When it comes to science fiction there is nothing more dangerous than space exploration, especially in the 1950s, but with the film Monster from Green Hell, we get a different wrinkle, one where the simple “planning” on going into space results in a terrifying encounter with a deadly menace, and this a threat not found in space but created here back on Earth.
Man’s venture into space has always provided great fodder for science fiction stories but while most of these tales take place in deep space and on far-off planets – or the Moon if we’re on a budget – but sometimes man’s exploration of space has had unfortunate repercussions for us here back on Earth, in Ray Harryhausen’s 20 Million Miles to Earth a specimen brought back from the planet Venus grew to an immense size and wreaked havoc at the Roman Coliseum, and that very same year another we get this film with its own large menace only this time it’s caused by a scientific oopsie. The premise of this movie was basically “What if we took the jungle adventure themes of the popular Tarzan movies and then threw in a science fiction monster element to, you know, spice things up?”
While there are some elements of space exploration in Monster from Green Hell it has more in common with its contemporary big bug movies Them! and The Deadly Mantis rather than such offerings as Destination Moon or even It! The Terror from Beyond Space as the main thrust of this science fiction offering is more about traipsing around Africa than it is about piloting rocket ships and exploring strange new worlds. The particular entry begins with the standard ponderous narration often found in the genre, “This is of the rocket, the jet, atomic power. When man prepares to reach for the stars but before he dares launch himself into space, there is one great question to be answered. What happens to live in the airless void above the Earth’s atmosphere?” The people to answer that question would be Quent Brady (Jim Davis) and his pal Dan Morgan (Robert Griffin) who are part of a scientific team that has been sending various creatures into orbit to see how cosmic radiation affects them, and going by the title of this movie we can assume not that well.
After one of their rockets carrying wasps malfunctions and goes off course, to which a computer then calculates that it will likely land somewhere off the coast of Africa but as nobody important lives in Africa, our heroes don’t seem all that concerned about making sure of this tiny detail. Later, somewhere on the Dark Continent, we find Dr. Lorentz (Vladimir Sokoloff) and his daughter Lorna (Barbara Turner) learning from Lorentz’s African assistant Arobi (Joel Fluellen) that something monstrous is terrorizing the populace and local animals in an area known as the Green Hell. Even later, six months to be more accurate, Brady comes across a newspaper account of turmoil in Central Africa caused by gigantic monsters and he surmises that the wasps from their missing rocket were exposed to huge amounts of cosmic radiation and have since mutated to giant size. Before you can say “Doctor Livingston, I presume” Brady and Morgan catch a plane bound for Africa in the hopes of discovering if they are responsible for all this jungle havoc.
Armed with cases of grenades, Brady and Morgan lead a safari on a four-hundred-mile trek to Lorentz’s hospital, stopping briefly to deal with warring native tribes, draught, and monsoons, but when they finally reach their destination they find Dr. Lorentz missing and his daughter very concerned. As to be expected, the good doctor is dead, having wandered alone onto the volcanic slopes located somewhere near the “Green Hell” to meet his doom, but when a large stinger is found embedded in the doctor’s shoulder their fears that a mutated giant wasp is the culprit is confirmed and our heroes decide to press on in the hopes of destroying the wasps before they multiply and take over Africa and then the world. Our little expedition heads to the cauldron of a volcano, which Arobi thinks is the lair of the creatures, but they quickly find out that their grenades are useless against these monsters and spend the rest of the movie wandering around the caves of Bronson Canyon.
• During the Space Race, Russia and the United States sent dogs and chimps into outer space to see the effects of space travel on living organisms, but in this movie, they practically send a Noah’s Ark worth of creatures.
• A returning test rocket goes off course and crashlands somewhere in Africa, releasing a cargo of monsters, yet six months later the scientists who sent it up haven’t given the missing rocket a second thought. Clearly, our tax dollars at work.
• For giant mutant insects, ones that appear to be elephantine in size or larger, they have surprisingly good stealth attack skills as they can sneak up on the local natives with little to no effort.
• Dr. Quent Brady’s comments that “Working over test tubes was not the right way to train for a hike across the plains of Africa” didn’t prepare them for getting attacked by stock footage from the film Stanley and Livingston (1939).
• Our heroes are concerned about the giant wasps multiplying, this being a rational feat as insects reproduce faster than any other creature on Earth, but after six months all we find is three of these giant bastards. Maybe that cosmic radiation impeded their reproductive process.
• Brady explains to Lorna that her father’s death is simply the price to pay for the advancement of science, which is a pretty dick thing to say when it was your experiment that resulted in his death.
If you tune in to watch Monster from Green Hell for exciting monster action prepare to be greatly disappointed, while the special effects by Jack Rabin, Louis DeWitt and Irving Block are decent, with stop-motion animation by Gene Warren, but the screen time with these giant wasps barely consists of a couple of minutes screen time in a movie that is only 70-minutes in length. The bulk of the film is simply footage of Brady and Morgan’s endless trekking across the length and breadth of Africa, with the aforementioned stock footage popping in occasionally to break up the monotony, and this makes the whole thing endlessly dull and tedious. Worse is the fact that when we do get to our exciting confrontation with the giant beasts our heroes’ tactics turn out to be useless and it takes Mother Nature erupting a volcano to save the day, and Morgan has the audacity to say “Nature has a way of correcting its own mistakes” hey, asshole, cosmically mutated wasps were not nature’s mistake, it was yours!
A few brief moments of these giant insects lumbering around the jungle is not enough to save this picture from being an absolute bore, nor is the bizarre choice of concluding the story in colour give it a satisfying ending, and while the actors all do their best it’s all in support of a plot that is padded beyond belief, and I do appreciate that Lorna was not tossed in as a love interest for Brady and she shows a surprising amount of courage for a female in this genre, but by the end of the film, I was cheering for the giant wasps.
Monster from Green Hell (1957)
Movie Rank - 4/10
The stop-motion animation in this film is no threat to Ray Harryhausen’s legacy but it is the best element in this film, which isn’t saying much, but it was nice to see atomic monsters giving cities a break for a change and trying out a jungle setting, sadly, the story provided was not enough to sustain the premise.