Whenever a rare or long-lost film is discovered, it’s like finding a treasure chest of gold for film lovers. Sure, every now and then you find the equivalent of Al Capone’s vault but most of the time, the film is a fun glimpse into a past long forgotten. Writer/producer/director Tom Leahy is best known to fans of this blog for his 1965 horror flick The Beast from the Beginning of Time. However, Tom also worked on another film and now everyone has a chance to see it. Behold the film known as Green Hell from the Void (1968).
I first became aware of this film last October when I met Joel Sanderson, better known to many as Gunther Dedmund on The Basement Sublet of Horror. Joel had acquired Tom’s first film years ago and unleashed it upon a hungry audience. It was at that time that he first heard about Green Hell from the Void. However, he lost contact with Tom before seeing the film or finding out if the film still existed. Tom had mentioned it once in a 1981 newspaper article written by Bob Curtright. Published in the Wichita Eagle-Beacon, the article was hyping the television debut of The Beast from the Beginning of Time. Tom mentioned it casually as being a pilot but nothing more. The question remained whether or not the film was still in one piece and, if so, who had it. With Tom passing away in 2010, the fear was that we might never know.
Enter writer and podcast legend Derek M. Koch. Derek is well-known for his love of the horror genre through various podcasts including Monster Kid Radio and 1951 Down Place. After hearing that another Tom Leahy film may exist, I reached out to Derek to tell him as I knew he would be as excited as I was. After all, The Beast from the Beginning of Time played a huge part in why this blog exists. Joel knew that some of Tom Leahy’s estate material was given to the Kansas Historical Society, which I mentioned to Derek. Derek quickly went online and discovered that the film was listed as being in the possession of the Kansas Historical Society. I shared this news with Joel, who quickly contacted them and arranged for a meeting. Sure enough, they had the film and Joel was able to view it. So, was this movie all we had hoped for?
First, let’s acknowledge that the film is incomplete and only runs about 12 minutes. It was apparently intended to be a pilot for a potential television series. Why production stopped is just one of the mysteries still surrounding this previously lost gem. We do know that Tom was involved in the production, most likely being the writer and director as well. It was filmed in 1968, based on a Sedgwick County car tag. While the story takes place in “Las Mesas”, the sign is obviously a fake and the scenery clearly looks like Kansas. There is a shot of a gas station and a Del Sueno Motel. It’s unclear whether this motel was real or simply staged. It was filmed in color and is in really good condition; especially considering that it most likely has been collecting dust in this film can for decades.
The film starts with an image of a monster head. It is a lizard-like creature that reminded me of the Sleestaks from the 1970s TV series Land of the Lost. We see a reference to Group 5 Productions, which may have been Tom’s production company. But again, we don’t know for sure. The story begins with a man around a campfire listening to a radio announcer talking about UFOs. A spacecraft flies overhead and crashes. The man goes to investigate and discovers it is a small craft releasing a mysterious fog. An explosion then knocks him unconscious. The next day, we see him driving on a highway, passing a sign for Las Mesas. He then checks into the Del Sueno Motel. He encounters a shady motel clerk (Dick Wellsbacher) and identifies himself as Jim Smith, which is likely a fake name based on his mannerisms. The clerk sees the Sedgwick County car tag and makes a reference to him being from out of town. As Smith walks away, the clerk turns on a radio and we hear Spanish music, trying to add to the perception that we are possibly in New Mexico.
In the next scene, we see Smith racing to his car at night in a parking lot (which does not appear to be at the motel). He is breathing hard and looks down at his hands. They are changing into a reptilian-like texture. He begins driving on a highway and is clearly in distress. He is transforming and seems disoriented. His hands are turning into claws with scales on his face and he begins to hiss like a snake. He stops and picks up a hitchhiker. Once in the car, he turns to the hitchhiker and we see the reptilian face that we saw at the very beginning. He begins clawing at the hitchhiker and draws blood which is clearly visible on his arm. The hitchhiker tries to get away from the creature but is attacked and is apparently killed. And then, the screen fades out.
Where the story was going to go after that remains a mystery. Was this going to be an anthology series? Was it inspired by The Invaders television series? Unfortunately, we may never know for sure. Without knowing who the main actor is and with Tom no longer with us, the only source of information is Professor Richard (Dick) Wellsbacher. He just celebrated his 89th birthday but he does have a Facebook account. Joel is currently doing research in hopes of finding out some more information. There are also some plans for a more formal release of this film later this year.
For now, the short film is available on Internet Archive. Check it out and, while you’re there, you might also be interested in another rare treasure from Tom Leahy. You can watch an unreleased marketing promo for Tom’s late night horror host program Nightmare. This appears to be from the 1970s and was intended to be shown to television stations in hopes of getting Nightmare syndicated. Sadly, that never happened. But as horror fans, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
Special thanks to Joel Sanderson and the Kansas Historical Society for making this film available and to Derek M. Koch for that late night conversation which led to its rediscovery. Now, go watch Green Hell from the Void and let us know what you think.