FROGS (director: George McCowan; screenwriters: Robert Blees/Robert Hutchison/story by Mr. Hutchison; cinematographer: Mario Tosi; editor: Fred R. Feitshans Jr.; music: Les Baxter; cast: Sam Elliott (Pickett Smith), Ray Milland (Jason Crockett), Joan Van Ark (Karen), Lynn Borden (Jenny), Adam Roarke (Clint), Judy Pace (Bella), Nicholas Courtland (Kenneth), David Gilliam (Michael), George Shaff (Stuart), Holly Irving (Iris), Lance Taylor (Charles), Mae Mercer (Maybelle); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: George Edwards/Peter Thomas; MGM Home Entertainment; 1972)
“A ‘nature strikes back’ environmental horror film and not a film about the French as some of you wiseguys might have thought.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A ‘nature strikes back’ environmental horror film and not a film about the French as some of you wiseguys might have thought. Being that frogs might not be that scary for a horror film, the filmmaker throws in some more intimidating animals, like snakes, giant lizards, snapping turtles, alligators, and creepy spiders. It’s produced as a cheapie by AIP; it’s given the weirdly absurd treatment by longtime TV director, the Canadian George McCowan (“Don’t Forget to Wipe the Blood Off”/”The Magnificent Seven Ride!”/”Shadow of the Hawk”), which in my book makes it slightly cheesy but still very watchable. It’s based on the story by Robert Hutchison, who cowrites it with Robert Blees.
Cranky, old-fashioned, conservative, wheelchair-bound aging millionaire Jason Crockett (Ray Milland) lives for the annual family reunion on July 4th, where the extended family of some 14 not only celebrates the country’s founding but the birthdays of four family members on their patriarch’s remote private island somewhere in the Deep South. While macho man Clint (Adam Roarke) shows off his new power boat to his cute single sister Karen (Joan Van Ark), the only nice family member, he accidentally overturns the canoe of freelance ecological photographer Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott) while speeding full-blast ahead. The apologetic siblings invite the peeved nature boy over to their bossy granddad’s gothic mansion to dry up and grab a bite. The polite Pinkett takes in the family bickering, and soon notices things are not right as the dead bodies from both the house servants and from a number of the guests start popping up one by one. Unable to call for help because the phone inexplicably went dead, Pickett observes the animals are abnormally large and in great abundance; there’s a snake dangling from the kitchen chandelier and giant frogs are aggressively banging on the windows and making loud noises all night. It’s all attributed to pollution, pesticides and the spraying of great amounts of insecticide, though it’s also ridiculously hinted that psychologically the animals are conspiring against the humans because they were affected by the hunting and catching of butterflies. It ends with those who still have their wits escaping the island to safety, with the recalcitrant Jason remaining home alone. He’s determined not to let anything change the celebration, the only thing in life the embittered man has to look forward to. The price he pays for his stupidity, is that the frogs have their way with him in the eerie night.
Since the servants are black and one of the effete white boys brings a black date to the party, racial issues are casually touched upon in a low-key manner; but nothing much is made of it except to point out that the times are a-changin’. It also sides with the ecologists, who chose to live in harmony with nature over Milland’s death-like hard-line Republican view that man is nature’s master and man has a right to destroy nature for profit. It tries to do for the frogs what Hitchcock did for the birds, and it succeeds in large part because it keeps things creepy. Though becoming absurd at times over its trappings for the story, the strange behavior of the animals always seems realistic even if the animals were manipulated through cross-cutting and other tricks of the trade in the cutting room. It’s almost a small gem, if it weren’t for a lingering dumbness about it that pervades all its good intentions (the Milland character certainly was flawed, but he didn’t seem all that evil, like the oilmen, that he should make nature so violent to humans).
REVIEWED ON 6/30/2007 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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