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. Tom Leahy is best known for his television work in Wichita, Kansas as The Host and Major Astro, not to mention directing his 1965 horror flick The Beast from the Beginning of Time. However, Tom also worked on another film that was unearthed some five years ago…Green Hell from the Void (1968).
I first became aware of this film in the fall of 2014 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 his Rondo Award-winning podcast Monster Kid Radio. 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. 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 and obtain a copy of 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 intended as a “pilot” sample to raise funds for a full-length feature film. Why production stopped is just one of the mysteries still surrounding this previously lost gem. We do know that Tom was the mastermind, most likely writing, producing and directing. The lead character was played by Robert Carroll. Carroll was a news anchor at channel 3, KARD, which is most likely where he met Leahy. Dick Welsbacher (Professor Morey from The Beast from the Beginning of Time) also pops up briefly as a rather seedy hotel owner.
Green Hell from the Void was filmed in glorious color in 1968, based on a Sedgwick County car tag clearly visible at one moment at the hotel. Every color image comes across rather vividly thanks to the film being in really good condition. This is amazing considering that it most likely has been collecting dust in a film can for decades. 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.
The film starts with an image of a lizard-like monster head created by Leahy that seems to be at least partially inspired by King Kong. It also comes across as a precursor to the Sleestaks from the 1970s TV series Land of the Lost, complete with hissing sounds, claws and out-stretched arms as the film progresses. We see a reference to Group 5 Productions, which may have been Tom’s production company. 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 Welsbacher) 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 (Ray Dryden, a Wichita State University film student). 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. Film director Lance D. Hayes (King Kung Fu) has helped fill in some of the gaps but with Tom Leahy, Robert Carroll and Dick Welsbacher all having passed away in recent years, acquiring additional information seems challenging now. Research continues, such as Joel Sanderson having vivid memories of his neighbor Ralph Seeley working on the spaceship effects in his garage. So, there is at least some hope that we might be able to discover more about Green Hell from the Void.
For now, the short film is available for everyone to see on archive.org and YouTube. Check it out and, while you’re there, you might also be interested in other rare treasures from Tom Leahy. Joel has uploaded a lot of the existing 1950s Nightmare material featuring Tom Leahy as The Host, including an unreleased marketing promo for an attempted syndicated revival of Nightmare.
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. Lance D. Hayes and Tim McGill of Cine’ Specialists also provided additional information on the history of this film.
A version of this article originally appeared in issue 3 of The Basement Sublet of Horror magazine and in February 2015 on the Monster Movie Kid website.