Because entertainment was truly in short supply in the days of said youth, I’d have to surf all six channels on a nightly basis hoping against hope just to find something creeping and crawling on any syndicated network. (Yes, kids, I grew up at a time when choices were not point-and-click.) As a consequence, I’d sit through damn near anything titled in such a way to promise even the smallest glimpse at the bizarre, the obtuse, the obscene! And since so many of these low budget clunkers were available only in syndication, it might show up one week on Channel 6 only to show up a month later on the competing Channel 12! Yes, I’d likely watch it again – behold all of its lurid crappiness once more – and, yes, times were that desolate!
So I went into a contemporary viewing of Kenneth G. Crane’s Monster From Green Hell having seen it and knowing full well what I’d be treated to as a consequence. Mind you: it wasn’t pretty … but always remember I watch ‘em so that maybe – just maybe – you don’t have to.
Ah, the things I do for a readership …
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader that prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“When scientists try to understand the effects of radiation on Earth creatures, the result brings them to an area of African known as ‘Green Hell,’ where wasps have mutated into monsters!”
There’s a bit more, but it’s all a bit exaggerated … and that’s because promoters of B-Movies like Monster From Green Hell really had to sell the sizzle since there was so little steak to these flicks of yesteryear. Surprisingly, features like this – cult that they may be – continue to resonate decades later while many dramas and comedies they shared box office clout with have mostly gone the way of the Dodo. I suspect that there are many possible explanations for that phenomenon – why some films climb to the top of the heap when more reputable fare gets forgotten – but I usually chalk it up to the fact that monsters endure, even when they’re so poorly realized.
Green Hell exists because America’s fascination with Atomic Power led to a unique subset of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror films specifically in the 1950’s that dabbled with giant-sized proportions. Sure, men and women were grown to fifty-foot behemoths, but audiences flocked to projects that saw ants, spiders, and bees elevated to superbeings even more so. 1954’s Them! (Warner Bros.) remains a personal favorite of mine to this day – its dated creature effects still look pretty good on the small screen – and Green Hell showed up a few years later, utilizing stop motion as well as practical effects to bring some damn big bees to buzzing life.
Its effects sequences – when compared to screen time given to other bugs – are surprisingly brief; add in there the fact that many of them are used and re-used on multiple occasions in the final cut only further disheartens those of us who live for monstrous moments. It’s a passable affair – at best and at worst – that really only flirts with Horror, spending far too much time with an all-too conventional trip across Africa … only to have those moments looking less and less like the African safari and more and more like California studio backlot. Furthermore, I’ve read estimates suggesting that more than half of the finished product is made up of stock footage, so there’s very little in here that feels legitimately fresh to those of us raised on old films.
Monster From Green Hell (1957) was produced by Gross-Krasne Productions. (A quick read of their IMDB.com profile looks like most of their work was in some mostly forgettable serial television programming of the era.) DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by The Film Detective. As for the technical specifications? This 4K restoration looks and sounds very good (most of the time), and – as I understand it – this might very well be one of the only times since the flick’s original release that its colorized climax is available for viewing.
Lastly, if you’re looking for special features, then you’ve got the following to keep you up at night (well, besides nightmares of giant bugs, that is):
- Missouri Born: The Films Of Jim Davis – it’s essentially a short documentary on the actor’s career hosted by film historian C. Courtney Joyner;
- Film Commentary by author Stephen R. Bissette – an interesting experience that’s probably much more academic than it is interesting, but Bissette recounts far more trivia regarding the cast and crew’s other projects than he does this film; and
- The Men Behind The Monsters – author Don Stradley serves up an good essay in the disc’s collector’s booklet that examines (mostly) the film’s producers and related efforts in the genre. A solid and quick read.
(Mildly) Recommended. As I always caution with older films – much less B-Movies of a bygone era – this is not going to be to everyone’s liking. The creature effects are dated but great, though they make such a small component of an already slim flick (71 minutes). Otherwise, the plot – after an effective and visual set-up – is a bit of a slog as our intrepid adventurers haul arse across the African subcontinent in search of the atomic-infested threat they accidentally let loose on mankind. A bit snappier dialogue would’ve made for a better pace … but at this point it is what it is.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at The Film Detective provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Monster From Green Hell by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.