Hey there, shocktoberphiles! Yes, it is true that I’ve agreed to partake in this year’s Shocktober by reviewing a few “classic” horror films from the ’70s. Now to be clear, I am by no means a horror movie expert, and especially in the last few years I’ve found myself shying away from horror movies more and more when it comes to the genres I choose to spend time with. But, I figured John could use a friend to help him out with the Herculean task of reviewing 31 movies in 31 days, and this blog is nothing if not about friendship. So though I may not be a horror buff by any means, I would say I have a fair bit of expertise when it comes to Hollywood’s golden age, and perhaps it’s fitting that the first film I’ll be reviewing stars one of old Hollywood’s consummate tough broads, Joan Crawford. And not only that, but the British horror flick Trog also served as Crawford’s final film, and thus let her go out the way any legendary actress would want to — by getting upstaged by a guy in a shitty caveman costume.
Trog begins with a couple of cavedivers who find themselves exploring one particular cave plopped in the middle of the English countryside, and much to their horror, they find an ancient neanderthal living in the cave who kills one of these spelunkers. This neanderthal is then captured and brought to the lab of anthropologist Dr. Brockton (Joan Crawford) who eventually concludes that the newly nicknamed Trog (get it, like troglodyte) has been frozen for millions of years, and deserves to be studied extensively. Meanwhile, an asshole bureaucratic landowner named Murdock (Michael Gough) wants to like kill Trog or something, while Dr. Brockton wants to teach Trog how to become more gentle and human.
The first thing I have to get out of the way is that Trog basically looks like the stupidest thing ever. The makeup effects used on this creature’s face look more like a cheap Halloween monkey mask than the missing link, and the fact that there are about a million close-ups on Trog doesn’t do much to hide this fact. Clearly this movie learned nothing from Planet Of The Apes. Because if there was one thing that that film’s make-up proved, it was that if you want to make an ape-like creature more sympathetic, you should probably play up the creature’s more human-like features. This should’ve been especially true for something like Trog, in which the back half of the film wants to be some sort of Frankenstein-inspired story about a misunderstood loner. But instead what we get is Joan Crawford attempting to bond with something that looks completely ridiculous.
Also, as I hinted at earlier, Murdock is such a stereotypically sniveling villain, and is basically there for no other reason than that this movie needs a villain, because his intentions are not very clear at all. Why does he hate Trog so much? Is it because he’s secretly more religious than the movie lets him on as? Because as unintelligent as this movie is, there are some anti-religious undertones here, since Trog does serve as indisputable proof of Darwin’s theory of evolution. And the movie clearly has some higher thematic aspirations in this regard, but unfortunately like it’s title character, it has a hard time expressing these ideas without coming off as dumb and childlike. And this is especially true since I just realized that I never even once thought of Trog as an antithetical Christ-like figure, even though it’s right there for the taking. But maybe I’m asking too much from a movie called Trog.
If I had to point out anything good about this movie, I suppose I could praise Joan Crawford’s performance as being professional at the very least, since despite being miscast, she does the best she can while retaining a bit of that movie star charisma. Also, it’s probably fitting that the best part of the movie doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the main arc of the story or really make any sense at all. You see, when the doctors are trying to awaken some of Trog’s prehistoric memories, they send him into a state of P.T.D.D. (Post Traumatic Dinosaur Disorder). Meaning that we get to see this extended flashback of claymated dinosaurs fighting each other, which I guess Trog witnessed if we assume this movie is operating on the same timeline as The Flintstones. Anyways, the claymation dinosaurs looked cool, even if the footage felt like it was leftover from some other unfinished movie and was spliced in to this one because it starred a character who was roughly from the same time period (give or take a few million years).
But really, this is one of those horror movies where the look of the creature was destined to play an integral part in whether the film sank or swam — and if Trog the movie is the Titanic, Trog the character is it’s giant fucking iceberg. I literally laughed every time Trog got mad or was supposed to be “scary”. And I also laughed every time that Joan Crawford was supposed to have a heartfelt moment of understanding with Trog, because in both these cases the focal point of the scene is a guy in a really crappy-looking caveman mask. But perhaps I should hold off on bashing director Freddie Francis too much, since next time I’ll be reviewing one of his more well-received films, which hopefully will offer him a chance at redemption. But as for Trog, how about we banish it back to the cave from whence it came.