Directed by: George McCowan
Written by: Robert Hutchison
Produced by: George Edwards and Peter Thomas
Reviewed by: Brett H.
Today the pond…
Tomorrow the world!
Movie Max was a channel that premiered here in Canada somewhere around 1993. Whereas Super Channel showed all the hot new movies of the time, Movie Max catered to the older crowd as it featured films only from the 50s-80s. The cool thing about these channels was they’d send out a nice little guide magazine that featured all the titles and airing dates of the films they were showing that month. Not only that, but every film had a synopsis, cast and most importantly, genre. These movie guides gave me knowledge of horror that I couldn’t learn from the video store; it was here that I learned of the classics. At the time I had no idea what the hell Hammer was – but I knew they made a shit load of Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies. I came across the names Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe many times as they showed a hefty amount of AIP horror to boot. The channel introduced me to my first example of traditional gothic horror when I watched The Brides of Dracula and loved every minute of it (I still consider it second best behind Horror of Dracula of all Hammer films). Everyone knows that not every movie can be gold, and Movie Max had its fair share of questionable ones as well. In addition to the classics, nature-runs-amok gems such as Squirm, Night of the Lepus, and my personal favorite, AIP’s Frogs all received airtime.
Nature-runs-amok films don’t exactly get a lot of credit in the world of horror fanfare, but there definitely are a decent number of watchable films based on nature turning around and giving humanity a good swift kick in the ass for all the abuse we’ve subjected upon it for years and years. The films are never really good in the traditional sense, they’re just plain fun and encapsulate a time where just about anything that could be made into a movie was made into a movie. It’s the type of lovable crap you’d expect to see playing at a drive-in if you could hop into a time machine to take a trip to the horror genre’s sordid past. I have no stock to put into it, but I would at least like to believe in my heart that Frogs was the film that most inspired the term “nature-runs-amok.” There’s not another title I’ve come across in the subgenre that can identify to the term half as much. The key to that term is the comedy and light heartedness that is exemplified perfectly in those three hyphenated words.
Pickett Smith (Sam Elliot) is a freelance photographer out shooting pictures on the land of Jason Crockett (Ray Milland). He shouldn’t be, though, as it’s private property. Ol’ Grandpa Jason Crockett is loaded and it just happens to be his birthday and Independence Day all rolled into one. Four Crocketts have their birthdays in July and the family always has a big week-long bash every year for the occasion. Jason Crockett rules the family with an iron fist and everyone obeys his every command, if only for the inheritance surely coming. Karen Crockett (Joan Van Ark) is out boating with her brother, Clinton (Adam Roarke), who is fond of a few hundred brewskis a week. Clinton is busy tipping one back and doesn’t see Pickett out riding around taking shots in his kayak. They upset his little boat and go around to pick him up to make sure he is all right and invite him to come to the Crockett Residence to have a shower and get some dry clothes.
Pickett is a bit of an outsider there, a nature lover living amongst a conservative but changing family ran by everyone’s least favorite Grandfather. Gramps has a little problem this year (although his family is more worried about it than he is), one even the old stickler’s money can’t resolve. There are way more frogs than normal on his marshy land (the croaking keeps everyone awake!) and he gets Pickett to aide in his quest to be rid of them. A family member suggests that oil in the ponds would do the trick, but Pickett says the real answer is to just wait until next year. They’ve overpopulated but it’ll all work itself out. Grandpa Crockett had sent an employee of his, Grover, to spray around to try to rid the pesky frogs of their lives, but he hasn’t returned by late afternoon. Pickett agrees to go investigate the frog situation himself to figure out how big the problem is and along his travels he discovers Grover dead, covered in snakes and other amphibians. Pickett tells the old man the trouble and he informs Pickett to keep it quiet, he doesn’t want it to spoil everyone’s week (his week). It doesn’t take long for the bodies to add up and Pickett and Gramps are forced to spill their little secret.
Frogs is truly in a league of its own. The mere premise of the film is so silly that you chuckle just thinking about it, but thanks to the craziness of 70s cinema, it not only exists but has developed a strong fan base. Normally a film is cheesy because of bad acting or downright awfulness production wise, but Frogs is the exception to the rule where the acting is decent and the actors are all dead serious. The cheesiness comes from this as it’s hard to do anything but laugh your ass off when a hairy chested, strong man is attacked by a small snake and he’s fighting it off like it’s a bear about to tear his heart out. You can’t really consider it overacting because so many people are genuinely terrified of snakes and I would be that guy fighting off a little snake like I was taking on King Kong if it were to happen to me. It’s like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and someone gets scared of a reptile, it’s downright hilarious to watch even if it is serious business to most. Nature-runs-amok indeed! There are at least a dozen different species to cringe at, ranging from alligators and scorpions to turtles and lizards, everything ranging in size from tiny to huge. Every animal besides a few obviously fake spiders is the real deal.
I wouldn’t classify the film as scary but I have no doubt in my mind that a lot of people would still be freaked out from the ugly ass toads and other icky creatures featured throughout. The funny thing is although the film is titled Frogs, they barely do anything but look ominous and the animals all seem to be united on the same page and waging war on humanity. The frogs seem to be the ones taking everything in and every other animal in the swamps seems to be doing the dirty work. There is a fairly high body count and a bit of blood and corpse makeup and those kills are all great fun. Ever seen a small lizard knock over jars of poison so the fumes asphyxiate a human (yet for some odd reason not have it kill itself)? Look no further. It’s hilarious to see larger foreboding reptiles enter a greenhouse to take out a victim, then to be followed by tiny salamanders. Just what the hell do these little bastards plan on doing? The most effective part of the movie is the spider scene, where you only see a few (some real, some fake) but it is implied that hundreds of them are spinning web onto a woman and with web itself and vegetation, hiding the body from sight.
Most shocking, Frogs is a very well directed film, you really feel like you’re in the swamps with this family and are under attack. At times when watching and seeing the murky ponds and scummy puddles I was reminded of my fishing days and that sour, ugly smell that always seemed to be present on the shores of the river. The film actually has a lot of meaning to it, as well, the whole reason the animals are attacking is to (apparently) get back at mankind for making their brethren extinct and taking away/ruining their habitat. Pickett believes the world is to be shared with Mother Nature while Grandpa Crockett believes humans should rule everything, no questions asked. In a strange way, it is as though the filmmakers are comparing the situation the frogs are in to the situation the family members are in; both are being pushed around by a bully they either can’t stop or are too afraid to stand up to. The characters in the film are all in all pretty likable and then there’s a few who act normal but in reality are more along the lines of their grandfather. You never are hoping for someone to die, though, and that says a lot for a film of this nature.
Since it can be found so easily in Wal-Mart bargain bins across North America, Frogs has received a nice niche following over the years, even those unfamiliar with nature-runs-amok works have either passed this up or given it a shot out of sheer curiosity and value. As a childhood favorite of mine, the nostalgia factor was all I needed for a purchase, although it took a few years before it showed up in the bargain bin here. I was broke at the time with around $8 to spare, and I am happy to say I purchased Frogs for $6.88 and I left the store one happy camper. The DVD is striking to look at with MGM treating us to another quality transfer. As stated, the film is really lush in the vegetation department and the transfer magnifies the effect of this tenfold. The only special feature is a trailer, but it is very important to hardcore Frogs fans such as myself. A scene not shown since the film’s pre-release is present in the trailer and if the trailer’s cheesiness wasn’t already enough, an alternate kill scene contained within is definitely the icing on the cake. Stay tuned after the end credits for an animated treat and relish in it, you'll never see a film like this again. Frogs is at the top of the food chain when it comes to the nature-runs-amok horror film. Buy it!
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