Sunday, November 8, 2009

Apocalypse of the Amphibians

Frogs is like Who Can Kill a Child, but with Frogs.
Frogs is what could have happened if Kermit never met Dom DeLuise.

Frogs is the original version of Jurassic Park II: The Lost World. Speilberg simply subbed lizards, snakes, and toads (not frogs) for dinosaurs, used Pete Postlethwaite’s hunter in place of a WASPy idiot who can’t untie moss, and then, most controversially, added gymnastics. 
Wow. This is harder than I thought. How about this: Frogs is an incredible piece of cinema that rivals The Godfather and Star Wars for best film of the ‘70s...only my definition of ‘best’ means something very different from that of the Academy Awards voting committee. 
Quick Plot: A shockingly unmustashioed Sam Elliot takes National Geographic-esque photos of toads (not frogs), snakes, meerkats, unicorns, and lots of other animals you probably won’t find in the swamps of the United States. After a boat incident that’s less exciting than the opening minutes of Sleepaway Camp, Elliot’s Picket Smith befriends the rich brother and sister whose drunken yacht steering flipped his canoe and destroyed what seemed to be hours worth of nature photos (I’m basing that on what seemed to be an hourlong credits sequence featuring stills of said nature photos). 
Hard-drinking Cliff and level-headed(ish) Karen (Joan Van Ark) bring Picket to meet their wealthy and wheelchair-bound grandfather Jason Crocket (Ray Milland) on his sprawling southern estate. This is perfect timing for the annual Crocket quadruple birthday party celebration, a giant party set to be booming with top shelf drinks, competitive croquet, and manly pillow fights. 
Only one thing stands in the Crockets’ way: rudely ribbiting toads (not frogs) that have deprived the poor rich family a few snores out of their typical 18 hours of sleep. Despite dispatching a man named after my favorite Muppet to spray pesticide on the Crocket estate, the animal situation seems to be out of control. It’s soon revealed that everything without opposable thumbs and ever to have been captured in stock footage is on a vengeful rampage to annihilate all humans. 

I had heard Frogs was one of the more laughable entries in the eco-horror sub-genre of the ‘70s, but in now way was I prepared for it to be so incredibly Ed Woodian.
To begin....well, I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s just list a few of my favorite deaths (SPOILERS) to see why they’re so gosh darn leapin’ lizards amazing:
-Because they’re in the sky, one character shoots birds and somehow manages to put a bullet in his leg, which in turn somehow manages to paralyze him. This is inconvenient since he lands in a part of the woods populated by an international cornucopia of tarantulas who unite to crawl near the camera and, while the action cuts to closeups of the actor screaming, spin what seems to be deadly tangles of moss to strangle or just confuse the failed hunter to death

-Another grandson enters a greenhouse, unaware that it’s already occupied by a thousand lizards. They spill some poisonous gas (‘cause, you know, that’s what every wealthy southerner stores next to his plants), shut the door tightly with their evil iguanaesque tails, and leave the guy to suffocate in less than 30 seconds

-The eccentric Aunt Iris (possibly the lesser abled little sister of Charlotte Rae) chases butterflies for 20 minutes, frolicking like a woodland nymph high on electric Kool-Aid. Meanwhile, snakes of many colors, bloodsucking leeches, and ominous toads (not frogs) track the touched redhead to eventually bite (???) the poor dear and turn her skin into a shade akin to Violet Beauregarde post gum chew.

-Iris’s husband wrestles a crocodile. By wrestle, I mean he lays on top of it and rolls around as if auditioning for Plan 9 From Outer Swamp.
-The maid, butler, and now single supermodel girlfriend of the greenhouse gassed grandson unite to harness their African American power (I’m not kidding) to escape on their own. Sadly, they see seagulls and hide in a cabin. Later, other characters discover their luggage, thus leading the audience to believe that the defiant trio have been eaten whole by gluttonous birds or a scene too expensive for director George McCowan to film

-Cliff’s wife is killed by a tortoise. Yes. Cliff’s wife is killed by a tortoise.
-Throughout all this bloodshed, Grandpa Crocket holds strong to his party plans, mostly because every killer animal film requires some guy to do so. Naturally, you’d expect such a villain to be saved for a fate worse than all others, and as he wheels himself around his lonely mansion now hopping with slightly oversized toads (not frogs), we salivate in the hopes of seeing a Captain Rhodes-like dismemberment by way of flickering tongues. Heavily edited shots of Crocket’s hunting trophies egg our bloodthirst on. What can a toad (not frog) do?

Um, prank call him. Then inspire him to stand up. And fall. And die instantly. The end.
High Points
Just when you think the film can’t get any funnier, an actual intended laugh is saved for the credits with an adorably animated stinger
Low Points
I like my Sam Elliot grizzled with a glorious garden of greying facial hair. It’s not that he doesn’t look good clean shaven--the man was quite dashing in ruggedly hairy chested ‘70s style--but like Samson and his mighty locks, this cowboy loses a some power sans stubble

Even if it meant messily edited shots of the characters screaming cut with closeups of bird beaks, it would have been nice to actually see what happened to the maid, butler, and supermodel
And the pet toad in the car at the end is supposed to mean what exactly?
Lessons Learned
Toads (not frogs) are quite energy conscious and will turn off the lights when finished with their homicidal business
A mysteriously asphyxiated grandson is no excuse to break party plans
Supermodels are quick with math and know their antiquated terms for time
Being nearly killed by a drunken boat driver will force you into indentured servitude to his WASPy family
Snakes have the ability to emote more than select actors
Winning Line
“I almost came to your room, but the floorboards creak too much.”
Ahh, the ‘70s, a time when bedding the handsome stranger (whom you met three hours earlier) inside your grandfather’s house is impeded only by poor carpentry

Frogs is beyond awful, but it’s a different kind of awful than, say, the miscalculated at every turn It’s Alive remake or a lifeless cheapie like Rattlers . It’s more epically bad than anything I’ve seen in recent months, but when done with the right kind of energy, such a film is enjoyable like no other. It’s a watch-once-with-friends/alcohol kind of film that will give you plenty of chuckles and, possibly, warts. Because by the way: aside from the credit icon, there are no frogs to be found in Frogs.

With a fun fact like that, how, HOW I ask, can you not want to see this film?


  1. I watched Frogs some months back, and your review is right on point. It's worth one watch, but it went right back to the used CD store from whence it came right after. My favorite kill is the poisonous gas. I love how that idiot couldn't get out of a greenhouse. Other than maybe a tent it's one of the easiest structures to escape, but hey survival of the fittest... which apparently means amphibians. I mean seriously when lizards can read warning labels we're all in deep doo doo.

  2. haha great post. loved this film as a child. so campy and fun. bellbottoms and killer amphibians/animals and a relentlessly crabby ray milland.

  3. Thanks guys! They definitely don't make 'em like this anymore. I guess today's SyFy originals would share some of the quality, but not the charm. It's a shame, but at least the lizards haven't become literate...yet.