Halloween Endurance Test: Frogs (1972)

Readers, I have a confession to make. While my buying a copy of BATS last year was totally unplanned, watching and enjoying it, certainly was not. When I was driving from Florida to Delaware I stopped at a Georgia motel for a very late night rest (I think I clocked in around 3AM). On the television that night I spied Anacondas: the Hunt for the Blood Orchid playing, and I couldn’t rest until it ended. I had to see it through; no matter how tired my body said I was. My mind had other ideas. Such as my love for horror movies dedicated to singular animal species, which, when coupled with my Gator Bait obsession, brings us to tonight’s feature: Frogs.

A film that combines the “swamp film” mechanics so easily with monomaniacal plots about normally harmless, but disgusting, beasts that its entire plot is explained within the first two minutes. Leaving us with another 88 minutes to appreciate its laid-back Louisiana candor and Joan Van Ark in some kind of bizarrely enticing polo/swimsuit/one-piece.

During the credit crawl, we meet free-lance photographer Pickett Smith (Sam Elliot) taking photos of swamp pollution. Swamp pollution and lots of frogs. You don’t need to be a devout Eisenstein follower to see where this is going. But, just in case you did miss the connections, there’s also a shot of raw sewage/chemicals freely flowing into the swamp. A swamp populated with giant, murderous frogs.

One canoe vs drunken powerboat fight later, and Smith is soaked and his camera and film is ruined. Leading him to meet local millionaire Jason Crockett (Ray Milland): a wheelchair-bound old man who hates everything and everyone. A man who’s willingly polluting the swamps apparently just to shut his family up about complaining about the constant frog croaking.

(Did I mention that the elder Crockett is a badass? Willing and capable of shooting snakes out of chandeliers, in the dining room filled with his grandkids, from across the room? The film tries hard to paint him as a bitter old man with a stone heart, but viewers easily see the truth. He just wants peace and quiet from his gold-digging children.)

Leaving the swamps with only only one option: murder his children by any means necessary. Lizards dropping jars of “poison” on unsuspecting victims? Check. A death by Spanish moss that predates the Evil Dead’s tree rape scene by a good nine years? Check. Once the alligators get in on the action, it’s understood that war has been declared.

Observant readers will note that none of the deaths above involve frogs. Nor do the frogs play any obvious part in the snapping turtle ambush, or the chilling race against water moccasins. Don’t be fooled though, the frogs are out there. They’re leading all the swamp animals with their superior toad logic. Imagine Animal Farm meets Faulkner, and you’ll begin to get the idea.

Mere moments before the frogs attack!

After every attack scene there’s a follow-up shot of frogs sitting the field; watching, knowing, waiting, and plotting.

Frogs economy of voice is staggering for such a low budget film. Partly due, no doubt, to the cost of film-stock, but not a single line of dialogue is wasted, nor is a shot uncalled for. No small feat considering the film is barely 90 minutes long; especially when you consider, as mentioned above, nearly every fifth shot is of frogs in a field or a pond.

Last night’s My Bloody Valentine can only dream of being this succinct!

This too, might be due to Frog’s unheralded “absurdity” factor. Since it makes (absurd) sense that the less logical a film is, the more interesting it will become. The absurdity, normally thought to be a turn-off, serves as an effective barrier to boredom.

Sadly, the frogs do eventually take Crockett out, knocking him from his chair, having their evil, amphibious way with him, and then taking his throne. A final, grievous insult to the already mortal injury. Taking Crockett’s self-made island back into the wilderness from which it sprang.


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