Saturday, June 11, 2011

"FLAMING FURY FROM THE SKIES PLANTING THE SEEDS OF MAN'S DOOM!" Thus screams the trailer for "MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL". This is the film that answers the burning question: "What happens to life in the airless void above Earth's atmosphere? Will life remain untouched, unharmed by its flight through space or will it change into . . . what?" Ready. . .steady. . .off we go! After a lot of knob-twisting, the heroes of our movie misplace their rocket; it comes down in Africa. In Green Hell. A native is killed by a massive dose of snake-like venom. All the natives believe it was a monster that killed the man. Not only the people but the wildlife are afraid to venture into the jungle region known as "Green Hell". In fact, rear-projected animals are shown fleeing from our giant monster friend who resembles a bug-eyed beetle with tiny flapping wings. Our two butterfingered rocket scientists who've lost their rocket are Dr. Quent Brady (DALLAS' own Jock Ewing Jim Davis) and Dan Morgan (Robert E. Griffin). Not enough parents name their kids "Quent" anymore! Well, six months after the rocket crash, Quent and Dan read newspaper reports about riots and monster sightings in Central Africa; exactly where their rocket went down. Six months?!?!?! Nothing like an efficient, speedy search and recovery mission, gentlemen! Of course, our two scientists aren't exactly the sharpest scalpels in the tray. Quent has a wild theory that radiation just might cause mutations. "You've seen pictures of the survivors at Hiroshima, haven't you?" Quent asks Dan in an attempt to prove his radical theory. "Well, sure," replies Dan. "Radiation did that, Dan." Exactly what kind of scientists ARE these two and what seat of higher learning gave them diplomas?!?!
These bonehead scientists set off on their bonehead mission to Africa. You may have guessed already that this is a bonehead movie. Of course this fact alone does not make it a bad movie experience. That depends on the movie's enjoyment level. And just how enjoyable is "MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL"? Well, first things first. The giant wasp (for that's apparently what the monster is supposed to be) is indeed great fun. The buzzing sound of its wings as one approaches Green Hell causes an animal stampede. Local European missionary Dr. Lorentz (played by Boris Karloff's THRILLER veteran Vladimir Sokoloff) watches the sped-up stock footage elephant stampede and astutely comments: "They were frightened!" OK, so there's a certain enjoyment in bonehead dialogue, too. The sight of the monster wasp's big, goofy face emerging from the jungle foliage to lift a man off his feet with its pincers (or whatever they're supposed to be) to carry him off for lunch is great. Even better is when Dr. Lorentz and his companion Arobi (Joel Fluellen) finds the victim's good luck charm lying in the monster's footprint! Priceless! In fact, all these scenes of Dr. Lorentz and his guide emerging from the underbrush and holding inane conversations with each other brings to mind the Monty Python's Flying Circus jungle expedition sketch: "If they were the ones filming us . . . who's filming us NOW?!?!" I wonder if one of the Pythons caught a sixties television airing of this film. The next time you watch MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL, take a look at the 29th episode of PYTHON entitled "The Money Programme" containing the "Lost World of Roiurama" sketch and see if you don't recognize some of the same nutty feel in both.
Next our two rocket scientists (I love how the irony is built right in) finally land in Africa and hire a native guide named Murray (sorry . . . Mahri) to take them to Lorentz's mission: a month's trek through the jungle. Here, tedium begins to set in as MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL morphs into STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE. In fact, bucketloads of footage from STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE are inserted into MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL; so much, in fact, that Jim Davis's antiquated costume (with pith helmet) only exists to match the footage of Spencer Tracy from a distance in the footage from the earlier film. Just before all patience with animal stock footage runs out, we are saved by the bonehead script. Our party hears ominous drumming. Murray (sorry ... Mahri) explains they are tribal war drums. "I hope they haven't seen us." states Quent as we immediately cut to millions of tribal warriors running towards the camera like they're in an Abbott and Costello movie! OK, all this stuff is pretty funny, I'll admit. But does it make MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL an enjoyable movie? Hold on, hold on, I'm getting there. We've gotta watch more of the film before judgment is rendered.
Feather-hatted natives attack and chase our party of boneheads for a while. And a while longer. Actually they're chasing Spencer Tracy's party but we'll overlook that. But OK, so where's the giant bug-eyed monster during all this? Brush fires and spear impalements are all well and good but this is supposed to be a big bug-eyed monster movie. The boneheads elude the million tribal warriors by presumably ducking behind a tree. Sadly, they're now running dangerously short of water. "The sun beat down as though it hated us" narrates Quent. I'm beginning to know how it feels! Dan collapses from exhaustion. Quent offers him the last of his water but Dan protests (he must've heard the rumour that the last swig is made up entirely of backwash spit). "Drink it!", grouches Quent almost sounding annoyed, "Drink it or I'll pour it on the grass!" Another laugh. Things are looking up. For the viewer at least. Jim Davis is at least as crotchedy as he'd later be at Southfork.
Wait a minute. More stock footage of lions and birds. More trekking over the plains. More boredom threatens. Did I hear someone mention the word "padding"? Wait! A poison watering hole. Some good shots of delirious actors' faces superimposed over the long march. Jim Davis' drunken stupor face (meant to show a lack of water) is priceless indeed. But where oh where's the big bug?!? Oh, here comes the rain. "Africa is a crazy place." observes Quent. Nice shot of the bearers in silhouette framed by lightning. Almost Lewtonesque. Almost. A bearer is startled by a bolt of lightning and drops a box. Right on Quent's head! Bonk! Best place for it. Down goes Quent but he's fine (all things being relative). A blow to the head is guaranteed to be the least damaging spot on Quent's anatomy. More trekking. Crossing rivers. Waterfalls. I think Quent just stepped in lion poop. Oh wait a minute. Quent's collapsed and has to be carried in a litter. He awakens at Dr. Lorentz's hut. Dan speaks for all of us when he observes: "He may be conscious but I think he's still a little light in the head." Poetry. Sheer poetry. Dr. Lorentz has already buggered off on an expedition but we meet his daughter Lorna. (Lorna Lorentz?!?!?!!!!!) Lorna is played with a permanent scowl all through the picture by Barbara Turner; who just happens to be Jennifer Jason Leigh's mother. Oh, let's hope she doesn't fall for Quent, the big lummox. Uh oh, looks like the monster has killed Dr. Lorentz. Lorna's in Quent's arms. Bad luck. Also, bad luck about your father, too, Lorna. Nothing's left but the doctor's shoe. Giant wasps are allergic to Thom McCann's. Inside the shoe is found a stinger from the giant wasp. Quent examines it under a microscope. "Living tissue inside the horny outer ring." Is Quent describing the stinger or something else? Yep, it's wasp tissue all right. But we haven't seen the buzzing fella for such a long time. I miss the big goof. Come back, Buzzy; the movie needs ya! They're lapsing into a Quent/Lorna romantic subplot. Make it stop! Make it stop!
Up until this point, Arobi (remember him?) is the only character who seems to have any sense. But fear for him, dear viewer. He's going out on an expedition with the other boneheads to look for Buzzy. Oh Arobi, what are you thinking? Was it peer pressure? Hey, there's a monkey in a tree throwing coconuts at the boneheads! Folks, meet the audience identification figure in the film. Nice aim, Bonzo! We appreciate it! The expedition comes upon a village littered with dead natives; no doubt covered in giant Buzzy bites. Buzzy, Buzzy, wherefore art thou, Buzzy? The screen sickens for you. Say, aren't these boneheads approaching the Mesa of Lost Women??? Our heroes next find a giant footprint the size of a small ditch. Quent deadpans: "Typical wasp markings." Typical bonehead script, thankfully. Wait. King Kong-like trumpet fanfare announces the sudden appearance of . . oh no, it's just an erupting volcano. I think the giant wasp asked for more money and was fired. Come on guys, we're at fifty minutes already!
Night falls around the campfire . . . and everywhere else presumably. The first night scene we've had since that thunderstorm ages ago. Our party goes to sleep. Just then a buzzing noise is heard announcing the typical nocturnal appearance of a giant wasp. Known for their nighttime activities, wasps. So, Buzzy fights a stop motion boa constrictor (nice!) and wins. At night. Great glowing bug eyes you've got there, Buzzy. Maybe that accounts for your late night stroll. After all, we all know what radiation and nighttime did on Blood Island! The giant wasps surround surround the boneheads. Boneheads set a brush fire and scare the bugs away. Is it me or does this movie seem a lot longer than it is?
The next day the buzzing sound returns. Jackpot! Quent, Dan, Arobi, Lorna and Murray (sorry . . . Mahri) appear to be right in the middle of the giant wasp colony. Dozens of buzzing big bugs with the queen among them. This is gonna be great! All the boneheads are gonna get eaten! Triffic, the grenades are having no effect! Ha! They're gonna get eaten! Get 'em, Buzzy! The wasp corners the boneheads inside a cave. This looks like the end. Bonehead canapes for Buzzy! Hey, great! Bonehead Quent throws one grenade in the box of grenades and seals all the boneheads alive inside the cave. Way to bury yourself alive, bonehead! The giant bug was too big to get in the cave anyway . . . and frankly Buzzy can't believe the boneheads were that dumb! What happens next? Well, I'm not gonna spoil the whole movie for you, am I? You're gonna have to watch it for yourself. I know you want to. And as for the burning question: "is MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL an enjoyable film? Well, it's certainly more fun than THE BLACK SCORPION but that's not saying much, I'll admit. Certainly there are a lot of movies more fun than MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL. A whole lot. But, if you're in the mood for a bonehead big buzzing bug movie, I can honestly say you'll probably get a chuckle or two out of this one. So if you've got nothing better to do, pop this one in the player. I mean, what would you rather be watching? Sparkling vampires???

No comments: