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Frogs
(1972)

Director: George McCowan
Cast:
Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan Van Ark


As I've think I've said before in my writings for this web site, I am pretty happy to be living in the city that I'm currently living in. It's a well balanced mix of small town charm with big metropolitan convenience and accessibility. And while it's not perfect, I realize that the environment is a lot more comfortable than many other locations in the world. And a lot safer. There are a lot of ways my area is much safer than other places, but I want to talk about one specific way most of all. And that is with the animal population in and around where I live. I kind of shudder to think of what I would have to face in, say, Africa. There are poisonous snakes, such as the black mamba, which will chase down humans who are not fast enough to run away from it. There are man-eating lions, cranky baboons, and possibly worst of all are hippos, which I've heard kill a good many number of humans every year. (Probably because they saw how they were portrayed by mankind in Hugo The Hippo.) Living where I live, I don't have to risk facing any animal dangers like that. On second thought, after a little thought, maybe I do. Several times, mountain lions have wandered out of the wilderness and somehow made undetected a long journey into the downtown core of my city. The same thing has happened with bears a number of times as well. Come to think about it, I might have to fear something about deer as well. I have a friend who was driving on a freeway not far out of town when a deer suddenly jumped onto the road so quickly that my friend collided with it. She was okay, certainly a lot better off than the deer, but her car was pretty much a write-off.

Thinking about it some more, I realize that the local wildlife has personally given me some problems. Crows have swooped mere millimetres from my head as I have walked through what they consider their turf. And seagulls have zapped me several times on my jacket with "offerings" that have forced me to return home and throw my jacket into the washing machine. I realize that these examples I have just listed are animals doing what just comes natural to them, so I can't really get angry at them. But thinking about it some more, I wonder what animals could do if they were to not only suddenly have the ability to reason, but also suddenly turn on the human race. Even though humans may still be a lot smarter and have weapons with them, I think humanity would still be in deep poop. For one thing, there are certainly a lot more animals than there are humans, with some specific species of animals (like ants) by themselves more numerous than the number of humans. We'd be greatly outnumbered. Also, many animals have special abilities that would make them hard to battle. Some animals can fly, some animals are much bigger than humans, some animals can live under water without needing breathing apparatus like humans need when they want to dive deep, and some animals can move at a much faster speed than humans. Even animals that you may consider weaker than humans could be a threat if it got into their heads to turn on humans. A poisonous spider, for example, could get through the cracks of a door or window that has been boarded up.

There's no doubt about it in my mind - if animals were to suddenly turn against humans in a homicidal manner, I think mankind would be doomed. Mankind may be intelligent, but it all the same has a number of weaknesses that could make it easy victims to just about any determined animal. FrogsSo it probably comes as no surprise that over the decades, a number of filmmakers have realized this and have made movies concerning homicidal animals en masse. Probably the most famous example of this is Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Other movies of this nature include Day Of The Animals and Dogs, the latter which I've reviewed. Though I usually try not to repeat myself on this web site, when I came across Frogs - which also deals with homicidal animals - I couldn't resist giving it a look. Part of the reason was its interesting cast. Before mentioning the actors, I will first set the setting of the movie, which is in Florida's swamp country. In one part of the swamp lies a large island plantation which is owned by the Crockett family. The family is headed by patriarch Jason (Milland, Survival Run) who has several grandchildren that include Clint (Adam Roarke, The Savage Seven) and Karen (Van Ark, Knots Landing), with the former granchild married to a woman named Jenny (Lynn Borden, Breezy). Jason has been looking forward to his upcoming birthday celebration, and because the local wildlife fills him with distaste, he has ordered pesticides to be sprayed so that none of the animals will disrupt his special day. At the same time, a photographer named Pickett (Elliott, I Will Fight No More Forever) has been observing the area and spots signs of pollution. When circumstances have Pickett arrive at the Crockett estate, he tries telling Jason that something is not right, but his warnings fall on deaf ears. Even when people soon after start to disappear or end up dead, Jason is unmoved. As it turns out, the wildlife in the swamp has not reacted kindly to the pesticide spraying and its pollution, and all the animals have united in a quest to wipe out every human in the area. Can Pickett and the Crocketts escape from the island before it's too late?

Way back when I reviewed the horror movie Tentacles, I started my analysis by looking at a key ingredient in a movie such as that - the human characters. For the most part, you need human characters that are likable and believable for the horror to work. Since Frogs shares many of the same aspects as that movie, being a 1970s killer animal horror movie released by American International Pictures, I might as well start this analysis in the same way. First, I want to talk about the performances of the cast. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that the level of acting in Frogs was above what you usually get in a movie like this. Among the supporting players, Adam Roarke probably gives the best performance. He has the difficult task of making his character Clint for most of the running time kind of a prick, but at the same time giving the impression Clint does not know how thoughtless he really is to others. Roarke does this pretty well, and when the situation starts to turn very serious for his character, he transitions Clint from being insensitive to being troubled, with great believability. As for the most prominent members of the cast - Milland and the pre-fame Elliott - they do a solid job as well. Elliott gives his character a kind of easygoing manner in most of his scenes, though wisely not too laid back so that it believable later in the movie when he jumps into action or tries to reason with Milland's character. Milland, on the other hand, has to give his character Jason a lot of stubbornness while at the same time showing a vulnerable edge in order to not make this unabled to be reasoned with character palatable. You get a sense from how he says his words that this cranky old man is really troubled deep inside, but does not want even his loved ones to know this.

The rest of the cast definitely shows signs of talent, and they all give it a good shot whenever they have a scene, but it's all the same hard to judge their performances. This is no fault of their own, but due to the script. As it turns out, there are a total of fourteen or so people on the Crockett estate before people start to be bumped off by the swamp life. With so many characters, it was perhaps inevitable that the writing for these characters is stretched out enough that these individuals are kind of thin. We learn that Pickett is working for a magazine, and that's about all we learn about this man. Jason tells Pickett that he was confined to a wheelchair several years earlier, but we don't learn what caused this, nor how he decided to deal with this limitation. But there is another problem just as great with this screenplay, that being that the story is extremely padded out. There are some interesting moments here and there, like one scene when Clint picks a pillow fight with one of his relatives. But even interesting moments like those do not hide the painfully obvious fact that for long stretches nothing of real consequence is happening. Despite all those potential victims, the rate that these characters get bumped off is really slow. The movie is so slow that viewers will probably lose their concentration and start to ask some very nagging questions, like when Pickett returns with the jeep of a servant who has just been killed by the swamp life and no one asks why the servant wasn't in the jeep with Pickett. Or in a later scene why Jason thought it was necessary to bring a revolver with him to dinner with his family.

Questions like those I just asked in the previous paragraph I know probably don't concern a lot of potential viewers for a movie like Frogs. These particular viewers are more concerned with how well done are the horror elements. Unfortunately, director George McCowan (The Ballad Of Andy Crocker) doesn't manage to save the movie with this aspect. It's not entirely his fault - he was saddled with a script padded out with extraneous material instead of delivering horror sequences at a regular clip. And despite this circumstance, he all the same managed on occasion to deliver a slightly eerie feeling simply by showing the swamp life and its natural noise with little to no music dubbed in at all. But apart from a few slightly effective touches like those, the horror in Frogs is extremely flat. Much of it is due to the title animals showcased throughout the movie. I'm sorry, but I don't find the multiple sights of frogs hopping around to be creepy at all, even if there are many of them together in the same place. (Why not just jump on and squash them if you feel threatened? Or kick them?) There are some other swamp animals thrown in from time to time - snakes, spiders, alligators - but the scenes with them aren't that much more horrifying than the scenes with the frogs. McCowan can't seem to build any horror with serious bite at any moment in the movie; even the inevitable scene where the few survivors that are left decide that they have to make a break for it simply lacks any real excitement or suspense. It doesn't take long into watching Frogs to determine that any of its surviving cast and crew have probably removed the experience from their resumes, and that if you were to track them down and ask them about the movie, they would clear the frog from their throat and say, well, ah...

(Posted July 28, 2021)

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See also: Dogs, Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo, Tentacles

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