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On the remote Pacific atoll of Kalai, Kimo, the son of a former chief, is condemned to death by Chief Maranka and his witch doctor Tano. Kimo's crime is that he has befriended a team of U.S. scientists working on the island. Kimo has also been betrayed by his wife Kory, who assumes that, after Kimo's death, she will become Maranka's wife. After Kimo swears to return from the grave to avenge himself, a ceremonial dagger is driven through his heart and he is buried upright in a coffin fashioned from a tree trunk. Kimo's death is witnessed by Mrs. May Kilgore, the English widow of the local trading post operator. Meanwhile, scientists Prof. Clark and Dr. William Arnold are concerned about their relations with the natives. They are on the atoll to study the effects of radioactive fallout from a faraway atomic explosion carried to the atoll by a typhoon. Although the scientists have found only minor radiation, the natives are blaming them for several deaths, which the scientists believe were caused by a plague. Later, a female doctor, Terry Mason, arrives by helicopter to assist Bill in treating some of the natives who have experienced minor radiation burns. Terry and Bill are old friends, although Bill would like them to be more intimately involved. Norgu and Dori, two friends of Kimo, visit Bill and tell him that many of their friends blame the scientist for the death of Kimo's father, although it was Tano who gave the chief a poisoned medication. While on a walk one day, Bill and Terry visit the native cemetery where they see a tree stump breaking through the ground at Kimo's grave. The next day, Norgu informs the doctors that Kimo may be returning from the dead as a Tabonga, a tree monster with human features. When the scientific team goes to the grave, they discover that the stump has grown larger and now has a dagger embedded in it, and is oozing a green liquid. Further examination reveals that the stump is radioactive and that a human heartbeat can be heard within it. After reporting their findings, the scientists receive orders from their foundation's headquarters to dig up the stump and bring it to their laboratory for study. Maranka and Tano, meanwhile, intend to spread a substance over the roots so that they can control the Tabonga and order it to kill their enemies. Overhearing their plans, Kory, who has been spurned by Maranka in favor of Naomi, informs the scientists and seeks their protection. That night, Clark, Bill, Terry and Eddie, their assistant, dig up the stump, which is now considerably taller and is visibly breathing. At the laboratory, the monster's pulse weakens and, in an attempt to save it, Terry injects it with an experimental heart-stimulating drug, which should take effect within eight hours. The next morning, the doctors discover that the monster has revived, wrecked the laboratory, including their radio, and left. Kory is attacking her rival Naomi with a knife when the monster lumbers in and captures Kory, enabling Naomi to escape. The monster then wreaks his revenge on Kory by throwing her into quicksand. The monster next finds Maranka and strangles him. Tano and several natives prepare a concealed pit, into which the monster falls, and they set fire to him. The natives leave, assuming the monster is dead, but that night the smoky Tabonga emerges from the pit. The monster finds Tano, crushes him and stabs him to death. Meanwhile the three scientists, accompanied by Mrs. Kilgore, Eddie and two natives, are searching for the monster. Terry falls behind the group and is captured by the Tabonga, but her screams alert the others. The monster is about to throw Terry into the quicksand when gunshots distract it, causing it to drop Terry. Finally, Bill fires directly at the dagger, driving it deeper into the Tabonga's chest. The monster then topples into the quicksand and disappears. While Bill and Terry embrace, one of the natives expresses the hope that Clark and his team will stay on to treat his people.