what the characters are feeling while the actors tell us the plot in painstaking detail. Is this Greek Tragedy?


(Guy returned to the movie, chewing thoughtfully on his digestive biscuit and wondering who would be murdered next)

JLP: More like Roman tragedy, or possibly even 1957 Hollywood tragedy (there was a lot of it about then, you know). The voiceover is quite a peculiar addition, beloved of movies of that period that Made No Sense to try and Bloody Well Make It Make Sense. But if you replay the movie with the mute button on, or ignore the voiceover, it's still pretty obvious what's going on. Perhaps United Artists' main audience was the hard of thinking? Anyway, yes I love the little model of Pompeii that opens this - I wonder if it's stock footage from something else? I also love the little box that gets pushed out of the earth in front of the Cheech Marin lookalike chap who's digging there before we get to see the hand.

Yes - Tina Enright is painting pictures of a bloke all tied up. Richard should either be pleasantly surprised or studiously worried. Instead we discover that it's all the work of the curse of a Roman slave called Quintus Aurelius. I remember many years ago an interview with Jerome Bixby where he said he was acutely embarrassed about that. That's the sort of name a member of the ruling class would have you see - slaves didn't have surnames and were called things like 'Lurcio', 'Acapella' or 'Frank'. But the producers didn't think his original choice of name was Roman enough (who knows? Perhaps he went for the last one) so they forced him to change it. I think it's rather charming that you could write something like this and that's the bit you're embarrassed about.

GA: He's constantly trying to explain how the creature can 'see' too! 'Bats can see without eyes! The blind have a kind of sight that's not like ours... but is a bit... Erm...'

It's a two-thousand year old fossil, man! The science of how it can see where it's going is the least of our questions!

JLP:Well yes - if his nervous system is stone then so are his muscles so how's he bloody well walking around then?

I liked the bit where Richard hit it with the axe and it bounced off, by the way...

GA: Anderson gave it more welly than anything else he’s thus far done in the movie.

JLP: But...wait! Is QA moving again?

GA: Moving? He's on a rampage (at least he was until he mysteriously toppled over in the basement of Tina Enwright's apartment block. No doubt the voice over will tell me why he's done so in a minute).

It works though, for all it's hokey nonsense, the creature shuffling through the black and white streets is as eerie and effective as many a Hollywood monster. It keeps reminding me of CALTIKI, though God knows why as that was a far better movie. Is my silly head so curdled that it all begins to blend? One monster hunting out a blonde in Italy is the same as all the others.

Hmm... They're always blondes aren't they, while all the other women -- the also-rans in the race for the hero's affection -- are brunettes. I always prefer the dark-haired ex-girlfriends rather than the virginal, peroxide screamers. I suppose Enwright's bondage portraits give her a few bonus points, she can't be quite as excruciatingly vanilla as she appears...

JLP: I must confess as I watched old Quintus wandering through the back alleys 'that had once been busy thoroughfares' according to the voiceover I found myself thinking that old Eddie Cahn was actually pretty good at using light and shadow in this, not just in this bit but in some of the interiors as well. There's a lovely scene where Tina goes down some stairs and the shot is entirely black. She's at the bottom and Quintus is framed in a doorway at the top. Lovely.

I agree with you that he's actually quite creepy and like I said earlier the whole faceless thing works in this movie's favour, well before the idea was pinched for a thousand Michael Myers slasher rip offs. Having something with no face chasing you is a Very Scary Thing Indeed.

As for the ladies it did cross my mind as they were introduced that 'she's the blonde bride to be so she'll be the boring one whereas the dark-haired ex is probably a bit of a firecracker'. Who knows? That may be why Richard dumped her so he could get on with 'science'.

Quintus is good at knocking down doors as well, isn't he? Even if they do look a bit, well, crumbly. I'm not too sure about the authentic illustrations in that book, though, the ones of Roman ladies with that brooch drawn onto them in pencil.

GA: One of the first things Mummies are taught is Basic Door Smashing. That and Obsessing Over Women and How to Maintain a Long Distance Relationship.

Cahn does a good job, it's far from being a bad movie, it's got a dodgy script and performances but he keeps it afloat with more style than we have any right to expect. Though yes, the art department (no doubt a bored and lonely old soak called Bernard who only keeps at this to scrape together a few dollars for cheap bourbon) could have done better on the "ancient illustrations".

Ha! Anderson's trying to blind us with his knowledge again: 'Science has conclusively proven you can't kill something that's already dead.' What a fun day in the lab that must have been.

JLP: I thought for a moment there you had written 'obeseing' which has conjured quite a curious image in my head.

GA: I often obese over women, it's like tea-bagging but with more chocolate biscuits.

JLP: This was all filmed at Venice Beach, you know - it's not actually Naples at all, despite the fact we get reminded of that at the end of the film. The mummy motif even extends to Tina being a reincarnation of Quintus' lost love and I half expected him to actually carry her into the waves at the end like Universal's THE MUMMY'S GHOST where Kharis carries an aging and then decomposing Ramsay Ames into the swamp. But instead Tina gets saved while Quintus dissolves. Is it actually explained why salt water is so bad for him? I mean he's not made of iron or anything.

The music's suitably hysterical as well. I think Gerald Fried did quite a lot of these and I get the feeling with this one he's told the string section 'Oh just do this over and over very loudly whenever the monster appears'.

GA: The low shots of Quintus on the beach with the clouds behind him are quite lovely, that unexpected style again...

But no, there's no explaining why he dissolves though the cast assure us that he is because that's cheaper than actually showing it.

As for Gerald Fried, yes, I suspect he was when composing this... Either that or pointing a very large gun at the horn section.

Well, that's that then and, like you I rather enjoyed myself. the ending was a damp squib (they tried to throw some pseudo-science into the mix, building up to a method of killing the Rocky Bugger then decided, to hell with it, life's too short, let's just pretend he's made of Alka Seltzer).

Not a bad film though, thoroughly entertaining and a good mixture of intentional creepiness with unintentional laughs. I'd watch it again, though that means nothing... I'm a Stockholm Syndrome sufferer to bad cinema, it's held me so long I love it like no other.

JLP: I was also left wondering quite how they got his legs to smoke when he was in the water. But yes - it's not a bad little B picture. I've always held a fondness for it since first seeing a still from it in Denis Gifford's Pictorial History of Horror Movies. I finally saw the film many years later on Channel 4, of all places. I think I've seen it three or four times now & I'm sure I'll revisit it again sometime.

GA: It’s all Gifford’s fault, he’s broken us for a lifetime.


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