Monster from Green Hell is a 1957 science fiction film directed by Kenneth G. Crane, who would later direct the 1958 WWII film When Hell Broke Loose (starring Charles Bronson and Richard Jaeckel), as well as partially direct the 1959 monster movie The Manster. Crane is also credited as the director of the addition scenes shot for the US release of Ishiro Honda’s 1958 film Half Human, which was paired with Monster at its release as part of a double feature. On March 8th of this year, Monster from Green Hell came to blu-ray from The Film Detective, restored from a 4K transfer and featuring the film’s original colorized ending. Yeah, this review is a little late.
TRIVIA: The screenplay was at least partially written by Louis Vittes, who would also pen 1958’s I Married A Monster from Outer Space.
PLOT: As part of a government project testing the effects of space travel on various animals, a rocket carrying a collection of ordinary wasps is launched into orbit. However, a glitch leaves the rocket trapped in space for longer than intended, prolonging its exposure to cosmic radiation, before crashing back to Earth somewhere in Africa. In true government fashion, all accountability is denied and the secret experiments carry on as normal. Okay, so I may have made that last part up. Then again, maybe I didn’t.
Soon after, the natives of a small African village begin being terrorized and killed by what they claim to be giant monsters. After reading about these incidents in the newspaper some time later, the lead scientists on the project, Drs. Quent Brady (Jim Davis – The Day Time Ended, “Jock Ewing” on TV’s “Dallas“) and Dan Morgan (Robert Griffin – I Was A Teenage Werewolf) travel to Africa to investigate. With assistance from a guide and multiple men from the village, the doctors undertake an expedition to a region that the locals refer to as “Green Hell”, where the monsters are rumored to be active.
After facing numerous hazards and setbacks, both natural and unnatural, the men finally reach the wasps’ lair. There’s some argument to be made that they didn’t actually need to travel all the way to the lair as members of the expedition have been getting picked off by the wasps since the beginning stages of the journey. The scientists attempt to fight off the wasps with hand grenades that they conveniently thought to bring on the trip, but this ultimately proves to be a futile effort as the explosives have little to no effect.
While I don’t want to spoil the film’s ending (even if is 60+ years old), I will reveal that neither the scientists nor the natives actually play much of a role in the monsters’ eventual demise. As this defeat comes from an outside source, some viewers may be left feeling that the expedition was really nothing more than a cheap plot device and that the scientists could have achieved the same resolution by just sitting on their asses back in America and ignoring the whole damned thing. It might be hard to argue that those viewers are wrong in their assessment, but we wouldn’t have a very long film if our heroes (I use that term VERY loosely here) didn’t attempt to be heroic. At right around 70 minutes, the film isn’t very long as is.
As Monster from Green Hell is a monster movie (I mean, the word IS in the title, after all), its titular creature, or in this case “creatures”, are clearly the film’s focus or “selling point”. In these regards, the film is a mixed bag. While the infrequently seen larger scale version of the wasps are fairly impressive for the time (although looking more like the ants from Them! than a wasp), the smaller scale version of the beasts is far less so, resembling something close to a wind-up toy. As concerning is that these smaller wasps also look nothing like wasps, resembling something much closer to a dung beetle. Personally, I don’t find this to be something that detracts from the film. If anything, I actually found it somewhat amusing, even if there were a couple eye rolls when it first appeared on-screen.
For a “creature feature”, Monster from Green Hell sure spends a vast portion of its runtime focused on the trip to the wasp’s lair. (Notice how I’ve not once referred to it as a “nest”?). In order to accomplish this trek across the African terrain, the film resorts to the use of stock footage. Lots and lots of stock footage. In fact, nearly half of Monster is comprised of stock footage, primarily from 1939’s Stanley and Livingstone. As one should expect, this stock footage is of notably lower quality than the newly shot footage. The picture quality also takes a dip during the film’s colorized ending.
BLU-RAY REVIEW: As previously mentioned, Monster from Green Hell comes to blu-ray restored from a 4K transfer, and the results are quite impressive. The transfer does contain a few minor scratches and spots, but otherwise sports a solid level of fine detail, as well as consistent brightness and black levels. As mentioned, the stock footage doesn’t clean up as well as the newer footage. The colorized ending sequence also suffers from a few issues, with color levels somewhat off. Red, the most prevalent of colors featured during this sequence, looks brownish, while the skin tones of the cast tend to take on a greenish tint. This tint issue would seem to be inherent to the film’s early colorization techniques, and not a fault of the blu-ray transfer. Honestly, the sequence isn’t that impressive, and feels trivial in an overall assessment of the film.
On the audio side, the presentation is listed as featuring a DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track. If you’re like me, that kind of tech talk doesn’t really mean too much. What I noticed was that there were some minor pops and static, which is fairly common with older B-films. Overall, I felt that the release effectively gets the job done. Dialog is clear and discernible, and the “buzz” from the wasps comes across with some slight bass, which was neat.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Unfortunately, the one area that The Film Detective’s new blu-ray for Monster from Green Hell may possibly be considered a little lacking is in the “Special Features” department. The disc does sport a commentary track from someone whose work I personally enjoy, comic creator and film historian Stephen Bissette. Otherwise, the disc’s sole bonus feature is a 14-minute look at the career of star Jim Davis, from his early days as a somewhat unsuccessful leading man to his career in westerns to his late-career resurgence with “Dallas”. There is a decent amount of focus on Monster from Green Hell, but mention of specific roles is sparse afterward. The segment is hosted by Courtney C. Joyner, who is always knowledgeable, and speaks in a somewhat conversational manner to keep things entertaining and well-paced.
The disc also comes with a booklet featuring a fairly in-depth article on the making of the film, written by Don Stradley. So, I guess that counts as a “special feature” to some degree.
CONCLUSION: In some ways, Monster from Green Hell is a disappointment, even as low-rent monster schlockers of that era go. The film overly relies on dated stock footage, at times even costuming its cast to match the older footage, which makes the filmmaking seem more than a little lazy. That said, the film was just goofy enough at times to provide a few chuckles, while also showcasing monster-making that is occasionally impressive and frequently not, as well as some neat early stop-motion animation. I do admit that I often found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the unabashedly shameless “white privileges” its white leads demonstrate towards the villagers that are not so willingly helping with their journey.
Performances were enough to keep the movie afloat, but really… in a film like this, the monster is the star. In those regards, monster kids of the “classic” variety should find enough here to provide some solid entertainment, but in the hierarchy of classic monster films, Monster from Green Hell is really more of a spunky bench player.
As for the blu-ray release, fans of the film should be pleased.