Halloween Havoc!: FROM HELL IT CAME (Allied Artists 1957)

I’ve seen a lot of movie monsters in my time. Vampires and werewolves, zombies and mutated bugs, but nothing prepared me for the horror of… Tabanga, the Terrible Tree Monster and star of FROM HELL IT CAME! I’ve seen a lot of Grade ‘Z’ “so-bad-they’re-good” movies as well, and let me tell you, this one’s right up there with the best of the worst. This was the last film from Milner Brothers Productions (who brought you the equally ludicrous PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES) and rightly so. FROM HELL IT CAME is so inept it makes Ed Wood’s epics look like Cecil B. DeMille spectaculars!

So there’s this tribe of suspiciously Caucasian-looking natives living on this South Seas island, okay. The very Caucasian Kimo (Gregg Palmer, ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU) is staked to the ground, accused of poisoning his chieftain father with the white man’s “bad medicine”. This is only a ruse by witch doctor Tano (Robert Swan) to take over  the tribe with Maranka (Baynes Barron) and Kimo’s tropical floozy wife Korey (Suzanne Ridgway). Before Tano gives the order to plunge a knife into his victim’s heart, Kimo vows to return from the grave to exact revenge on his lying tormentors.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, scientists Dr. Bill Arnold (Tod Andrews) and Professor Clark (John McNamara) are researching nuclear fallout in the area, which the natives call “Devil Dust”. With them is Army Sgt. Eddie (Mark Sheeler), whose role is so meaningless he isn’t even given a last name. Then there’s Mrs. Kilgore (Linda Winters), man-hungry owner of the local trading post, sporting one of the worst Cockney accents in the history of cinema! Into the picture (via helicopter) comes Dr. Terry Mason (Tina Carver), no relation to Perry Mason, one of those dedicated 50’s “female scientists” that leading men like Bill go ga-ga over.

It’s brought to everyone’s attention there’s a tree stump growing out of Kimo’s grave, and this botanical marvel has a pulse! Some friendly natives warn the gang about the legend of Tabanga, a restless evil tree monster who once terrorized the islanders. Dr. Mason gives it a shot of her new serum to keep it alive, but Tabanga busts out of the lab and makes good on Kimo’s promise to avenge his death against those who murdered him. The shambling stump takes things too far when it shuffles off with Terry. The men chases after it, and realize the only way to stop Tabanga is to shoot a bullet at the knife still protruding from the former Kimo’s chest, driving it through its tree heart! I don’t think even Annie Oakley could pull that off, but scientist Bill manages to do just that, ending the threat of Tabanga, earning the native’s gratitude, and winning the hand of the fair Terry.

The only thing worse than the stilted dialog is the wooden (pun intended) delivery the actors give it. As for Tabanga  itself, this monster wouldn’t scare anybody over the age of five. In fact, I found myself smiling every time it appeared on-screen. This isn’t “rubber suit” monster maker Paul Blaisdell’s greatest creation; then again how do you make a tree scary? I’m pretty sure there are worst films you can watch this Halloween though, so if you’re in the mood for some unintentional Tree Monster laughs, FROM HELL IT CAME will certainly fill the bill. Time to say goodnight, Tabanga:

 

Halloween Havoc!: THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW (AIP 1959)

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Hey all you Halloween hepcats and creepy chicks! Are you ready for THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW? And by ready I mean prepared to watch a really lousy movie redeemed only by the in-joke twist ending that’s sure to please horror fans. All you’ve got to do is slog through the rest of this nonsense… so let’s slog on!

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THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW is a sequel of sorts to HOT ROD GIRL, and  starts off as your basic hot rod drive-in flick.  Pretty young Lois Cavendish is a member of the Zenith Club, a group of hot rod enthusiasts being interviewed by magazine writer Mr. Hedley. Lois gets busted drag racing against her rival Nita, and her parents (who just don’t understand) ground her. This means she’s gonna miss the big wing-ding at the club Saturday night, but not to worry… Mom suggests moving the party to their house, much to Dad’s consternation.

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Dad’s “favorite client” Anastasia Abernathy and her annoying talking parrot Alphonso just happen to be visiting that weekend, which makes for a lot of goofiness involving the teens and the adults. Nita, her boyfriend Tony, and their gang (consisting of Nita, Tony, and two others) try to crash, but Lois’s boyfriend Stan chucks them out. Then the “cats” leave, and the “kittens” have a slumber party where of course no one sleeps, especially put-upon Dad (oh, the hilarity!).

Lois gets a call from Stan saying the bank is foreclosing on the Zenith’s clubhouse, and kicking them out. Things look bleak until Anastasia offers to let them have her place out on Dragstrip Hollow, that is if they can get rid of the ghosts haunting the joint! Lois, Stan, and gang all spend the night in the creepy manor, compete with weird noises, moving fireplaces, floating candles, and a monster (to be specific, the monster from 1956’s THE SHE CREATURE!).  They decide to hold a “spook ball” the next night, with everyone dressed in scary costumes, while the band plays “Ghost Train”:

Finally everyone unmasks and the She-Creature is revealed to be none other than monster maker Paul Blaisdell , who’s been haunting the house because AIP has tossed him aside! “I scared you to death in THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED, you shivered when you saw me in SHE CREATURE”, whines the 50’s greatest rubber-suited monster. “Oh the shame of it, the indignity! They didn’t use me in HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, they just discarded me!” Blaisdell gets chased off by one of the girls, the teens dance away, and the credits tell us it’s “The Endest, Man!”

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Aside from the gag with Paul Blaisdell (whose alien head from INVASION OF THE SAUCER-MEN is also used here), this hot rod/horror hybrid offers little of each. It’s mostly a teen comedy, with lots of rock’n’roll songs interspersed. The band is drummer Sandy Nelson (who had a hit with “Teen Beat”), future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, and future record producers Nick Venet and Richard Polodor. Lou Rusoff’s self-referential script served as a template for his BEACH PARTY , spawning a whole new genre. Director William Hole was one of those Hollywood jacks-of-all-trades with credits as producer (TV soap PEYTON PLACE), assistant director, second unit director, production manager, and script supervisor. He did direct one interesting horror film, THE DEVIL’S HAND with Robert Alda.

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Pretty Jody Fair (Lois) had a short career, mainly in teen exploitation flicks like this. Her best known credit is John Frankenheimer’s 1961 THE YOUNG SAVAGES. Martin Braddock (Stan) played Rip in  HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS , Russ Bender (Hedley) was featured in WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST and WILD ON THE BEACH, Jack Ging (Tony) was an early member of Clint Eastwood’s stock company (HANG EM HIGH, PLAY MISTY FOR ME, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER), and Dorothy Neumann (Anastasia) played in countless AIP epics for Roger Corman. TV Tommy Ivo, former child star turned pro drag racer, appears as himself. I don’t know who the voice of the parrot was. Nor do I care. It was annoying!

So is THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW worth your time? As a horror movie, no. It’s not scary at all. Those who dig 50’s teen flicks may want to give it a shot, and I’d recommend it to fans of Paul Blaisdell. His presence at film’s end is the only reason to watch this movie. That is, if you can slog through the rest of this turkey.

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ALIEN Ancestor: IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (United Artists 1958)

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Col. Edward Carruthers is the sole survivor of man’s first Mars expedition, the remainder of the crew brutally slaughtered. A second ship is sent to return Carruthers to Earth to be court-martialed for the murders. Unbeknownst to the crew, a bloodthirsty space alien has infiltrated their ship. When members of the crew begin to get picked off, they realize Carruthers is telling the truth. Now they’re trapped in space with the creature and nowhere to run. Bullets can’t stop IT! Grenades can’t stop IT! Gas can’t stop IT! Can anything stop IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE?

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Grab yourselves some popcorn, Raisonettes, and a soft drink for this one, the quintessential 50s Sci-Fi Drive-In movie. It’s a well done B picture that doesn’t waste any time getting into the action, and probably the best film director Edward L. Cahn (Invisible Invaders) ever did. The cast is solid but relatively unknown except for star Marshall Thompson (TV’s DAKTARI) and character actor Dabbs Greer. The screenplay by Jerome Bixby may seem familiar, as it’s said to have been the “inspiration” for the 1979 hit ALIEN. Bixby was mainly a sci-fi short story writer whose “It’s A Good Life” was adapted into the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode starring Billy (LOST IN SPACE) Mumy. He also wrote the story for the film FANTASTIC VOYAGE, and four STAR TREK episodes, including the doppleganger episode “Mirror, Mirror”. Special mention should be made to Oscar nominated art director William Glasgow (HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE) for his contribution to this movie.

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IT itself was actor/stuntman Ray “Crash” Corrigan, in his last role. Corrigan starred in serials and B-Westerns like the Three Mesquiteers (with young John Wayne) and Range Busters series, but was also one of Hollywood’s greatest gorilla guys. Corrigan and his ape suit were in demand for pictures like the original TARZAN THE APE MAN, serial FLASH GORDON, THE APE (with Boris Karloff), Universal’s CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN, and that all-time clunker Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla. Crash also owned a ranch called Corriganville which was used in many B-Westerns of the era.

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The alien creature was designed by the one-and-only Paul Blaisdell, responsible for many of those 50s “rubber suited” monsters we all know and love. Blaisdell worked extensively with Roger Corman on B-movies like THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES, THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, THE SHE CREATURE, NOT OF THIS EARTH, and INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN. He occasionally played the monsters himself, and his creations are some of the most iconic in sci-fi filmdom:

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IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE is a fun movie for sci-fi fans, and while no classic, is suspenseful enough to hold your interest. It’s not big on science, but is fantastic fiction that’s still enjoyable to watch today, a fine example of low-budget, low-tech moviemaking magic.