Frogs (1972) d. George McCowan (USA)
From American International’s executive-producing team of Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson comes this highly entertaining low-budget schlockfest, raiding the entire reptile house (in addition to the titular croakers) to provide the creepy crawly chills. Riding on the earth-friendly movement of the early ’70s, screenwriters Robert Blees and Robert Hutchison whip up a tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale of embittered critters rising up against grouchy millionaire Jason Crockett’s (Ray Milland) pesticide-ridden swampy island estate. When rugged environmentalist photographer Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott, in an early, mustache-free film appearance) stumbles into Grampa Crockett’s annual Fourth of July family celebration, the stage is set for a muggy, buggy good time.
While watching the various obnoxious guests besieged by frogs, snakes, geckos, gators, spiders, turtles, leeches (and in one side-splitting sequence, killer moss) is certainly the film’s raison d’etre, there is equal joy to be gained from the sultry soap opera scenarios and robust scenery chewing. Former Oscar-winner Milland’s obvious bitterness at having sunk to this level of dreck suits his cantankerous character brilliantly. (As if to rub salt in the wound, the even more ridiculous The Thing with Two Heads was released only three months later.)
Imagining director McCowan’s expression when handed the impossible task of making docile amphibians appear menacing is as amusing as the end result. The game plan appears to have been: Instruct various critter handlers to “Put the ________ there,” get everyone out of frame, then yell “ACTION!”, whereupon the human cast members dutifully stroll past the quadruped menace of the moment.
There is one impressive sequence where actor George Skaff (or his stunt double doppelganger) is actually wrestling with a full-size alligator, and several of the ensemble, including Adam Roarke, Judy Pace, Joan Van Ark, David Gillam, and low-rent Bette Davis-type Holly Irving, have the cojones to let the creepy crawlies creepy-crawl right over them.
Since the whole enterprise is as patently ridiculous as the same year’s bunnies-on-the-rampage epic, Night of the Lepus, it’s probably giving McCowan and screenwriters Robert Hutchison and Robert Blees too much credit to say that legitimate attempts are made at social and environmental commentary. I mean, it’s there, but it’s so on-the-nose that the final result is as perfunctory as the frequent close-ups of flicking tongues, puffing throats, and amphibiatic lawn-hopping.
Nonetheless, it is nice to see characters of color not only on hand, but exhibiting the most sense of any of those assembled. They are the first to say, “Um, maybe we should get out of here?” when the creatures start to move in, and when their wheelchair-bound employer threatens them for their flagging loyalty, they pack up their gear and leave! (Whether this course of action ensures their safety is left open to interpretation.)
Shot in Eden Park, Historical Museum, Florida, the endless parade of wildlife endlessly hissing, oozing, and croaking is more inclined to induce boredom and/or laughter than anything else; the word “horror” doesn’t exactly leap to mind. Still, it’s all grand, goofy summer fun, sporting one of the great taglines of all time: “Today – the Pond! Tomorrow – the World!” (Be sure to stay through the final credits for the “stinger” – an animated version of the film’s memorable poster art.)
Shout! Factory has given this schlock classic the hi-def upgrade, pairing it with the more energetic and entertaining The Food of the Gods. Barring the photo gallery, radio spot, and trailer, the sole new extra is a 10-minute interview with Van Ark, who is clearly game to chat about her film debut, even revealing that she used to bury the credit along with that other goofball gem The Last Dinosaur.
The Knots Landing star has nothing but smiles and fond remembrances of her co-stars (“Sam Elliott – whatta hunk!”), and the piece is dedicated to late co-star Lynn Borden, for which Van Ark claims she still receives mistaken fan mail. (“Thank you for your kind words, but I didn’t play that part....”)
Frogs is available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory May 26, and can be pre-ordered HERE:
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine