Director Kenneth G. Crane
Starring Jim Davis, Robert Griffin, Joel Fluellen, Barbara Turner, Eduardo Ciannelli, Vladimir Sokoloff
I am here today to defend this movie! Yes, it is not the most fast paced, or even well-made film, which includes a lot of walking. I mean, a LOT of walking. But it does have some key elements here that I feel deserves your attention, and is something to be seen and appreciated, if only for one viewing. That is the thing about learning about films. When you learn more and more behind-the-scenes information, as well as about the different people involved, you tend to look at it a little differently. Maybe giving them a little slack for some faults it might have. Just a theory.
First off, we have GIANT WASP MONSTERS! Like a lot of movies from this era where the movie posters promise something that we don’t really get in the actual film, with Monster from Green Hell, we not only get what is promised on the poster, we get it before the first 10 minutes are up! As a kid, seeing something like a giant wasp head pokes out from behind the bushes and trees and grabs hold of an innocent victim, that would definitely be brought up on the playground the next day at school.
Now while I never saw this on TV as a kid, I did see images of it many times while browsing through different horror & Sci-Fi reference books that I knew I wanted to see it. Plus, being a huge fan of the films that came out in the ‘50s, I am a little more forgiving on things like plot holes, slow pacing, bad acting, or really know storyline, and this film has many of those elements too, but I feel is a little better than most seem to give it credit for.
The story is about some test rockets with some animals and insects that are shot out in space to see how they deal with what is out there, I’m guessing radiation, for a very limited about of time. But when one of the rockets get lost, they just shrug it off and move on, not even too worried about looking for it or to see if did any damage where it landed. Then six months later, they hear of reports of strange attacks and “monsters” in Africa, oddly enough in the same area where they think their rocket crashed. They finally decide to go investigate and find that the wasps that were in the rocket have been affected, growing to huge size, either the size of a bus or building, depending on the shot! It is up to our heroes to destroy these creatures before they destroy the world.
Being produced by Al Zimbalist would tell most serious fans right off the bat the kind of quality we might be in for, since this is the same responsible for giving us Robot Monster and Cat Women of the Moon, both 1953, and Bert I. Gordon’s first film, King Dinosaur (1955). We have to remember that in the world of low budget filmmaking, these guys were busting their butts to try and find an angle to get their films noticed, since they didn’t have the money to compete with the big studios. They saved money anywhere they could, and if that means taking a bunch of stock footage from another old movie and matching the costumes in the new footage so it would seemingly match, then so be it! And when they didn’t have much of a story, they would pad out the running time with a lot of walking.
In Green Hell, our heroes making their way through the jungle, first looking for a camp, so they are walking. And then some more walking. Then they take a break, and then do some more. In between these, we get scenes of natives attacking them, which is really footage from Stanley and Livingston (1939), where a good portion of the stock footage if from. In between different attacks by the wasps, including a great stop-motion fight between one and a giant snake, we finally get our cast coming face to face them in hopes of destroying them. Even stranger that the cave they get trapped in by the wasps, looks strangely similar to Bronson Canyon in Los Angeles, which is used in countless films around that time.
Now, like any good film from this time, we have to have an opening narration, even better if it goes throughout the running time. This makes sure the audience knows what is going on, as well as saving money to actually have to record the sound during the filmming! We also get several sequences of our two leads, Jim Davis and Robert Griffin, busting out the cigarettes, which must show just how cool they were. Even when Davis wakes up after a day and a half, after passing out from exhaustion, first thing he does is light up a cigarette!
The rest of the main cast give their all, as if they are up on the London stage bring Shakespeare to life. Vladimir Sokoloff plays the doctor out in the middle of the jungle trying to help the natives, all the while trying to dismiss their superstitions about the “monsters” in Green Hell, which is just a part of the jungle where few return. Sokoloff speaks every line with conviction, totally into his character, which really makes him a treat to watch. A few years later, he would play Guy Rolfe’s poor father in William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus (1961). Here, his daughter is played by Barbara Turner, who unfortunately either doesn’t have much to do or is working hard at playing a mannequin. Turner would later turn out some much better work in Hollywood as a writer. She is also the mother of Jennifer Jason Leigh. Joel Fluellen plays Arobi, one of the more educated ones of the local tribes, but still has his beliefs in what might be lurking in Green Hell. Like Sokoloff, he makes this character stand out.
Now, author Bill Warren, in his book Keep Watching the Skies, calls the film “sleazy, tiresome and forgettable.” Not sure where he got the “sleazy” part from, and it may be a bit tiresome, but I don’t feel in the slightest that it is forgettable. In fact, in the booklet accompanying this Blu-ray release from The Film Detective, author Don Stradley puts it perfectly on why films of these types are all but forgettable. He writes “Maybe Raintree County (1957) and Peyton Place (1957) sold a lot of tickets in the pre-Kennedy era, but when it comes to pure staying power, the edge goes to mutated grasshoppers and 50-foot women.” I couldn’t sum it up better than that.
This new release also features the color sequence at the end, that was missing from most previous prints. Again, not that the use of color during the finale was something new, since AIP did it a few times with titles like I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957) and War of the Colossal Beast (1957), but honestly here it doesn’t nothing to the story, other than let them use color stock footage of a volcano. The destruction of the title beasties was done half-heartedly after the original sequence was ruined by either too much smoke in front of the camera or seeing hands of someone (supposed to be off camera) throwing dry ice into the scene to create the smoke! So, with some fancy editing and camera tricks, they threw something together and walked away!
Now, we can’t go through a review of these and not mention Gene Warren and Wah Chang, the two guys that created the giant wasps, with some fun stop-motion animation to the gigantic wasp, as well as the one that moves in and out of the bushes attacking the locals with their huge pinchers! No matter how bad the completed film might be, when you have either stop-motion animated monsters, and / or even actual giant-size monsters created, then you have to give some credit. These guys were probably being paid very little money, and they came up with something that I think is pretty damn impressive. Say what you will about the slow pacing here, but when that first wasp comes out of the trees, it never ceases to make me smile and feel like a kid again.
The Film Detective has released Monster from Green Hell for the first time on Blu-ray and have done a wonderful job with it. The print looks great, and as we mentioned, does have the rare color sequence at the end of the film. It also has a really nice biography on actor Jim Davies by C. Courtney Joyner, who not only knows his film history, really shows how talented of an actor Davis was. There is also a commentary with artist/author/film historian Stephen R. Bissette where gives us so much information about the film and the people that worked on it that definitely made the film worth watching again just to listen to him.
If you’re a fan of the ‘50s giant monster craze, I think you’ll find some enjoyment from this one. Besides, if you’re a true fan, you have to at least see it once, right?