in Shocktober

Frogs (1972)

I don’t know how many times in my life I have walked into a Blockbuster, or a Video Update or a Hollywood Video only to come face-to-face with the VHS cover for Frogs. Did I ever think to look at the back? No. Did I ever read up on it? Heavens no. All I needed was to look at the cover with a frog chomping down on a human hand and I was content. Why did I have to ruin that memory by actually watching the movie? I don’t know but let’s find out.

Frogs is a 1972 eco-thriller starring Ray Milland, Joan Van Ark and Sam Elliott. Yes, that’s right, a 28-year old, pre-mustache Sam Elliott. Although Milland gets top billing, Elliott is no doubt the lead as Pickett Smith, a virile photographer snapping photos in a Florida swamp for an ecology magazine. Even at 28 Elliott seems like he’s about 40-years old. His deep bass delivery and defined jaw give him a distinguished look that’s handsome but also wise. Even at a young age, Elliott has real screen presence. Too bad that presence is in the movie Frogs.

The film opens with Pinkett snapping photographs in a peaceful swamp, until a brash young man named Clint (Adam Roarke), accompanied by his sister Karen (Joan Van Ark) topple Pinkett’s canoe drunkenly jetting by in a speed boat. In an act of forgiveness, Karen invites Pinkett to the nearby family mansion for lunch. Pinkett is taken to a mansion surrounded by swamp land where a family reunion is taking place. A wheelchair-bound Ray Milland plays Jason, the patriarch of the Crockett clan who despite his ridiculous surroundings is quite good. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time Ray Milland gave a great performance in an otherwise terrible movie–X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.

Pinkett decides to stay the weekend at the mansion and gets to know the ways of the Crockett clan, particularly that they don’t much care for the local flora and fauna surrounding them. The family sprays pesticides, hunts animals and have an overall distaste for anything with too many legs. Naturally, this pisses off nature and it swiftly retaliates. This brings me to the question of “Why would people build a mansion in the middle of the wilderness if they hate the wilderness?” I guess even Frogs had to have some semblance of a plot. In fact, that’s where this movie fails the hardest. Too much plot. When I sat down to watch Frogs did I want to watch a bunch of bickering relatives and philosophical “save the environment” mumbo jumbo? Hell no! I want frogs!

The problems Frogs has are more or less the problems that any creepy critter movie has. To save money they load the running time with boring dialogue and barely give you more than a quick glance of the animal antagonists. The deceiving thing about Frogs is that frogs aren’t even the only threat. This movie has evil snakes, spiders, even like, evil moss that swallows people. The kills aren’t that bad in long drawn out attacks set to Lex Baxter’s dissonant score. If only this movie had more of that and less whiny rich assholes bickering. But what can you really expect from Frogs? A VHS cover and not much else.

The definition of a man.