October Horrorshow: Frogs

Frogs, the 1972 environmental horror flick from screenwriters Robert Hutchison and Robert Blees, and director George McCowan, has a misleading title. There are indeed frogs in Frogs, and they do indeed pose a menace to the characters in the film, but there are also plenty of toads, snakes, geckos, iguanas, tarantulas, scorpions, and other creepy-crawlies lurking about. The title Frogs gives short shrift to all the other swamp beasties that make an effort to murder the film’s protagonists.

Sam Elliott, in an early role, stars as Pickett Smith, a freelance photographer taking pictures of the effects of pollution and littering in a swampland environment. It’s not pretty, as Smith finds civilizational detritus everywhere he looks.

After his canoe is capsized by a powerboat, Smith is invited by its occupants, brother and sister Clint and Karen Crockett (Adam Roarke and Joan Van Ark), back to the family estate nearby to dry off and recover.

The Crockett mansion (played by the Wesley House in Eden Gardens State Park, Florida) is ruled over by family patriarch Jason Crockett (Ray Milland). Every year he demands the family gather at the mansion for the Fourth of July, ostensibly because so many family members happen to be born around the 4th, but, really, because Jason expects obedience from his family. He’s a gruff old man, no one in his family seems able to get on his good side, and I cannot figure out why. They’re not a bad group of old money wasteabouts. It’s possible Jason Crockett is just a dick.

He takes an instant dislike to Smith, as expected. The feeling is shared, but the elder Crockett convinces Smith to check out the swamp and confirm if there are an abnormal number of frogs about. The noise of their endless croaking is driving the Crockett family nuts. FrogsIn fact, Jason already sent out the gardener with a bunch of poison to see if anything could be done, but he hasn’t returned. This is where the film gets going, as much as it can.

Smith follows a trail of dead wildlife and empty cans of poison, at the end finding the gardener’s corpse, having succumbed to attacks from very pissed off animals. When Smith turns over the gardener’s body, viewers are confronted with a swollen and clammy dead man’s face, but this is it for the gore in this flick. Frogs was given a PG rating by the MPAA. There is plenty of more death to come in this film, but there was less than a thimbleful of blood.

I feel like that is a missed opportunity. Steven Spielberg made a name or himself flaunting the PG rating. He proved over and over again that the MPAA of the 1970s and 1980s would still award PG ratings for films with significant gore. In one film, he showed a man’s head explode and another’s face melt. Yet, in this flick, there’s just that one distended visage and a couple of dummy corpses. More blood would have gone quite far in this film. This is a horror flick where people are being killed by animals, after all — not a rom-com.

Jason Crockett is correct that there are more frogs about this summer. There is more everything about. The animals of the swamplands surrounding the mansion seem to have had enough of the Crockett family paper mills polluting the waterways of wherever they are. Now that the family is all gathered together, Mother Nature is seeking her revenge.

Jason, besides being an asshole, is a stubborn old man, refusing to believe anything is seriously wrong, even when his entire family starts dropping dead around him. He really does not like any of them. But, Smith is the hero of this flick, and he leads the struggle to survive, and finally, to denouement.

Being from American International Pictures, there was not much of a budget for McCowan and company to work with, which is one reason there’s so much room for improvement in death scenes and the like. But, there’s only so much a viewer can expect from a b-horror flick. What this film has is an absurd idea followed by absurd execution. Perhaps, in a similar situation, we would all react more like Jason Crockett than Pickett Smith. A mound of frogs and toads smothering a mansion is only a real possibility in a movie.

A quicker pace and more violence would have helped this film’s watchability quite a bit. Nevertheless, it’s silly and stupid, and worth watching Sam Elliott play the straight man in a ridiculous movie. A film with this many dead spots shouldn’t have been so entertaining, but there it is.

No gratuitous nudity (besides a shirtless Sam Elliott), no gore, barely any blood, and not a single fright to be had, but Frogs makes it into the top half of the Watchability Index, landing at #58, between Beginning of the End and Damnation Alley. Check it out.

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