Move aside Plan Nine From Outer Space
, I have seen what is truly the worst film ever made. Certainly the worst film I've seen in a long time. From Hell to Borneo
is a film so obscure that film reference sources can't even seem to agree on when it was made, let alone its title. It is variously dated as either 1964 or 1967 and sometimes listed under the title Hell of Borneo
. Neither title is accurate, as none of the film's action takes place in Borneo, instead having been filmed in the Philippines and set both there and on a fictitious private island somewhere in South East Asia. Anyway, to cut to the chase, this is a low-budget action movie starring and directed by US actor George Montgomery. Back in the late 1940s and 1950s, Montgomery had enjoyed a reasonably successful career in Hollywood as a second string leading man, mainly westerns, (although he was also Philip Marlowe in The Brasher Doubloon
, a 1947 adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The High Window
), but by the sixties he was increasingly making this type of lower-berth action fodder. To say the film is shoddy would be an understatement. Apart from Montgomery the only other 'name' actor is Torin Thatcher (a British character actor specialising in villains, best remembered now for Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
and Jack the Giant Killer
). It is murkily shot on some on some very scuzzy looking locations, particularly the Manila bar featured early on - truly a Hell hole!
From Hell to Borneo
has all the hallmarks of a hastily shot low-budgeter: the abrupt opening and ending, key characters appearing suddenly and with no explanation of their motives or relationship to the story, and halting 'plot' development, which grinds to a halt every so often to show us some local 'sights' or some supposed comic relief. Speaking of the latter, this consists of a mentally disturbed character indulging a lengthy 'comedy' song and dance sequence as he feeds some ducks. Despite being the comic relief, this character comes to an abrupt and bloody end when he's hacked to death whilst trying to protect one of the female leads from a machete wielding villain. The plot, incidentally, concerns the battle for the control of the private island owned by Montgomery's family, with Thatcher proving to be behind the hordes of pirates and mercenaries who have been raiding the island and who have killed Montgomery's brother - whose death forces smuggler Montgomery back to the island to take over the family business. The pirate leader is apparently Montgomery's illegitimate half-brother, although the script isn't entirely clear on this and ultimately doesn't make much capital of it.
The worst thing about the film is that fact that it doesn't seem to have been directed, so much as arbitrarily assembled from several set-pieces, loosely linked together by some establishing shots of trees, vehicles driving along roads, local wildlife and boats. The fact that it forms some kind of narrative seems accidental rather than intended. The film quality is excruciatingly poor, (exacerbated by scratches and poor sound quality on the version I saw), using mainly natural lighting, giving the whole thing a home movie feel. Indeed, I was left feeling that I've shot better home movies than From Hell to Borneo
. No, really. I'm not just saying that for comic effect, as is fashionable amongst smug film critics who enjoy running down bad low-budget movies. Many of the establishing shots have the feel of having been filmed by simply pointing the camera at something (a harbour, or local market, for instance) and hoping that something would happen. Which is exactly the technique that I frequently use myself (along with just about ever other amateur movie maker). the difference is that I usually edit such scenes down to a minimum, whereas in From Hell to Borneo
they frequently seem to go on forever.
So, there you have it - the first of our 'forgotten films'. In this case, deservedly forgotten. Oh, and why do I think From Hell to Borneo
is worse than Plan Nine
? Well, a no budget science fiction film directed by a non talent like Ed Wood and starring a mainly non-professional cast, couldn't help but be shit. From Hell to Borneo
, by contrast, featured at least two experienced professional actors, an experienced director and actual foreign locations, rather than being shot in the director's back yard. Yet, even at less than ninety minutes, it is still excruciating to sit through.
Labels: Forgotten Films