Monster from Green Hell
The mammoth monster that terrified the Earth! Too awesome to describe! Too terrifying to escape! Too powerful to stop!
Year of Release: 1957
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Running Time: 71 minutes (1:11)
Director: Kenneth G. Crane
Jim Davis ... Dr. Quent Brady
Robert Griffin ... Dan Morgan
Joel Fluellen ... Arobi
Barbara Turner ... Lorna Lorentz
Eduardo Ciannelli ... Mahri
Vladimir Sokoloff ... Dr. Lorentz
A test rocket containing scientific experiments, including a wasps' nest, crashes in the jungles of Africa. Radiation from outer space infects the wasps, creating a hive of titanic atomic mutations as big as a house. These hideous creatures have an appetite for human flesh and proceed to munch their way across the dark continent. An expedition of scientists is sent to investigate the strange happenings and native disappearances.
Monster from Green Hell, remindin' us that when you're writin' a story about giant mutant insects, it's imperative that the rest of the story be grounded in reality. I mean, let's be realistic here, Americans haven't given a damn about what happens in Africa since we got tired of dinosaurs rampagin' through the jungle tryin' to chew our spears off, an left. You can't possibly expect me to believe a coupla rocket scientists from Cocoa Beach not only read a story from the Nairobi Times, but actually went to investigate, when they coulda been watchin' the secretaries bounce around in the zero gravity chamber, can you? The only reason we even go to Africa anymore is to film those American Christian Fund ads they air in the middle of the Thanksgiving Day football games to remind us what jerks we are. It's unrealistic scripts like these that make people laugh at these flicks, so if you jerks in the Screen Writers Guild could get it together that'd be super.
An speakin' of guys who can't mind their own business, Skunky Hernandez left me with no choice but to roll 'im last weekend. Plastic. 30 gauge. Ya know how some people just have a knack for playin' the air guitar, or whittlin' nekkid women outta soap bars? Well, Skunky's got a knack for providin' unsolicited advice on how to do everything under the sun, an eventually it gets to you. I guess it all started when I woke up to a room temperature of 44 degrees after the fire'd gone out an decided it was prolly time to put the plastic back on the windows before Shankles burrowed a hole in the hide-a-bed to hole up for the winter. So I called up Billy Hilliard so I'd have somebody to land on in case the rotten planks in the ladder gave way an... I dunno how he does it, but I think Skunky's managed to rig up one of them party lines they used to have back in the 50s, cause the guy actually made it over to the house before Billy did. Said he wanted to "help," which generally involves 'im sayin' things like "do'n you let heem fall Heelyar', I got no one else to run projectaire," an "staples no good for thees jobe, screws ees best way." This ain't exactly rocket science to begin with, an the only reason you really even need another person around is cause God thought we'd look funny if He gave us more'n two arms, but Skunky's got this genetic condition that makes it impossible for 'im to get a life. Anyway, we get all the windows covered in spite of Skunky's assurance that the whole place's gonna collapse now that we've ignored his warnins, an by that point we'd really had it with his Slob Villa an his home improvement tips, so we rolled 'im up like Im-Hotep, stapled 'im to a sheet of plywood, an left 'im in out in the yard for the next 9 hours. Wasn't until around supper time when Juanita called up askin' if I'd seen 'im that I remembered we'd never let 'im loose. Needless to say, I had one Soggy Hernandez on my hands since it'd been rainin' the last coupla hours, but frankly that's prolly the first bath the man'd had since Ross Perot was runnin' infomercials on TV, so I think it aughta count toward my community service. You wouldn't know it talkin' to Skunky though; cripes, like HE'S never forgotten anything before. Like maybe reportin' me as an employee to the IRS, or that just because you shut the door to an outhouse don't mean people can't hear you gruntin' the lyrics to "la cucaracha."
That's alright though, cause we got mutant insects even bigger'n the one that crawled up Skunky's hinder to mull over this week. This flick is pretty much Them! goes to Africa, with a whole lotta stock rocket test footage an National Geographic excerpts thrown in to hide the fact that the total runnin' time of the movie woulda been approximately 38 minutes if the editor hadn't stuffed all that crap into it like Stove Top up a turkey's butthole. But around here we don't write off movies just cause doctors've been known to screen 'em in sleep clinics the world over, so here're a few of the things I picked up watchin' this one. First, always bring along at least two African Sherpas to haul your smokes. A 400 mile trek through the jungle is no place to run outta the necessities. Second, always pack a gun when explorin' uncharted territory, cause some of the native superstitions runnin' around out there have teeth the size of a phone booth an don't like visitors. An third, you can never have too many scenes of guys walkin' single file across the Serengeti like sugar ants movin' flakes of Raisin Bran across the kitchen floor. But the thing I always wonder about with these pre Civil Rights movies is, how'd a low budget outfit handle a castin' call for a flick that needed a whole lotta black folks? I mean, these guys prolly couldn't even afford to rent some office space to hold auditions. Makes you wonder if the casting director didn't just stake out Sunset Strip waitin' for black guys to walk down the street, before runnin' up to 'em sayin' things like "Hey! Excuse me Mr. Negro, can you fit this bone into your nose? Great! You're hired!" Cant've been easy in those days, cause you really couldn't advertise somethin' like that without gettin' the disenfranchised blackface extras from the '30s all P.O.'d about losin' their jobs to the real deal. That's a good way to wake up to the bedsheet brigade burnin' crosses on your lawn. Course, just takin' whoever happens to come strollin' down the road at the right time sometimes results in a buncha guys who've been hittin' the Arctic Circle drive-thru pretty hard, which makes for impoverished natives with man boobs an beer bellies. Now, in your big budget jungle epics, normally you get nothin' but 6' guys who weight 87lbs with abs you could grate cheese on, but a few of the guys from this flick're wide enough to stand their ground in an elephant stampede. We're talkin' the 1985 Chicago Bears defensive line goes to the Congo. Don't even get me started on the Italian guy playin' the Arab in this thing. You mean to tell me they couldn't find a Saudi or a Turk drivin' a taxi cab to cast in that role? Those 1950s casting directors sure had some strange ideas about things, musta been a fascinatin' time to be alive.
The movie begins with a coupla egg-heads who work at B-movie NASA talkin' about how we've got our stuff together an that gettin' to space is easy as gettin' sick at an Appalachian porno film festival, only problem is that we dunno if goin' up there'll turn us all into butt-ugly space mutants for no apparent reason. So these two guys (Quent an Dan) load up their rocket with critters an shoot 'em off into space to measure the effects of cosmic radiation an g-forces strong enough to smoosh a bullfrog into pancake batter, only the steerin' column on the rocket goes out an the thing ends up crash landin' on some warlord's water buffalo ranch where the animals immediately swell up into Macy's Thanksgivin' floats an start killin' the natives. Meanwhile, one of the local doctors without quarters who hasta work in Africa cause he lost a malpractice case that bankrupted 'im (Dr. Lorentz) determines that the natives're bein' killed by a massive dose of venom that could've only come from a 2016 Presidential Election ad, or a wasp big enough to kick Mothra's butt all over Tokyo. Actually, like usual, the doc hasn't got a clue what's goin' on, but Arobi an the rest of the natives have a pretty good idea on account of havin' to ditch their huts when an enormous wasp stepped in front of a rear projection screen near their village an threatened to go all junta skin-flay on 'em. Then, about six months after the fact, the NASA wimps read about the monster sightins in the newspaper an get that Steve Urkel "did I do thaaaat?" look on their faces an decide to go find the crash site. Fortunately, the white guy who runs Africa gives 'em a guest pass an a map with all the civil wars an cannibal tribes marked out in Sharpie, an after that it's just a simple 400 mile jaunt across the continent on account of the U.S. government only bein' willin' to pay for twelve natives to carry supplies on their heads instead of a lendin' 'em a helicopter. I think this movie pretty well sums up our regard for science an our willingness to fund it. Elsewhere, Dr. Lorentz an Arobi're out lookin' for signs of any man-eatin' superstitions, when they hear this noise like a dirt bike engine bein' sucked into a tar pit an next thing you know one of the bees turns their baggage handler into a pile of runny gut cheerios, leavin' Lorentz an Arobi stranded.
Then we head back over to Quent an Dan who're gettin' their lily white asses chased all over the savanna by the Broadway cast of The Lion King for steppin' on one of their sacred poot-berry bushes, an pretty quick the composer ratchets up the cowboys an Indians music to subtly inform us of the impendin' international incident. But thinkin' quickly in a tight spot, Quent manages to light half of Uganda on fire to keep from gettin' speared through the spermbaggies, an now he hasta change the travel itenerary to include a 75 mile detour after realizin' that the natives're fully rested an have their spear-pitchin' arms warmed up an ready to go. Then they find a water hole, only the little Arab guy (Mahri) whose excellent directions just gave 'em the rare opportunity to see what a safari's like from the other end of the spectrum tells 'em not to drink anything cause he hadn't seen this many vultures hangin' around since the readin' of J. Howard Marshall's will. Course, one of the natives drinks anyway an ends up confirmin' Mahri's theory of a poisoned oasis, an the need for at least one guy who can actually communicate with the native population. Fortunately it starts rainin' not too long afterwards. Unfortunately, this causes Quent to rip off his shirt like Andy Dufresne after exitin' the poo tunnel in Shawshank Redemption an rub his nipples like he's preppin' 'em for the breast pump. Finally they make it to the doc's polio palace precisely one minute before the test audiences started tryin' to pry their eyes outta the sockets with drinkin' straws, only to find out that he never did come back after headin' out to borrow a cup of sugar from Tarzan an don't find out anything more until a coupla days later when Arobi comes draggin' butt back to camp with a stinger the size of a gear shifter an explains that W.A.S.P. showed up an made Lorentz scream until he liked it. The doc's daughter (Lorna) is pretty bummed out by the news, an Quent's "rah-rah science" speech about how you've gotta let giant mutant wasps turn you into a pincushion sometimes for the benefit of all mankind goes over like a Walking Dead spoiler on Facebook.
Then Quent's crew starts swappin' huntin' stories with the locals until they find out what they're up against an take off like they just caught a whiff of the Mokele Mbembe barbecue goin' on next door in the Congo, so now Lorna hasta volunteer to head out with Quent an Dan cause the only way to get volunteers is to put 'erself in danger. I guess the doc musta made everybody promise to keep track of where the white woman at at all times or somethin' if anything happened to 'im. So havin' loaded up the cargo onto their luggage blacks, the group heads out to find the bumbles in the jungle, cept they don't make it very far before they come upon the scene of a massacre, an next thing you know the locals're hightailin' it outta there without stoppin' to even consider a contract renegotiation. Course, the great white dopes press on without 'em until it gets dark out an Quent hasta explain to Lorna about how he an Dan might've played just the teensiest of parts in gettin' these bees into 'er bonnet, an that they'll try to do a better job of pickin' up their toys in the future. Then everybody goes to bed until they start hearin' this noise like a set of silverware goin' down an 80' slide an watch in horror as one of the wasps tangles with one of the Hulkster's 24' pythons. This's a definite mismatch, an the python gets snaked, rattled an rolled in a matter of seconds. But the next mornin', Quent is more confident than ever that they're going to discover what happened to the doc (cause ya know, just cause there're dozens of Hindenbees buzzin' all over doesn't mean you should jump to conclusions), an sure enough they start hearin' that familiar "open toolbox in the dryer" sound which eventually leads 'em to the Bronson Caves where they find the colony an Kevin McCarthy screamin' somethin' about how "they're here already!" an that "you're next!" Then Quent heroically sends the minorities up to the point to lob grenades into the cave entrance, which succeeds only in stirrin' up the nest an sendin' the group scamblin' for a place to hide in hopes that the wasps'll eventually get bored an go attack Tony Todd. Gonna cut the review off here, no doubt to the disappointment of absolutely no one.
You'll have to excuse me if I don't sound very enthusiastic. I don't expect much from flicks made in the 30's and 40's, but by 1957 we oughta be able to do a little better than this. What we've got here is a movie that's too cheap to compete with the big boys, but too serious to enjoy on an ironic level, and that's pretty much the kiss of death. They were obviously looking to cash in on the success of Them! with this one, but the chintzy production values and painful pacing make it purt'near unbearable for anybody who doesn't have an unassailable love for science fiction flicks of the atomic era. Monster from Green Hell, frankly, is both less professional in its production values, and less enjoyable than flicks like The Giant Gila Monster, which is itself pretty lousy. Lemme just spell it out for you here: B-O-R-I-N-G. And that, as you all know by now, is the most scathing thing I'll ever say about a movie. At least the flicks that piss you off because you know how much better they could have been with a few tweaks inspire some kind of emotion. This cinematic turd is kinda like the schoolyard bully you can't quite hate because he's too goll durn pathetic to justify any feeling on your part. Ask me about this movie in a month and I'll just about guarantee I won't be able to tell you anything about it beyond its being a clone of Them! It's completely and utterly without any distinguishing feature to separate it from the other giant monster flicks of the decade, and all the stock footage crammed into it to bring it up to 71 minutes speaks volumes about how little it has going for it. Sometimes I'll cut a flick a little slack for being dry on account of its age, but by the time we're gettin' into the 1950's my patience has pretty much been expended, because even though there're a lotta bad science fiction flicks from that period, there're quite a few legitimately good ones too. There's actually a perfect example of what a flick like this could have been had it not been so intent on trying to hide its inefficiencies, because Night Fright had the exact same plot, and manages to entertain in spite of its numerous problems. But these guys wanted to compete with the big boys, and their movie suffers like a gut-shot mule deer for it. There's a reason everybody remembers guys like Ed Wood, but nobody remembers the Kenneth Cranes of the world, and the reason is that the Woods had a very clear vision in mind when it came to their movies, even though that vision ultimately ended with the hysterical laughter of the target audience. They always gave it their all, and they believed in what they were doing, even if nobody liked the finished product for the "right" reasons. I'll take Plan 9 from Outer Space or Bride of the Monster over this garbage any day of the week, because despite having faults that Spielberg couldn't fix, Wood's movies had HEART, which is something that's sorely lacking in this flick.
Let's just get on with the dissection before I start thinkin' too hard about the time I wasted on this thing and give up on it mid sentence, shall we? The plot is probably the most redeeming aspect of the movie, in the sense that the general premise held the most promise. Granted, it delivered about as well as a paper boy with two flat tires while suffering from dysentery, but the idea was at least acceptable. Now I'm not gonna knock it for using that hackneyed "radiation made 'em huge" plotline because that's the plotline of all these movies, however, there's a lot of questionable logic being employed on the part of the characters in the movie that exists solely for the purpose of padding it out. The acting, while not exactly poor, is some of the stuffiest, tedious, most robotic crapola ever put to film. These guys make Joe Friday look like Jack Nicholson, and these performances (other than all the padding the editor threw in there) are the single biggest contributing factor for why the movie drags like a highschooler gettin' outta bed in the morning. No one stands out for good or for ill, and I found myself getting the two male leads confused at times, which should tell you something. Here's who matters and why: Jim Davis (The Day Time Ended, Satan's Triangle, Dracula vs. Frankenstein), Robert Griffin (I Was a Teenage Werewolf), Joel Fluellen (Tarzan's Peril, Mighty Joe Young 1949, White Pongo), Eduardo Ciannelli (The Creeper 1948, Mysterious Doctor Satan, The Mummy's Hand), Vladimir Sokoloff (Mr. Sardonicus, Beyond the Time Barrior, Sabu and the Magic Ring, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Queen of Atlantis). Jim Davis would later become best known as Jock Ewing on Dallas, and Eduardo Cianelli went on to play Mr. Krug in Foreign Correspondent and Guru in Gunga Dira.
The special effects, despite being pretty ambitious, are kinda pitiful at least half the time. They actually built at least one monster wasp head to scale and used it fairly effectively in a few of the shots of guys getting munched, although most of the shots are stop motion and bear an uncanny resemblance to the critters in The Zanti Misfits episode of The Outer Limits. They also use composite shots and rear projection a la Beginning of the End from time to time to get the entire creature into a scene, and those types of shots always turn out badly regardless of how good the rest of a movie might be. No doubt this is where all the money went, and although I'm inclined to give credit where it's due with regard to the scale model head, even the best shots don't age all that well. The shooting locations are probably the most laughable thing about the movie, because it's got a lot of shots where they tried to match up their current shooting locations with other locations from pieces of stock footage that don't quite jive, and that's even before you factor in how amusing it is for someone to try making California look like deepest darkest Africa. The constant jumping around from stock footage of jungle animals back to the studio lot in California just doesn't go very far towards convincing the audience that any of this is taking place in Africa. Then they end up at the Bronson Caves, which is only one of the most famous shooting locations in recorded history, and that pretty much seals the deal. The soundtrack, while bizarrely out of place at times, is at least somewhat harrowing, even if the action on the screen doesn't really measure up to the music. Although there is that one track that was probably ripped from a John Wayne movie with a Cavalry vs. Indian battle sequence that comes as the protagonists are attacked by P.O.'d natives. That's prolly the only scene in the movie that prompted something resembling an emotion, that is, if you can call confusion an emotion. It's all very dated stuff, but most of it does at least match up somewhat to what they were going for in the movie, so it could well be the most beneficial aspect, even though that's like saying it's the best polka band in Phoenix. Overall, this movie should not be viewed by anyone other'n those dedicated '50s science fiction junkies who feel like they hafta to see every piece of cinematic scat ever produced before they die. Just be advised that if you fall into that category, this might be the one that does you in.