Monday, September 1, 2014

Guest Column: FROGS (Not the Aristophanes One)

By Hank Parmer (AKA "grouchmarxist")


Frogs - or - Package for You, Sir

In any competition for the least terrifying concept ever for a nature-runs-amok movie, there are two clear stand-outs: Night of the Lepus and Frogs. Both hit the theaters in 1972, with the obvious intention of cashing in on the movie-going public's growing environmental awareness.

The carnivorous killer bunnies featured in Night of the Lepus are a pretty ridiculous premise, even if they are the size of Shetland ponies.  To their credit, the producers of Frogs didn't try to conceal the identity of their chief antagonists behind Linnaean nomenclature. But, in a severe disappointment to anyone expecting to be ribbeted -- er, riveted to their seat by the amphibian world's most fearsome predator in all its elegantly lethal glory, the "frogs" which appear in this film are actually toads.


Don't believe me? Take a look at this still:


That, sir, is a toad! They're not even extra-big toads. Frogs, toads, whatever. It's hard to work up much anxiety over creatures whose offensive capabilities are limited to either smothering you under a whole mess of 'em, or somehow tonguing you to death. (Though I'm kind of hazy on the precise mechanics of this, I'm certain you sickos can come up with some semi-plausible scenario.)

But this little bait-and-switch presents the conscientious reviewer with a dilemma: if I refer to the toads who'll appear in innumerable, interminable close-ups as "frogs" I'd be helping the filmmakers put over a deliberate deception. Scare-quoting "frogs" every time would likely give me a nasty case of carpal tunnel. Calling them “pseudo-frogs” or "froads" would just confuse everyone, and sound really silly. To hell with it: I'm going to call a toad a toad! I'm just that kind of guy.

As we'll see, though, it's other swamp critters who end up doing the dirty work. So either the toads are commanding them, or they're a kind of Greek chorus whose comments on the action (I use the word loosely) consist solely of monotonous croaking, as a subtle counterpoint to Ray Milland's monotonous whining.

Frogs opens with Sam Elliott as our protagonist "Pickett Smith" -- whose name sounds like a line of Western-themed casual wear, made in Thailand and sold at J. C. Penney -- paddles his canoe through the swamp. At least, we're encouraged to believe it's a swamp by stock jungle noises familiar to every kid who's watched a Tarzan flick. He's taking photos of creatures culled from the wide selection available in the reptile aisle at Pet World -- and toads. He snaps some more shots, of garbage in the water and a discharge pipe.

He's clad in jeans and a denim shirt -- of course, Pickett wears only natural fabrics. He also wears a Number One (concerned). In keeping with his character's uncomplicated, eco-friendly lifestyle, during the course of this movie Elliott will employ only three expressions:

1. Concerned
2. Pensive
3. The wry smirk

Pickett paddles out onto a lake. Karen Crockett (Joan van Ark) and her brother Clint (Adam Roarke) are screwing around in a fancy ski boat. In a desperate last-minute bid to get out of his contract, Roarke tries to run over Elliott. (I kid: he's too busy chugging a Bud to watch where he's going -- which is a very authentic touch, when it comes to recreational boating.) He swerves at the last moment, but their wake dumps Pickett's canoe.

Clint pulls his boat up next to Pickett and offers a hand up. As he clambers aboard, Pickett yanks Clint over the side. Gotcha, sucker! Clint's a good sport, though: he promises to replace all the equipment Pickett just lost. Clint and Karen invite him to lunch; Karen flirts with Pickett while they tow his canoe to their mansion.

Wheelchair-bound Jason Crockett (Ray Milland) watches them through binoculars. As the ski boat pulls up to his dock, he orders his weaselly son-in-law, Stuart Martindale, to find out what's happening, then resumes biting the heads off whippets.

Toad.

[There are so many cutaways to close-ups of toads and other supposed swamp critters throughout the course of this movie that I'd originally intended not to mention them at all. But the intricate, Schoenberg-esque rhythm of this film's construction is key to appreciating its mind-numbing tedium. So as you read this, just keep it in mind that "lingering close-up of" should precede every mention made in this review of a toad or any other lower form of life -- except for Uncle Stuart.] 

Speaking of close-ups, there's another important character in the drama: Sam's package. His jeans are very tight, you know. You can see everything. Nothing left to the imagination.

Clint's impressed by Pickett's package. He wants to know: "How are you at badminton?" He'd like to play a set or two of tennis, or ping-pong, or something. "We want you for our fun and games!" says Clint, as he drapes his arm possessively around Pickett's shoulders. As we'll see, in addition to his alcoholism, Clint's a randy little bugger, much given to innuendo by sports metaphor.

It seems Pickett has inadvertently crashed patriarch Jason Crockett's big birthday shindig. Jason owns the entire island. Every year, he terrorizes his kin for a couple of weeks around the Fourth.

Toads.

Uncle Stuart meets the trio as they walk across the lawn, through mist-shrouded live oaks and trailing Spanish moss. He warns them Grandpa's in a bad mood today -- which is a revelation on the order of "water is wet" and "Michael Bay makes loud, stupid movies".

Toads.

Pickett meets Jason and his grandson Michael Martindale, who sticks so close to Grandpa it looks as if he's exploring a career in commensalism, like that Kwokian monkey-lizard who picks space-lice off Jabba the Hutt.

Jason demands to know why Pickett's been taking photos all around his island. (He drinks his Metamucil from the skull of the last trespasser.) Pickett explains he's a freelance photographer, working on a pollution layout for an ecology magazine. He's previously won a Pulitzer for his pictorial essay "The Landfills of Madison County".

Jason claims photographing his private island is illegal. Pickett reminds him Ronald Reagan isn't president yet. Mike asks Pickett: "Did you take any pictures of frogs this morning? I saw the biggest bullfrog."

Mike then complains about the racket the frogs have been making. Jason says he sent Grover out to take care of that. There's probably not  much a furry, pot-bellied, purple Muppet who earns money on the side dubbing Yoda can do, but Jason told him to spray the bay on the north side of the island, anyway. Jason asks Pickett if he saw Grover while he was paddling around. Nope. Where's Grover?

Inside the mansion, another disturbing development: the phone is dead. (The toads are nothing if not old school.) Clint's wife, Jenny (Lynn Borden) shows Karen and Pickett an adorable drawing by her kids -- of frogs!

Clint goes upstairs to shower -- a cold one, hopefully -- while Karen introduces Pickett to Aunt Iris. Iris Martindale is Jason's daughter, a flaky matron straight out of Southern Gothic 101, with just a dab of Geraldine Page in Summer and Smoke. She's putting a monarch butterfly in a bell jar for Daddy's birthday. Pickett also meets Karen's cousin, Ken Martindale -- the artistic one -- and his beard, stunning African-American fashion model Bella (Judy Pace). She too is awed by Pickett's packet. The air just fizzles with sexual tension, here at Casa Crockett.

Pickett and Karen leave. Iris shows her bell jar to Ken and Bella. Ken feels it's a much more successful effort than last year's dead vole in a guano-caked bird's nest.

Cut to: bare-chested Pickett, in Clint's bedroom. Wearing a silk bathrobe, Clint emerges from the bathroom after taking his shower. The homoerotic vibe is thick enough to cut with a knife.

Pickett's inspecting a framed football jersey, perhaps drawn to it by Clint's powerful man-musk. Clint tells him that Jenny was the one who framed it: "She's still impressed with me, after I was Midwest Valley Central's highest scorer!" Ah ... another double entendre. My guess is Clint's alma mater was the Midwest Valley Central Institution for the Perpetually Priapic.

Clint has a shrine, made up of trophies from his glory days at MVCIPP. Oh, crap: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof just wandered into the script! Although this dialog does sound as if it could have been written by Williams ... Tuscaloosa Williams, that is. (He's the one nobody in Tennessee's family would talk about.)

Metaphor alert: the trophy display also includes pictures of Jenny, back when she was a cheerleader. While he fondles one of his football trophies, Clint coyly mentions he's the same weight as when he was playing. Just when this might be getting interesting -- toads.

Cut to the garden, where Ken's taking pictures of Bella. Charles, the butler, appears: "Mr. Kenneth, I have a message from your grandfather."

Ken: "With or without the profanity, Charles?"

Charles wisely chooses the latter: "'Get your [bleep]ing ass to the mother-[bleep]ing party, you [bleep]ing little [bleep] or I'll rip your [bleep] off and stuff it up your rancid [bleeeeeeeeeeeep]! [Bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep]!'" (Or words to that effect.)

On their way to the party, Ken and Bella pass a reflecting pool; the camera lingers on a concrete statue of a frog. Cut to close-up of a toad.

The Crockett clan's gathered on the lawn. Grandpa gripes about the kids being late for the party, then lectures Jenny about proper child-rearing techniques. Why, the daily beatings -- along with frequent testicular electroshocks -- made him the man he is today! The children, Jason and Tina, run up with a toad they want to show to Grandpa. Mike snatches the toad out of little Jason's hand and pitches it away. Jenny claims all the noise from the frogs is making everyone crazy.

Jason changes his tune: he's decided Pickett must be an "ecology expert" and now wants him to do a frog survey on the island. Anything to shut these whiny titty-babies up. Pickett goes along with the gag.

Toads.

Later, Jason meets with Pickett in private, in the study/gun room. He too is strangely attracted to Pickett's package. I mean, damn, it's right at his eye-level, so what's he supposed to do?


Even veteran actor Ray Milland is mesmerized by the power of Pickett's package!

There are stuffed birds and other animals, and moth-eaten mounted heads on the wall: a lion, a warthog, a Cape Buffalo, a Jehovah's Witness and a meter reader. Jason asks Elliott to keep an eye out for Grover, while he's frog surveying. Jason offers to lend Pickett a rifle, but -- in the one intentionally humorous line in this turkey -- Pickett pulls a Number Three (wry smirk) and drawls, "I don't think a stuffed bullfrog would add a thing."

Besides, the toads have probably run them all off.

Pickett's expert frog surveyin' consists of strolling through the woods and swinging a stick, while looking concerned (Number One). Speaking of swinging and wood, it really is a remarkable coincidence how often Elliott's package occupies the center of the frame.

Toads.

After a few hours (it seemed that long, anyway) Pickett finds some dead toads plus lizards and snakes,  also deceased, then a pump sprayer with a big "Poison" label on it. Aha! Grover spoor! (Be vewy, vewy quiet ...)

More strolling, more dead critters. For a flick which makes such a big fuss about its pro-environmental message, the filmmakers sure do seem to have offed one hell of a lot of exotic reptiles. What's even more despicable is they were easily the most sympathetic characters in the entire supporting cast.

Pickett suddenly spies Grover's jeep. Then Grover, who's lying face-down in a puddle, with snakes slithering over him. Toads hop away from the corpse. Pickett turns him over: ewww, grotty-face Grover!

Toads.

Back at the mansion, Bella hangs with Maybelle, while the maid sets the table for dinner. Then she joins the rich folks in the parlor. Clint comes on to Bella, in plain view of his wife. Jenny makes a catty remark, then complains once more about those damned noisy frogs. (This hellish racket, by the way, is so overwhelming that the characters are forced to carry on their conversation in a normal tone of voice. I think the director believed that if they complained about the noise often enough, the audience would eventually believe it.)

Karen says she's worried about Grover, but Jason says it'll serve him right if he's lying in a ditch somewhere. Karen objects: "You make us sound like we're the worst of the ugly rich!"

Jason replies: "We are the ugly rich!" (Thanks for cluing us in on that one, Ray.)

Iris chimes in: "We're entitled to be the ugly rich. God knows we pay enough in taxes!" Then she bitches about the government making them put strainers on their paper mills. Why, it's going to shoot their dividends all to hell!

Toads.

Driving Grover's jeep, Pickett pulls up to the mansion. Stuart's standing on the porch. He asks if Pickett's seen Grover. Grover? Who's Grover? Stuart says something snotty about the help these days. Pickett goes inside and checks the phone -- still dead.

Maybelle is so absorbed with setting the table she's unaware there's a snake in the chandelier. Pickett finds Jason alone in the gun room again and breaks the news about Grover.

He says he did what he could for Grover's corpse: propped him up in a silly pose and improvised a funny hat. Pickett thinks they should send someone over to the mainland to notify the police. Jason gives Pickett a sob story, explaining how he hates nature because wheelchair, and this birthday party is all that's left in his life. (Except for the mansion, and his private island, and the servants who wait hand and foot on His Imperial Crankiness.) He persuades Pickett to stay the night, and fetch the police in the morning.

So what if Grover's corpse is being gnawed on by swamp critters? Given the caring attitude already shown by his employer, it was probably going to be a closed-casket service, anyway. If by "casket" you mean "an old burlap sack" and by "service" you mean "dump him in that sinkhole out in the north forty".

But such is Jason's raw animal magnetism that Pickett is powerless to resist. Thump thump thump at the window: toads on the veranda! There's a toad peeping through the window, trying to interest them in a copy of "The Watchtower" -- those guys never give up.

Maybelle finally sees the snake, and screams. Everyone rushes to the dining room. Jason appears, and in a disgraceful breach of professional courtesy shoots the snake. Jason orders Charles to dispose of the corpse, then, after it's removed from the table, snarls: "Well, what's everybody standing around for? Let's eat!"

What the hell, blood and guts on the tablecloth are probably nothing new at these gatherings. This bunch makes the Cheney family look like the Cleavers.

Toads. Mist and live oaks and Spanish moss in the twilight. Toads.

Pickett's back with Jason in the gun room. "Frogs attacking windows, snakes in chandeliers isn't normal," declares Captain Obvious.

Time for the big philosophical discussion: Jason believes man should pillage and rape the planet, while Pickett wants to live in harmony with it, braid its hair, live in a yurt and open up a boutique selling hand-made scented dream-catchers. Pickett goes into his Cassandra-on-'ludes song and dance again, but Jason blows him off: "All we do is sit and wait!" Elliott does his Number One (concern).

Clint and Jenny argue in their bedroom. Jenny hates being there, but Clint reminds her it's only two weeks a year, plus, when Jason kicks off, they stand to inherit a shitload of money. I'd never have guessed this was their motivation for putting up with the nasty old bastard. Not in a million years.

Toads.

Outside, Pickett sits by a fountain, trying out his Number Two (pensive). Karen joins him, and it's her turn to kvetch about the frogs' unholy din -- which hardly rises above the level of muted croaking. (Who're you gonna believe: the script or your lying ears? Or is this entire family afflicted with Roderick Usher Syndrome?)

Karen asks how long he's been doing it. Pickett's too thick to realize that's a blatant come-on, or he's deliberately ignoring it. Instead, he discourses at length about the manly, be-your-own-boss world of freelance pollution photography. Karen eventually gets him to shut up about it.

But she suspects something's not right, so she tries to wheedle some information out of Pickett. All he'll tell her is he doesn't know what's happening. (No kidding.) She asks him if he'd like to come inside. Pickett's either too dense to catch yet another obvious hint, or more likely he's got an assignation with Clint. She returns to the mansion, while Pickett muses Number Two-ly by the fountain.

The next day: Toads. Toads. Exterior of mansion. Toads. It's a beautiful morning. Toads. Toads. Toads. Toads. Lovely toads, o wonderful toads!  Toads. Toads. Toads. Toads. (Sorry.)

Mike wheels Jason to his table on the lawn in front of the mansion. The children wish Grandpa a happy birthday. They're eager to know when the fireworks will start. Mike does his best to crush their spirits -- although that was a pretty dumb question for kids their age. (Hint: It'll be after that big shiny thing leaves the sky.) Jenny's looking for Clint.

Toads. Kids. Toads. The kids light firecrackers. Toads.

Iris, Pickett and Karen are in the dining room -- that snake-stain on the tablecloth came right out with a little soda water! Aunt Iris flirts with Pickett (probably the most ghoulish scene in the entire movie) then departs to mend her butterfly nets.

Pickett and Karen have an intimate conversation: Karen admits she almost came by his room last night, but was afraid of making the floorboards creak. Riiiiight. Pickett wants to talk with her some more. Give it up, lady!

Lizards.

Fun and games on the lawn: Clint, swinging two pillows, balances atop a log. (Clearly, this is symbolic compensation for the extreme package-envy he's been suffering ever since Pickett appeared on the scene.)

Lizards.

Clint bullies Mike into a pillow fight for “King of the Log”. Jason torments everyone with his LP of the most inept and irritating marching band ever: it's as if someone threw three or four Sousa marches into a blender, and made an endless loop out of the resulting mess. Clint cheats -- big surprise -- and knocks Mike down, twice. Uncle Stuart urges Mike to get him, but his son runs off while Clint taunts him.

Clint hits on Bella again, again in plain view and earshot of his wife. "How would you like to fight me for my log?" The entendres fly thick and fast in this script!

Toads.

While the worst march music ever continues to assault everyone's ears -- where's that deafening racket, when you really need it? -- pouty Mike has reattached himself to Grandpa. Pickett appears: he thinks they should check the phone line. Clint wants to play games with Pickett. Jason tells Clint to go eat his saltpeter pancakes.

All during this scene, the children parade relentlessly back and forth in the background. This must be that old-fashioned discipline Grandpa was extolling: a touch of the heat stroke will teach those whippersnappers not to be late for his party!

Since nobody loves him and everybody hates him, Mike volunteers to check the line. (Although that gawdawful music may also have had something to do with his hasty departure.) After Mike exits, Pickett pulls another Number One -- he gets a lot of mileage out of that one -- and reminds Jason about Grover. Then he delivers another ominous warning about overuse of pesticides and poisons.

Mike's preparing to depart. Maybelle brings him a Thermos, presumably containing hot coffee. Just the thing for a Fourth of July in the Deep South!

Toads.

Time for Pickett to saunter through the woods again, getting some more practice in on his Number One. Toads. Snake. Toads. Mike driving the jeep. More jungle noises. Toads. Pickett and his package. Rattler. Pickett. Lizard. Toad. Pickett. Snake. Mike drives past a pair of lizards -- one of the lizards rags on the other afterward for not showing more leg. Mike stops the jeep and takes a potshot at some crows. Snake in a tree. Mike walks into the woods.

Toads.

Fully justifying his reputation as the slow one in the family, Mike inexplicably starts running through the forest, loaded shotgun in hand. He stumbles and shoots off his kneecap.

While Mike's otherwise occupied, screaming and writhing in agony, the killer Spanish moss realizes he's wide open. Yes, that's right: killer Spanish moss. A half-dozen tarantulas make a guest appearance. Mike thrashes around for ... oh, an hour or two, while the moss cocoons him and spiders leisurely crawl around on top of the moss. Tarantulas. Extreme close-up of tarantula mouth-parts. Mike dies. Signifying its utter contempt for its victim, the moss sheds on him.

Then a lone scorpion shows up: "Sorry I'm late! Guys? Guys? Where is everybody?" (The tarantulas, who're all hiding close by, have to struggle to suppress their giggles.) Tragically, the scorpion only gets this one brief walk-on.

Another montage: Pickett. Snake. Pickett. Very dead Mike. Tarantulas.

Back to the mansion: Iris sends Ken to the greenhouse for a flower -- he's the artistic one, after all. Then Iris spots a rare butterfly: she must have it! As Ken crosses the lawn, Uncle Stuart unsuccessfully tries to start another fight, this time between Clint and Ken.

Toads.

Iris has her butterfly net. Toads. Iris stalks the butterfly; she's drawn deeper and deeper into the woods. Ken walks toward the greenhouse. Lizards scurry into the greenhouse ahead of him. Ken enters, not suspecting he's heading into an ambush. He kills a caterpillar, driving the lizards mad with fury! (They may not have any lines, but they're the most consistently believable performances in this film.) Toads hop stealthily toward the mansion.

Jason sends Stuart to look for Iris. Karen goes off to find Ken. Clint's still busy hitting on Bella.

Ken finds his flower. The door to the greenhouse slowly closes -- nothing happens quickly in this film -- as it's pushed from outside. A lizard noses off a shelf first a bottle labeled "Caution" and then another one that's labeled "Poison". (Which is why the stuff's in Mason jars, precariously perched way up high on rickety shelving.) The jars smash on the floor; the chemicals instantly mix like the components of binary nerve gas, releasing thick clouds of deadly vapor. This is a special formula known only to lizards, which has the remarkable property of killing humans while leaving reptiles entirely unscathed. Or else they've practiced holding their breaths for a really long time.

In what can only be taken as adding insult to injury, a lizard also knocks down a jar of what sure looks like urine. Ken notices the billowing vapor and decides to investigate. Carrying on brother Mike's tradition of suicidal stupidity, he bends down to get a good lungful. He gasps for breath, and dies. Lizards crawl all over Ken.

Toads.

Meanwhile, Jenny senses something bad's going on. She begs Clint -- who's been knocking back the mango-ritas all morning -- to take her and the kids away from here. Bella tries to talk some sense into Jason.

Jason replies: "You couldn't possibly understand how important my birthday is to me! Nothing's going to stop it!"

Toads.

Pickett strolls up to the greenhouse, opens the door, finds Ken dead and the poisonous gas helpfully dissipated. Bella's been looking for Ken too. She comes up behind Pickett, and sees Ken's lizard-bedecked corpse. She's horror-struck when she realizes he's not brainstorming the agency's Izod promotion.


“Hey, get me: I'm the Izod alligator!”

 Toads.

Sobbing hysterically, Bella rejoins the lawn party and informs everyone Ken is dead. Pickett and Charles return to the greenhouse while the rest retreat to the mansion. Toads are hopping all over the cake and dishes and silverware.

Pickett asks Charles if there's a place they can put Ken's body. He's family, after all. Not like Grover, who'll be just fine out decomposing in the swamp, in the summer heat.

Lizards. Toads. Aunt Iris still hasn't caught her butterfly. Snake. Uncle Stuart walks through the woods, calling for Iris. Lizard. Iris runs into a loop of moss -- but thankfully, it's not the killer variety. Lizards. Uncle Stuart. Toads. Uncle Stuart. Iris.

Direct from the sewers of New York, a momentary respite from the unremitting horror: baby gators! Awwww ...

Snake. Iris. Snake. Toad. Snake. Iris walks past toads. Iris accidentally touches a snake on a vine, and screams. Close-up of snake on the vine. Iris. Snake. Iris. Rattlesnake. Snakes. Snakes. Snakes. Iris panics and drops her net.. Snake. Toad. Iris. Snake. Baby gators. Iris claws her way through the underbrush. Snake. Iris. Snake. Iris falls in a puddle, probably the same one which claimed Grover. Snake. Snake. Iris struggles out of the puddle, trips and falls again.

She discovers she's covered in leeches, and suddenly realizes she's re-enacting Bogey's famous scene from The African Queen. Iris really loses it! Gasping and moaning, she blunders through the woods. Snake. Iris. Toad. Baby gators. Iris. Toad. Iris.

(By an odd coincidence, this happens to have been my Great-Aunt Myrtle's recurring nightmare. She was the one who put plastic covers on the furniture, and would always wear gloves whenever she read a book from the public library.)

Eventually, after what seems a geologic epoch, Iris manages to get bitten by a rattler. She dies instantly. Toad. Iris staring up at the sky. Toad. Iris turns a tasteful shade of pastel blue. Extreme close-up of a toad's eye.

Uncle Stuart walks past, ironically unaware that Iris' Martha-Stewart-ized corpse lies only a few yards away. Toad. Uncle Stuart. Big gator. Big gator follows Uncle Stuart. Gator. More than one big gator. Gators chase Uncle Stuart into the swamp. Uncle Stuart's double wrestles a gator, as the movie references the classic embrace in From Here to Eternity. Except that here it involves getting drenched with fetid black slime instead of crashing surf, and the big, scaly reptile only slightly resembles Deborah Kerr.

Toad. Gator wrestling. Cottonmouth. Toad. Uncle Stuart loses the match -- no surprise there! He's splashed with ketchup and dragged into the swamp. Toad.

That's four down. Time to get back to the mansion:

Pickett's finally decided to let the others in on the little secret about Grover. Karen urges Jason to leave. Jason replies that he's just as heartbroken as everyone -- which by this point wouldn't convince anyone.

Yet he insists: "I'm not going to let anything interfere with today's schedule!" (Although he'll be hard-pressed to come up with a replacement for Grover's presentation of "Toxins I've Ingested", and Ken's dead-on impersonation of Holly Golightly was the highlight of last year's gathering.)

Note that Jason delivers this statement after his son-in-law, daughter and a grandson have disappeared, and his gardener and another grandson are known to have died under mysterious -- in Ken's case, extremely goofy -- circumstances. I know this is supposed to underscore Jason's callous indifference, but really, it only makes him look cranky and senile.

Bella tells him he's one dumb-ass cracker. Charles respectfully suggests everyone should get the hell out of Dodge. As usual, the black characters are the only ones in the movie with any sense.

Jason gets huffy: "Just because of one small crisis, everybody wants to run!"

He accuses his servants of disloyalty. Bella reminds Charles and Maybelle that Lincoln freed the slaves. Jason tells Charles and Maybelle to go, then, and never darken his towels again! He orders Clint to take them all across the lake in his motorboat, check things out and get right back.

The toads are clearly massing for an attack. Pickett once more pulls a Number One (concerned) and observes: "You're in for one hell of a battle, Mr. Crockett. You'd better get ready for it!"

Toads.

Charles, Maybelle and Bella are ferried across the lake by Clint. There's no one out on the water. Nobody home at Jerry's Bait Shop, either, except for toads and a lizard. Lugging their suitcases, Bella and the servants hurry past an empty lawn chair and a grill with burgers still sizzling on it. Suddenly, the trio is attacked by blue-screen crows and seagulls! Toads. Blue-screen birds chase them around a shack and out of sight. Toads.

Back to the mansion: Pickett's doing something semi-useful for once, loading guns. (Although you'd think arming everybody with tennis rackets would be a more effective tactic.) Increasingly anxious, Jenny takes a pair of binoculars with her out on balcony. She sees the ski boat's empty and adrift. Back at the dock, Clint discovers the line's been gnawed through. Gulls wheeling. Clint decides to try swimming out to the boat. Cottonmouths. Clint screams and goes under, then comes up again. He somehow makes it to the boat. Cottonmouth. As he's climbing into the boat, Clint realizes his hand is bloody: he smears the blood on his face, screams and sinks into the lake.

Jenny runs down to the shore. She gets "stuck" in mud, or maybe her foot's caught in a root, in about three inches of water. A snapping turtle slides off the bank, into the water. Jenny can't extricate her foot! Snapping turtle. Toads.

Back to the mansion, where there are dozens of toads on the veranda. Pickett runs to the tool shed to get the gas can. By the time he returns, the toads have scattered. They're smart enough to avoid getting doused with gasoline! (No wonder they've been winning this particular battle of wits.)

Pickett expounds his new "smart frog" theory to a skeptical Jason, who sneers: "The frogs are thinking now, the snails are planning strategy. Their brains are as good as ours: is that your point?" Um, maybe you haven't been keeping up with current events, but who's getting their big-brained butts kicked, Monkey Boy?

The kids want to know what's happened to Mommy and Drunk Daddy. Karen reassures them: "Mommy went outside."

Pickett disagrees: "I didn't see her out there." (Heckuva job, Mr. Sensitive!)

Tina makes a break for it. Pickett and Karen run after her and catch her. Then they notice the motorboat drifting out on the lake.

Tina asks forlornly: "Where's Mommy and Daddy?"

Pickett declares that's it, we're leaving! (Whoa now, don't go off half-cocked there, pardner! I mean, we're only about eight-and-a-half hours into this film ...)

More tedious arguing with Jason: He calls them all wimps for buggering off, then tells them to get the hell out. Then he uses ... sarcasm! "Many happy returns of the day to me!" Karen and the kids try to say goodbye, but -- a childish dick to the end -- he refuses to acknowledge them.

Now that the problem of just exactly how they were going to wheel Jason down and hoist him and his chair into the canoe -- all while fighting off an onslaught of killer toads -- has been conveniently solved, Pickett, Karen and the kids sprint to the dock.

Oh no: Mommy's crab bait. Or rather, the filmmakers have draped a few moribund blue crabs which have no doubt overstayed their "Sell By" date in the seafood section at Food Clown over Jenny's body double. Incidentally, it looks like it took only one snapper -- and not a very large one, at that -- to do her in. It must have hit a vital spot on her ankle.

Cottonmouths. Toads. Everybody in the canoe! Cottonmouths. Pickett paddles away. Toads.

Just when it seems his heroic scarpering will succeed, Pickett hangs the canoe on a snag. He removes his shirt for one last beefcake shot -- for Clint -- then leaps into the water. A snake drops off a tree branch onto Pickett: Surpriiiiise!

Here we get the first believable performance by Elliott, as he yells "Jesus!" and frantically juggles a live albeit non-poisonous snake. After some frenzied snake-handling, Pickett whacks the water with his paddle to drive the (invisible) snakes away from his package. This movie gets more Freudian by the minute.

Pickett finally realizes he should yank the canoe backwards, instead of forwards, if he wants to get it off the snag. That's some right fancy figurin' there, Tex! A gator swims sort of in their general direction. Pickett scrambles back into the canoe, grabs his shotgun and shoots the gator. Yes, animals were harmed during the course of this production.

He paddles the canoe up to the deserted bait shop's dock. All ashore!

They find Bella's and the servants' abandoned luggage -- but that's all. No blood or anything: this really is the tidiest unstoppable horde of homicidal critters in the history of eco-horror flicks!

Pickett flags down a passing motorist. The driver doesn't bat an eye when they all come running up to her station wagon, with Pickett carrying a shotgun. Why, she gives rides to firearms-toting hitchhikers all the time! That's just everyday Southern courtesy.

Everybody piles into the station wagon. The driver explains she's just picked up her son from camp, and hasn't seen a soul on the road for the last hour. The boy tells them the frogs were everywhere at camp! Having learned something there that's far more fun than making wallets, he offers to share his toad with them. Pickett goes completely ape and shoots the camper; his mother loses control of the station wagon and everyone perishes in a fiery Gotterdammerung!

Well, actually, all that happens is the scene ends with a freeze frame of the toad. But my ending would have been much more satisfying.

Back to the mansion: It's nighttime, now, and Jason's getting nervous. To put himself in the proper frame of mind for a miserable death, he's listening to that horrific marching band. A toad plops onto the record and it stops. Sure, they're planning to croak the obnoxious geezer, but this was just too brutal.

The dog whines. Toads on the veranda again. Jason shakily pours himself a drink, gulps it down. Closeups of the mounted heads and stuffed animals. The dog growls. The phone rings -- there's nobody on the line! (Next time, the lizards are planning to ask him if he's got Prince Albert in a can.)

Toads are all over the room now. Jason. The dog bolts from the room. Toads. Jason. Toads. Jason. Toads. Jason.

“This is your P.O.V. in a Sixties' LSD exploitation flick” cinematography suddenly invades the movie. The trophies start making noises: the lion roars, the warthog grunts, the Jehovah's Witness wants to know if he's found Jesus. (I think the toads may have slipped some roofies into his Jim Beam.) The toads are everywhere, staring at him accusingly. Jason tries to do a "Mein Fuhrer: I can walk!" -- but his legs fail him. Toads attack him, crawling over his butt as he lies helpless, face-down on the floor.

(It's a little-known fact, but John Boorman totally ripped off this scene in that same year's hit movie, Deliverance.)

"Can you croak like a froggie?"

Jason -- toads -- a dizzy whirl! Exterior shot of the mansion: one muffled shriek, and the lights go out.

After the credits run, a cartoon frog with a human hand dangling from its mouth -- just like in the poster! -- hops into view. Michigan J. Frog, noooooooo! It slurps down the hand. Blackout.

See, the filmmakers just winked at you! This was all one extended joke. An unbelievably tedious joke that took forever to tell, made no sense and went absolutely nowhere -- just like the ones your Uncle Frank would tell at Thanksgiving dinner. That whole “You're in for the battle of your life!” bit was just sucker bait: the real struggle is to stay awake.

Our main protagonist stands around a lot while ignoring Joan van Ark's clumsy advances, takes a couple of walks in the woods by himself, stares at swamp critters and recites the warning label he memorized from a can of Raid for Ray Milland. In his last five minutes in the movie, he rouses himself to action: bravely buggers off in his canoe, whacks some snakes with his paddle, shoots a gator, and flags down a ride.

If there's a clear message here, it's that nature will rise up and exact a terrible vengeance from loathsome rich people who don't care enough about Mother Earth. Their hired help, closeted gays and immature jocks who like to touch strangers inappropriately -- as well as the former cheerleaders who marry them -- must also be considered fair game.

So remember, as Woodsy Owl so powerfully reminds us: “Give a hoot -- don't pollute!” Or like Ray Milland, you too may end up being relentlessly sodomized by a passel of horny toads. 

6 comments:

TipsyDave said...

The best thing about this movie is, of course, the advertising tagline;
TODAY, THE POND...TOMORROW, THE WORLD!

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Still, it was better than Legend of Boggy creek II.

Although you should have some idea what you're in for when you see the credits are done in Comic Sans.

Doc Logan said...

Oh, man, does this bring back awful memories. I saw this on it's original theatrical run.

In the olden days, cinemas had lobbies where you'd see posters for upcoming films. 9 year old me saw this kickass poster with a GIANT MUTANT FROG EATING A HUMAN HAND. At this point, my birthday and Christmas could wait, the day this movie opened was the most eagerly awaited day of the year.

I nagged my parents as doggedly as a 9 year old can, and when the magic day arrived, my mom took me to the theater, me as eager as a dog being promised a walk to the Garden of Bacon.

The movie started... well, no, it didn't start, it just sort of... crept... into view. IMDB says this movie ran 91 minutes, but I could swear glaciers advanced and receded several times before the end.

And then, at the end of the credits, a badly animated giant frog swallows a human hand.

I have never known hatred of this intensity before or since.

Luckily I had forgotten Sam Elliot was in this steaming turd or I'd never be able to watch "The Big Lebowski" without sobbing.

Hank, a thoroughly well written piece. It was truly the takedown this abomination deserved.

Anonymous said...

And yet the question remains.
HOW did the frogs off all the people?I mean, I can see the snakes and gators doing some serious bodily harm but froads?
OK, Grouch, I'll once again accept your fine review as definitive and avoid this one, although I must admit, it wasn't really on my list.
Suezboo

tony in san diego said...

Damn you forever for making me stream this on netflix....although
Sam was a real handsome guy back in the day!

grouchomarxist said...

@TipseyDave

I'm convinced that when it came time to put together the ad campaign for this dog, they realized their only option was to pretend it was always meant as a joke.

@zrm

Agreed. Although you've set that particular bar so low it's about sixty miles down in the upper mantle.

@doc logan

Muchas Gracias. I can only imagine what my reaction would have been to this movie, if my first exposure to it had been as the feverishly anticipated highlight of my nine-year-old life, instead of just something to laugh at on late-night tv. There's nothing like the burning sense of injustice a child can feel, when they realize adults lie to them to screw them out of their hard-earned money.

@suezboo

Thanks!

I've toyed a bit with a theory it was in reality little Jason and his sister Tina who were in charge of the swamp critters, controlling them with their mutant powers a la Children of the Damned. Maybe they were just trying to get out of spending another vacation with the Dysfunctional Family Circus, and things just got a bit out of hand. Then again, they were the only survivors, except for their aunt, who could be useful for a while for dealing with the adults. And they'd get at least two-thirds of Grandpa's money ...

@tony

Well, you can't say you weren't warned.

I really have nothing against Sam Elliott. He's no Brando, but he's got an undeniable presence. He was perfect as The Stranger in TBL. I think every actor's allowed at least one really, really bad movie in their career, like Paul Newman and his starring role in a major stinkbomb called The Silver Chalice.