From Hell It Came – Blu-ray Review
The Movie (2.5/5)
The 1950s were a fascinating time, one in which filmmakers with shoestring budgets ran rampant. They made films about terrifying creatures and the arrival of aliens, and capitalized on the fear that existed in the post-World War 2 culture, often targeting the fear of communism or the fear and consequences of the development of the nuclear bomb. From Hell It Came, a 1957 Allied Artists B-movie release is just that; a shoestring budgeted film that explores the effects of nuclear test on a population of natives in the Pacific by shoehorning in a terrifying monster in order to illustrate the consequences of such testing.
From Hell It Came is the story of a small island in the Pacific region, where previous nuclear weapons testing had been done nearby by the United States. There to study the post-bomb effects on the island’s population, a group of American scientists have been stationed there by the military, promising improvements in medical treatment and technology to the natives. Mistrusting of outsiders, the native’s local witch doctor decides to remove their current, American friendly leader from power, accusing him of infecting their population with sickness and causing death among their ranks. He takes control and declares war on the Americans, rejecting their ways in favor of his old tactics. In parallel however, the body of the previous tribal leader becomes reanimated due to the radiation that’s poisoning the island. In his reanimation, he begins terrorizing the island, forcing the Americans and the natives to overcome work together in order to save the island from the irradiated horror that plagues them both.
From Hell It Came is a surprisingly fun take on the idea of nuclear radiation and its after effects. Outdated depictions of the natives of this unnamed Pacific island aside, the movie is a rather fun, slow paced monster movie that eschews science in favor of terror. The reanimated body of the former native chief, which the natives have declared “Tabunga,” lumbers around on screen, chasing after people in traditional monster movie fashion, attacking slowly and awkwardly at various moments during the film. It has just the right amount of cheese to make it entertaining, especially when coupled with the questionable production values of the film, and the C-grade acting that the ensemble cast brings to the table.
As far as B-movies go however, From Hell It Came spends far too much time trying to take itself seriously. We spend large amounts of time with a team of American scientists doing research work, and time with the natives covering personal squabbles. They also spend quite a bit of time struggling with the politics of the island, exchanging time with the monster for time telling the same old, “damn those imperialist Americans,” story that movies tread out over and over and over again to this day. What should have been an exciting chase movie turns into a slow burning, poorly written experience that many times fails to engage.
What makes From Hell It Came exceptional however, is it’s attitude towards its leading female character, one of the American scientists, played by actress Tina Carver. Bucking the standard story of these style of movies, in which women traditionally run to men in order to save the day, Carver’s character Dr. Terry Mason is fierce, independent, and constantly rebukes the romantic advances of her male counterpart at several points in the film. It’s only when she’s painted into a corner by the monstrous Tabunga that she’s forced to turn to men for help. It’s a moment of brightness in an otherwise cheesy, low budget, low thought movie.
From Hell It Came is one of those 50s movies that takes an interesting concept, the aftermath of nuclear weapons testing, and uses it like a cheap, blunt object. The acting is bad, the special effects are laughable at best, and the writing puts emphasis in all the wrong places. This should’ve been a straight up cheese fest creature attack movie, not a hard hitting research picture. And yet, it is a B-tier production, so when I say they’ve squandered their potential, they really haven’t squandered much.
The Video (4/5)
Shot on 4-perf 35mm film using spherical lenses and cropped/matted to 35mm in post production, From Hell It Came was originally presented in theaters with the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Sourced from a brand new HD master created by the folks at Warner Archive, the film is presented in 1080p resolution, in a slightly expanded 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
From Hell It Came arguably doesn’t deserve to look this good, but it does. Shot on what was most likely cheap filmstock and equipment and assembled as hastily as possible, the film is full of soft shots and grainy optical transitions. Underneath all of its technical imperfections however, is a transfer with excellent blacks and wonderful contrast. Under a natural layer of film grain is an image that is often sharp and detailed. You will see every crease and crack in that beautiful tree monster in full 1080p resolution. The film is by no means prestigious, but the folks at Warner Archive have treated it as if it was.
The Audio (3.5/5)
Originally presented in theaters with a mono optical soundtrack on film prints, From Hell It Came recreates that experience on home video through a DTS-Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack.
Hailing from modest production values, this film carries with it a pretty typical 50s mono sound design. Voices are somewhat hollow and low-fi, and music was probably pulled from a stock catalog, fitting of the film’s nature. The mix is appropriate, and nothing ever feels uncomfortable or too loud. The track is notably free of any hiss or popping, and in general sounds alright in playback.
Special Features/Packaging (2/5)
From Hell It Came has been released to Blu-ray by Warner Archive in a standard keepcase. The front artwork features a depiction of artwork from the film’s original posters, in which the wild Tabunga carries a woman across a sea of flames, with other various moments from the film peppered in behind it, surrounded by a solid red color. The back artwork features a shot of the Tabunga grabbing Tina Carver’s character is a red toned color, with a tagline for the film above accompanying a paragraph about the film, a shot from the film, credits, and technical specifications for the release. A nice, authentic packaging job from the folks at Warner Archive.
This release only features the film’s original theatrical trailer as an added feature, as it was seen sometime before its 1957 release. I’m shocked this release got any features at all, considering its B-movie nature.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Region Coding: None
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
DTS-Master Audio 2.0 Mono (English)
Runtime: 71 minutes
From Hell It Came is a low-fi, low budget, low value sci-fi mess of a movie, but its one of those movies that is so bad, that it almost becomes good. Watching this giant tree creature lumber around and kill off characters is so absurd that you can’t help but stick along for the long haul as the Americans and the natives scramble to stop it. Regardless of its cinematic value, the folks at Warner Archive have treated it with the utmost care in releasing it on Blu-ray, giving it a great 1080p video transfer, an appropriate mono audio track, and fantastic packaging. For those who love bad movies, or fans of the film already, this release is recommended.