Yeah, I know. This flick would probably have been more appropriate for a Sunday viewing, but that would have involved proper planning. The fact that I’m even doing this nonsense in the first place demonstrates that I am not the most adept forward planner in the world.
Amphibian post-apocalyptic sex comedy.
‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper is Sam Hell, one of the last virile men in America after the second nuclear world war almost wiped out this species we call “man”. Captured by a unit of the Provisional Government, he is fitted with a remote controlled chastity belt/shock collar and sent out to Frogtown. His mission: to rescue a group of fertile women that are being held there, bring them back to civilisation, and then impregnate them with his mighty seed. His problem: Frogtown got its name from the fact that it is populated by mutant anthropomorphic frogs, and they don’t like Sam Hell very much.
Are they people who were mutated into frog-people, or are they frogs who were mutated into people-frogs? It’s possible I may have missed that expository nugget through laughing so hard. This flick is like Mad Max and A Boy And His Dog mangled together then filtered through a really bad-ass LSD trip. How the hell have I not seen this before? If you’re anything like me, this is one of those films you’ve been vaguely aware of for years, even if it’s only through hearing the title somewhere or reading a capsule review in a compilation book. I was seven years old when the flick was released and I have no clue what kind of distribution it had in the UK back then, though I’m guessing not much. It would probably be a bottom-shelf find at the local video shop at best, though in my years of trawling the ex-rental bins I never spotted this. If I had, I would not be writing this review today; I would have bought it sight unseen based on the title alone. Say it out loud with me, “Hell Comes To Frogtown”. Doesn’t that just feel good in your mouth?
Until Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson started branching out, Roddy Piper was the only professional wrestler to be have any kind of success as an actor, thanks mostly to John Carpenter’s classic alien invasion satire They Live (made straight after Frogtown). He exudes this easy going, everyman charisma and – crucially for a movie like this – he isn’t afraid to look like an idiot. This was actually only his second movie, his first being Hal Needham’s Body Slam in which he basically played himself. The biggest point in Piper’s favour is that he is obviously fully aware of what kind of film he is starring in, and behaves accordingly. Sandahl Bergman – best known as Valeria in Conan The Barbarian – plays Hell’s handler, the Med-Tech nurse Spangle. Yes, that really is her name. As befits her no-nonsense character in this apparently matriarchal society, she plays it mostly straight although she is saddled by having to carry just about all of the exposition. The Frogtown assault team is rounded out by Cec Verrell as Centinella, the gunner responsible for (wo)manning the .50 calibre machine gun mounted to the roof of their baby pink minivan. In any other film that didn’t play with gender politics the way Frogtown does, this role would probably have been taken by someone like Jesse Ventura.
It is when our intrepid band make it to the eponymous settlement that the true wackiness only hinted out takes centre stage. This is best exemplified by Spangle and Hell’s devious plan to get to the captive women: get captured themselves, then just lead them out from the inside. If they could see Hell being approached ominously by a frog with a chainsaw, or Spangle doing the Dance of the Three Snakes they might very well have tried to come up with a new plan. Of course then we wouldn’t have had the classic moment that follows Hell’s ominous chainsaw-threatening. Comedy gold, let me tell you. I have one more point though: if everyone in this town is a frog, with a big, wide frog head and big frog hands, why do they have feet that can comfortably fit into typical human footwear? It’s a small niggle, I know. The few full-on frogs (as opposed to the more common humanoid ones with froggy features) actually look amazing considering the budget this probably had.
The flick was produced for New World Pictures by long-time Roger Corman (and James Cameron) collaborators, writer Randall Frakes and co-directors Donald G Jackson and Robert Kizer*, and it has that classic Corman touch written all over it; a bit sleazy and self-aware but too polished (relatively speaking) to be a Troma film. Jackson made this before he teamed up with Scott Shaw and started their Zen Filmmaking ideology, so the movie had a script and a recognised structure at least, unlike its second sequel. Jackson also makes great use of the famous Vasquez Rocks, giving Piper a bit of a Kirk homage in the climactic fight.
There is quite a bit of this movie that makes no sense, even to me. For instance, I don’t understand what Captain Devlin has against Hell (though it’s always good to see William Smith on screen) and Count Sodom doesn’t make any sense either. Also, if Hell is the supposed last great hope to repopulate the species, why send him off on the dangerous mission in the first place? But thinking about these questions too much just defies the very point of a film like Hell Comes To Frogtown. If it all made sense, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun.
*By the way, this guy has one of the most impressive IMDb listings ever for his day job as a sound editor.