Today’s aquatic-themed horror flick is George McCowan’s 1972 killer frog feature: “Frogs.”
“Frogs” was written by Robert Hutchinson and Robert Blees, the latter of which wrote screenplays for numerous films and television series from the 1940s through the 1980s, including “High School Confidential” and “Dr. Phibes Rises Again.”
The director for “Frogs,” George McCowan, spent most of his career working on television shows like “Starsky & Hutch,” “Fantasy Island,” “S.W.A.T.,” and “Charlie’s Angels.” However, he also directed one of the sequels to “The Magnificent Seven”: “The Magnificent Seven Ride!”
The special effects makeup for “Frogs” was provided by Thomas R. Burman in one of his first major effects gigs. He has since worked on television shows and films such as “Nip/Tuck,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Hudson Hawk,” “Con Air,” “Last Action Hero,” “Howard The Duck,” “Halloween III,” and “Teen Wolf Too.”
The cinematographer for “Frogs” was Mario Tosi, who has acted as director of photography for such films as “Carrie,” “The Main Event,” and “The Stunt Man.”
The producers for “Frogs” included George Edwards (“Games,” “Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet,” “What’s The Matter With Helen?”) and Norman T. Herman (“Blacula,” “Bloody Mama,” “The Legend Of Hell House”), who were both proficient b-movie producers for many years.
The editor on “Frogs” was Fred R. Fetishans, who cut a number of other low budget films including “Dillinger,” “The Man From Planet X,” “Wild In The Streets,” “The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini,” and “How To Stuff A Wild Bikini.”
The assistant editor on “Frogs,” James L. Honore, went on to work as a production manager on films like “The Hitcher,” “Full Moon High,” “Pumpkinhead,” and “Collision Course.”
The music on “Frogs” was composed by Les Baxter, who also wrote scores for a number of Roger Corman’s films (“X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes,” “The Raven,” “Pit And The Pendulum”), as well as Mario Bava’s “Black Sunday” and “Black Sabbath.” However, he is almost certainly best remembered for writing the iconic whistled theme from the television show “Lassie.”
The cast for “Frogs” includes most notably a pre-fame (and pre-stache) Sam Elliott (“Road House,” “The Big Lebowski”). The rest of the cast is made up of Joan Van Ark (“Spider-Woman”), Adam Roarke (“The Stunt Man”), Lynn Borden (“Walking Tall,” “Hazel”), and Academy Award winner Roy Milland (“The Lost Weekend,” “The Thief,” “The Thing With Two Heads,” “Dial M For Murder,” “X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes”).
The story of “Frogs” follows a group of people who become stranded in a remote swamp after the wildlife begins randomly attacking them. Most of the plot consists of them attempting to escape to civilization, or being picked off one-by-one by stock footage of mostly harmless wetland wildlife.
Reportedly, 600 frogs were used for the production, many of which escaped over the course of filming in Florida’s Eden State Park.
“Frogs” has about as many ridiculous character deaths in it as it does amphibians, but one in particular didn’t make the cut for the final film. A quicksand-related death was cut out for apparently being too silly (which means it must have been very silly, given the rest of the deaths included), but was still used in trailers.
One of the most infamous aspects of “Frogs” was it’s ludicrous and confusing poster, which seemed to imply that the film is about a giant. evil frog. In fact, no one in the movie is ever shown being eaten by a frog, and none of the frogs featured are any larger than a small dog (which is still pretty damn big for a frog).
During one section of the movie, are number of characters are attacked and chased by a flock of birds. Unfortunately, the production couldn’t afford to film with real birds, meaning that the scene had to be cobbled together with a mixture of stock footage and superimposed images on the film.
Noted satirist Fran Lebowitz apparently stated that “Frogs” was “the best bad movie I have ever seen in my life” in her review of the film. Another review, at Antagony & Ecstacy, said of “Frogs”:
It’s this kind of flatfooted incompetence that can turn a sane person into a dedicated bad movie watcher for the rest of their days.
As you might expect, “Frogs” wasn’t exactly a critically-lauded hit. It currently holds an IMDb rating of 4.2, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 20% (critics) and 25% (audiences). I wasn’t able to dig up any gross or budget information on the flick, but there is certainly no arguing that it was made on the cheap. In spite of the quality, I would be shocked if it didn’t make money at some point.
As mentioned earlier, “Frogs” features a number of preposterous deaths committed by mostly innocuous swamp creatures. I managed to dig up the following video that collects some of the highlights, for your viewing pleasure:
I have to give “Frogs” a little bit of credit, because it does try to build a movie around the increasing social concerns about environmentalism and pollution. In the early 1970s, the chemical insecticide DDT was in the process of being banned, after discoveries were made about how dramatically the compound effected wildlife. “Frogs” not-so-subtly postulates that nature could find a way to fight back in a war against humans due to our mistreatment of the planet, making the film’s plot both timely and socially-charged, while also tapping into a clear public anxiety. I suppose it also deserves some points for trying to make a horror movie out of stock footage, pocket change, and duct tape, which is clearly no easy task.
Most of the performances in “Frogs” are at-best mediocre, with the notable exception of Ray Milland. He absolutely plays up his character in “Frogs” as much as he possibly can, and constructs a truly repulsive characterization that encapsulates all of the negative aspects of traditional southern society. He livens up the film every time he is on screen, and is the true villain of the story when it comes down to the wire. Stuart Gordon, a writer and director whom I have covered extensively, has said of Milland’s later work in b-movies:
“The thing about Milland is that you always get the feeling that he’s having fun in these movies…he doesn’t take it any less seriously than he did ‘The Lost Weekend,” he really plays it for all that it’s worth”
As much as the cinematography tries, I just couldn’t find the eponymous frogs to be at all intimidating. For the most part, they watch on as other animals kill off characters, and never seem to post much of a threat themselves. The final sequence of the film, which is very much designed like a horror movie, is about as close as the movie ever gets to menace as the frogs force their way into the plantation home. Even then, the ridiculousness of the situation makes it somewhat comic in spite of itself.
Overall, “Frogs” isn’t the most exciting good-bad movie out there, but the sheer preposterousness of the plot and the character deaths makes it a solid recommend in my opinion. I’m not sure why it hasn’t achieved more popular cult acclaim in bad movie circles, but it is certainly ridiculous enough to merit watching with a group of friends. Luckily, it isn’t a very difficult film to dig up, and copies are readily available through Netflix and YouTube.