Monster from Green Hell (1957)
"The mammoth monster that terrorised the Earth"
When a US experimental rocket stays in space longer than it should do, the test wasps aboard are exposed to unhealthy levels cosmic radiation. The rocket crash lands in Africa and soon there are strange reports of monsters from a region known by the natives as "Green Hell." The scientific team responsible for the testing go to Africa to find out the truth.
One of the last of the giant radiation-mutated monster flicks to come out of America in the 50s, you can well and truly tell that they'd reached the bottom of the barrel for ideas with Monster from Green Hell. The sci-fi cycle was on the slide thanks to oversaturation and, in the same year as this was released, Hammer Film Productions in the UK were about to revolutionise and regenerate the horror genre with The Curse of Frankenstein in all of its glorious Gothic colour and usher in a new boom period for true fright flicks once more. These old black and white monster movies were no longer pulling in the punters and looked rather antiquated in comparison with the lavish colour outings now making waves across the world. And when you have a bottom of the barrel outing like Monster from Green Hell, the writing was on the wall.
It's not really the fault of the monsters that the film is rubbish, it's just the film is so talky and you hardly get to see them. A good half of Monster from Green Hell is spent with the science expedition trekking across Africa, stumbling across hostile tribes and poisonous rivers, losing porters and dying of thirst in some sort of low budget adventure romp. You'd have thought the fact they had to travel on foot for twenty-seven days to reach their destination would have spurred some editing and maybe some sort of ‘travel montage’ of the actors in various poses and scenes to show us in brief that they were walking. I would have bought it. That would have freed up plenty more screen time to build the monsters and the damage they were causing. But instead of just skimming it over and making the audience believe they've travelled that far, we actually have to sit through it and watch every painful footstep. In reality this is just a cheap ploy to cram as much stock footage in here from other films to save the cost and pad the running time. There's plenty of shots of elephants stampeding, giraffes running across plains, footage culled from the 1939 movie Stanley and Livingstone of the hostile tribe chasing the expedition (the characters in this one even dress the same as the stock footage so that it looks like its all freshly shot material) and they even throw in some vultures for good measure with a pointless poison river which isn't explained nor mentioned for the rest of the film. I now know why they chose to set this in Africa, unlike the majority of the 50s atomic monster movies!
Somewhere down the line, Monster from Green Hell remembers it is a monster movie after all. Apart from the brief glimpses of the wasps about eight minutes into the film, it's at least another ten minutes before we even get anywhere close to seeing them again and then another thirty minutes after that. There's a random stop motion wasp fighting a stop motion snake scene battle which, despite showcasing some half-decent effects, doesn't really add anything to the film. And it also begs the question as to why if the characters were so worried about the giant wasps, then why the hell aren't they worried about the giant snake which is just as big and deadly?
Eventually they find the wasps' nest and by this mean I around an hour into a film which has a running time of one hour and ten minutes. You'd think this would lead to some big wasps versus humans finale in which some of the minor cannon fodder characters would be killed and the hero survives and gets the girl as per the formula this genre had established. But nope, that would mean doing something remotely interesting with the giant wasps, which are still hiding away off-screen. Instead, the group find themselves trapped in a cave and cue another few minutes of characters fumbling in the dark trying to find a way out. And as soon as they do, the volcano erupts and kills off the wasps! There's no confrontation between the humans and wasps, no real pay-off, just a cheap ending which allows more stock footage, this time of a volcanic eruption, to be used. So you mean to tell me that the humans didn't even need to trek to Africa to kill the wasps as the volcano would have done it anyway? Great way to ruin your story!
Monster from Green Hell's ‘finale’ simply involves all of the preceding shots of the wasps used in the film being double exposed into the picture and it looks ridiculous. One of these double exposures is jet black and moves only vertically, sticking it out of the screen like a sore thumb. The monsters are probably on screen for a total of five minutes and, random stop motion fight aside, simply consist of a really static giant model head which is clearly rolled out onto the set from between the background props on a trolley of some kind. At least they've got some original sounds and the buzzing that they make is memorable, even if you never see much of them. But comparing these wasps to the giant ants from Them! from four years earlier and you can see how terrible they really look. Audiences wanted to see these big monsters causing carnage and destroying cities, not meekly hiding away in the background in deepest, darkest Africa. Hell, even trash like Beginning of the End kept the monsters in urban America.
Monster from Green Hell is definitely the nadir of the 50s monster movies, a terrible effort which features not only little in the way of monster action, but little in the way of the monsters even interacting with the characters - Africa itself poses more of a threat to the characters here and their presence is totally inconsequential to anything. It's almost like two separate films suddenly coexisted in the same space at the same time and this is the result.
Monster from Green Hell
Director(s): Kenneth G. Crane
Writer(s): Louis Vittes (screenplay), Endre Bohem (screenplay)
Actor(s): Jim Davis, Robert Griffin, Joel Fluellen, Barbara Turner, Eduardo Ciannelli
Duration: 71 mins