31 Days of Horror: Day 5 – Frogs (1972)

I am doing the 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Every day in October, I will watch a different horror film I have never seen before and write about it here on the blog.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Southern Missouri. To put it mildly, it was the middle of nowhere. The nearest town was seven miles away and had a population of just under 400 people. Until 1983, when my dad purchased a magical invention called a satellite dish, we could only pick up four channels through an aerial antenna that was hardly reliable. One of the stations that sporadically came through with a decent signal was an independent UHF station that was not much different from the fictional station in Weird Al Yankovic’s cult favorite film. It was through this station that I first developed my misguided affection for some of the sillier exploitation films of the late ’60s through the ’70s. I vividly remember watching the silly hippy nightmare of Wild in the Streets. Another film, which I cannot remember the name of, featured a father killing his teenaged son in the crawl space of their home and gave me nightmares. This was crazy, heady stuff for a seven-year-old to process. But the film that really made an impression on me was Sssssss, a goofy sci-fi/horror flick starring Dirk Benedict as a mad scientist’s assistant who is turned into a cobra. I re-watched the film recently and it’s horrible. But I still have a lot of nostalgic love for it because it scared the crap out of me as a child. I was hoping for a similar reaction to Frogs. Not surprisingly, it failed to live up to the type of fun promised by its plot.

Pickett Smith (a disconcertingly clean-shaven Sam Elliott) is an ecologist doing a study of the effects of pollution on the wildlife in a lake in an unnamed Southern state. After a boating accident, he finds himself a guest on an island owned by a wealthy industrialist named Jason Crockett (a slumming Ray Milland). Crockett is a grumpy old bastard hosting his children and grandchildren for the Fourth of July. His family is composed of sycophants, drunks, lunatics, and one sympathetic character (Joan Van Ark). When Crockett’s assistant turns up dead, the victim of a venomous snakebite, and the island’s frog population starts advancing on the house, Pickett realizes he’s in a horror movie and suggests that everyone evacuate the island. But Crockett refuses to be ordered around by anyone and forbids his family from leaving. Very quickly, the extended cast of characters becomes sitting ducks for the various creepy-crawlies on the island seeking revenge for man’s abuses of the environment…or something like that.

The cause of the animal’s sudden increased intelligence and thirst for human blood is never really explained. The effects of environmental pollution are brought up a couple of times in the film and director George McCowan apparently feels that any more explanation than that gets in the way of his many, many shots of lizards, spiders, snakes, alligators, and yes, frogs that he uses to pad out the running time.

Frogs is typical of any number of Samuel Z. Arkoff-produced films of the era. It’s competently acted, haphazardly scripted, and poorly directed. It’s a mediocre film that never gets bad enough to be unintentionally funny. Aside from an alligator “attack” that finds a stuntman who looks nothing like the actor for whom he’s doubling rolling around in a swamp with an alligator that clearly has its mouth taped shut with black electrical tape, the animal attacks are dull and unimaginative.

Strangely, not one death in the film is attributed to the titular amphibians. There are multiple deaths via snake bite, lizard asphyxiation (which is not as cool as it sounds), leeches, spiders, the afore-mentioned alligator, snapping turtle, and possibly birds (the film never clarifies if the characters under attack from the birds are killed). While these ponderous attacks take place, the frogs look on, as though they are the Generals in charge of planning this assault on the human race. At least, that’s what I took away from the approximately fifteen minutes of footage of the creatures croaking and staring into the camera. It’s quite possible I read more into this aspect of the movie than the filmmakers did.

Frogs is the definition of a “don’t bother” film. Unless you have a strange curiosity to see an elderly, former movie star spout hackneyed dialogue or to see what Sam Elliott looks like without a mustache (really, what kind of sick person is interested in that?), there’s no point in watching this dull piece of hackwork.

You can contact me at obsessivemovienerd@gmail.com and read all the extraneous crap that goes through my head by following me on Twitter.

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