A stressed Rick Shaw couldn’t believe that his movie mentor… no matter how deep into camp cinema… would consider a movie with this title a low budget classic…
Seems the movie FROGS gets a lot of flack, especially for the title, allowing the camp value to be revealed right up front… Do you think, in the history of cult cinema, FROGS should be, or should have been, more respected?
One time, a few years back, while shopping in a supermarket, there was a kid. around ten or eleven, who saw the DVD of FROGS in one of those bargain racks, and the way he looked at the cover was a wonderful thing to experience. And he had guts, that boy; picking up the case and carrying it over to his mother. Being far away I saw and couldn’t hear as he lifted it up to her; obviously asking if she’d buy it for him. I predicted her head would shake, and that was that. The poor little guy, curious about that brilliant cover with a frog having swallowed everything except the victim’s hand, could have learned a lesson on how movies were made before computers and, well… hell… he’d probably have hated it so, maybe mommies do know best after all.
And doubling back to your question: FROGS is the perfect title but what makes it an instant punchline is that these creatures, except for the rare poisonous ones, don’t have the cinematic potential of a shark or, a lion or, a swarm of bees. How the film is pieced together means everything. The reptiles are all photographed, poised on nature, aiming themselves, or rather… seeming to be aimed towards the New Orleans mansion, draped in idyllic shade by immense trees from a surrounding swamp, and most important, owned by corporate polluter Ray Milland, whose family are an eclectic lot of spoiled rich folk – the kind that Tennessee Williams thrived on. Perhaps NIGHT OF THE FROG would have been a better title. Then again, his IGUANA movie was hardly scary at all!
Well it wasn’t mean to be… oh, you’re joking, sorry… Anyhow, what your’e saying is, FROGS is more character than creature-driven?
It’s actually both. Pretty much an equal, perfect hybrid as the family, through dialogue and movement, show their true color as human beings, not being able to sleep because of the noisy frogs at night so they had started to poison them the day before. The only real good guy is Sam Elliott’s freelance nature magazine photographer, Pickett Smith, who, having been brought into a July 4th party after an accident involving his canoe and a beer-rowdy speedboat, isn’t smug and preachy like he would be if FROGS were made today… the reptiles, from all kinds of lizards to turtles to alligators, get nastier and nastier yet it never seems contrived or forced. The camera eye’s manipulation of these cold-blooded antagonists occur thanks to cinematography. Moving Pictures in a literal sense. And the amount of time between showing the actors in their day-lit exterior stage play and the reptiles gets shorter in length as the story intensifies… My God, this is beginning to sound like a David Lean picture!
What some consider hell others call heaven, and yet, there aren’t very many FROGS fanatics out there: How do b-movie buffs compare FROGS to other Eco Horror flicks?
Eco Horror. A genre within a genre. And to hell with them because FROGS is one of the best of its kind in an era that was sort of continuing the work done in the 1950’s. As for the cast – there’s a secondary couple other than Elliott and Milland’s pretty perfect girl daughter played by Joan Van Ark… Two actors that have passed on, Lynn Borden recently and Adam Roarke years ago, who also appeared together in DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY and THIS IS A HIJACK, have important supporting roles without existing merely to back the leads. Both play has-been high school beauties; she’s just beginning to show some age, and he winds up scoping out a younger woman, and not in a subtle manner. There’s even a conversation with the couple inside their bedroom (or a guest bedroom), talking about a hopeful inheritance. They’re soap-opera-interesting enough to like despite being completely selfish and… unlikeable. Even Elliott is drab and impersonal.
It’s been a while… There were actually alligators in this?
Unfortunately, yes. One, or two. And it’s a shame because once the family dwindles down, it’s a kind of cheat or short cut to get rid of the excess baggage using large and powerful creatures. Even before the Robert Forster cult classic, ALLIGATOR, it was a bit much having what could have done a lot more damage all along. In other words, with a group of these ferocious and powerful, leftover dinosaurs, why would any of the small lizards matter at all? But hey, why argue a bizarre masterpiece? Oh and here’s some words from that very nice lady, actress Lynn Borden on the power of FROGS through the eyes of a victim!
Okay well, the curtains seem to close once the link goes up and, let’s revisit FROGS one day and get into more scenes with some of the other side-cast including the guy who played Roarke’s weakling nephew, who was abused by his convict boyfriend in a strange Cornel Wilde flick called SHARKS’ TREASURE and, anyway, here’s one last question centered on Sam Elliott… For a guy that usually bursts right through the screen, even when playing laidback tough guys, he hardly has a pulse: Do you think it’s intentional?
First off, this was before he grew the signature mustache; one that would eventually resemble a Wookie janitor’s push broom. And second, he’s the main character, so this is what we refer to as The Frozen Lead, usually occurring when there’s a lot of others around… The life of the party doesn’t always throw the party given the stress of ownership… Actually, in a technical sense, Ray Milland does that so Sam is actually the Buried Lead here… But given the part as a stranger in a strange land, he remains constantly level-headed, even during an intense, frantic and deadly situation. And while he does a fine job, it must be difficult for any really good actor to hold back so much while others step into the light. He keeps a poker face and lets Milland hold the real cards despite that character being subjected to a wheelchair… As far as Sam goes, there are plenty of examples of great actors who, early on, toned themselves down almost too much… And many think this is done on purpose, or, in spite… But it’s unlikely that an actor or actress would think, “I know I’m in a preposterous turkey so I’ll suck real bad,” unless they’re already legendary and have nothing to lose, and just want to work. Yet Milland, like Elliot, does a good enough job in the co-pilot’s seat despite receiving first-billing. One of those “We’re lucky to have ’em” situations. Then again, compared to THE THING WITH TWO HEADS, this movie is LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.