Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!
Back in the day, Americans showed their environmentalist zeal by making Hollywood movies with bizarre creatures as the monster. Gonna dump hazardous waste in that pond? Thank about that movie you just took your girl to, the one with the fifty foot grasshoppers!
So one fine Saturday in 1972 I walked my little brother down the block to The Grand for a matinee of Frogs, along with a bunch of other kids. I guess it wasn’t scary enough for the adults. (I just found out The Grand stopped showing movies in 1975 till 2010. How sad.) The place was packed and loud and loaded with the smells of kid matiness. We got our popcorn and hot dog and soda (which you could afford then without mortgaging your house) and took a seat near the front. That was a perk of going with my brother instead of mom or dad, because they would sit in the stodgy middle seats. We were RIGHT THERE, and I was taking a bit of my hot dog when the tarantula crawled into that guy’s mouth on the screen. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Frogs is the story of a corrupt company man who has been feeding the big grasshoppers. The whole family is at the estate to celebrate his hundred and eleventieth birthday when suddenly the fauna get vicious. Ray Milland is the villainous patriarch, Sam Elliot (The sexy guy of the era, and you have heard his gravelly voice on commercials) is the voice of reason, Joan van Ark is the sexy daughter, Adam Roarke (who had a distinguished career at this point with a ton of biker films and westerns with words like “Hell”, “Pussycat”, “Savage” in the title) and several other miscellaneous victims. My favorite part of the movie is when Our Hero has jumped out of the canoe to wrestle it off a snag. Poisonous snakes fill the water and slither his way. It was tense, man. Directly behind my brother one little girl had had enough and began jumping up and down on her seat screaming, “Look out for the snakes! Get out of the water!”
Frogs was one of the first of the 70s eco horrors and my absolute favorite. None of the others approached this level of totally serious silliness. The bad guys were unredeemably bad, the good guy gets the girl, and several very nice characters died horrible deaths to make us hate the polluters even more. But, in the end it’s unclear if Our Hero has escaped or merely postponed the inevitable. The fifty foot grasshoppers and hundred foot ants of the nuclear scare movies were unexpectedly missing. In Frogs we got five hundred plate-sized Florida Frogs (most of which escaped during production so Ray Millard had to be gruesomely hopped to death off screen in a small room), a dozen hairy tarantulas and enough rattlesnakes to quiet the watching crowd. In these pre-cgi days we didn’t notice the attacking birds were superimposed (an early Birdemic) over the fleeing victims.
American International production company released Frogs, being an early bandwagon jumper on seeing the shocking profits of the previous year’s Willard. They had long been purveyors of movies depicting the horrors of white men everywhere with titles like The She Creature, Reform School Girl, Voodoo Woman, I was a Teenage [pick your monster], Circus of Horrors, Beware of Children, Guns of the Black Witch, and Blacula. Other infamous eco horrors include Ssssss, Kingdom of the Spider (with William Shatner), and Empire of the Ants.
We were pretty shocked, having expected our parents’ nightmare creatures (possibly because that’s what the poster showed), and instead got the more sinister life-sized monsters of our generation. We were getting a harder lesson than our parents, that it’s tougher than you think to see danger coming because it might look normal. On a smaller scale than the emotional slaughter imposed on my generation only a couple of years before with Night of the Living Dead, I and the rest of the kids trooped out more shaken and a little more confused than we had expected going in.
Today, though, we can watch Frogs and revel in its delightful badness, and I recommend you watch this classic SBiG film.