Laelaps Movie of the Week: Frogs

Until I saw this 1972 film I had no idea that amphibians wanted to rule the world, but apparently they are cold-blooded masterminds bent on destroying Homo sapiens, or at least wrecking a crotchety old man's birthday. Oddly enough, however, Frogs doesn't even live up to it's own name, there being only one frog in the entire film (most of the "frogs" are really toads), but such considerations didn't stop the filmmakers from buying everything that slinked, slithered, or crawled from the local pet shops and creating a classic, putrid piece of movie cheese.

The eco-thriller is a bit of a sub-genre of horror movies, worries about what humans have been doing to the environment creating any number of catastrophes, usually in the form of monsters. During the 1950's is was radiation and atomic bomb tests, today it's biomedical research, but during the 1960's and 1970's pesticides and environmental pollution were the major culprits in making various "normal" critters go bad. Frogs falls into this category, a cranky old southern millionaire pumping pesticides into the swamp to kill the frogs, the swamp creatures eventually retaliating against him and his family in an unintentionally hilarious fashion. While there are some genuinely deadly frogs in the world (i.e. the Poison-Dart Frogs of South America, the Golden Poison Frog Phyllobates terribilis being among the most toxic), they are dangerous because of their toxicity, not for outright attacks on human beings, and the amphibians in this film are anything but threatening as they hop across the lawn.

How, then, do the titular terrors kill their prey? First, they carefully observe their quarry, hanging in the background while a rather boring family drama plays out on July 3rd. Maritial unrest, a visiting ecologist (our hero), one of the sons dating a black supermodel; it's all just padding intercut with a few shots from the local pet shop every now and then. For one reason or another, though, the hapless victims find reasons to go wandering in the woods and marshes by themselves, everything from a downed phone line to a rare butterfly luring the humans away from the house. Only one of them, as far as I can tell, ends up being reptile-chow, however; the toads, snakes, and lizards seemingly want to kill the humans for decorative purposes only, the first dead body only missing a little skin off his cheek. While another party attendee is presumably not so-well maintained after losing a wrestling match to an alligator, the villains seem to treat their victims as decorative throw pillows more than anything else, seemingly having little interest after they've gone to all the trouble of, say, locking them in a greenhouse and poisoning them with fumes.

Indeed, the frogs are such successful recruiters that they've got the swamp moss in on their plans as well, one of the family shooting himself in the leg with a shotgun (which did little more than rip his pants) only to fall down and have moss thrown at him by tarantulas living in the trees. Apparently the spiders and moss formed a symbiotic relationship, the arachnids stimulating the moss by throwing pieces of it at their prey, the moss then wrapping itself around the victim, allowing the spiders to try and jump in the victim's mouth or menace them with their fangs. [Note: You may notice that the older woman in the trailer meets a similar end, but her death scene in the film is far removed from being sucked in by a pile of leaves someone forgot to rake up]

Eventually, the family learns the magic of subtraction and notices there are not as many of them as there once were. After getting all dressed up in their best, a group decides to head for the other side of the lake, only to presumably be killed by B.F. Skinner's flock of attack pigeons, leaving the remaining people to traverse the lake in a canoe. After callously murdering an caiman puppet and thrashing the water with an oar, our hero gets the family to safety, a station wagon picking them up on the side of the road. Much to their horror, the frogs are driving the car relief, they seem to have made it out alive, but then the small boy pulls out a huge toad he found and we can only imagine the fate of the passengers as they careen down the roadway at toadpoint.

This isn't the end of the film, though. A dog named "Colonel" that did not show up in the film at all until the last scene lays whimpering at her cranky masters feet, toads pouring in through the windows. While it is known that some toads produce a toxin that hallucinogenic that will cause those who lick them to go on a trip, apparently being in the room with too many toads will cause the same effect, the ghosts of African Safaris past haunting the wheelchair bound stick-in-the-mud. Tired out from all the excitement, the old man lies down and the frogs form a living blanket to tuck him in, shutting off the light so he can have a nice long rest.


The music was produced by someone's cat walking over a Casio keyboard.

What I learned from this movie;

Families that live in mansions in the South can't stand it if you have wet clothes, and will bring it up every five seconds until you change (even if they're preventing you from doing so by introducing you to everyone, who also remarks how you should get out of your wet clothes).

If you spray enough pesticides in enough combinations, you'll end up with a kind of Frog Fertilizer that will produce a lot more amphibians than you started with, although such applications may result in homicidal, hopping mad, critters.

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This is one of the funniest movie reviews I have ever read!

Snark is snark, and there's no disputing taste, but I gotta disagree with you about the score.

Prior to Frogs, Les Baxter was primarily known for his Hi-Fi/Easy Listening albums and his ability to throw together an original, two-hour orchestral film score over the course of a long weekend.

But for Frogs, Baxter goes into full-on experimental mode, channeling everything from musique concrete to Wendy Carlos to psychedelic rock. There is, of course, no Casio keyboard in the score. The music was realized using analog synthesizers, post-processed traditional instruments, and analog tape manipulation.

The effect blurs the distinction between sound effects and music soundtrack, so that the sounds of the swamp and the household are effectively part of the score.

In the hands of a middle-brow composer like Baxter, these technique are sure to leave both traditionalists and experimentalists unsatisfied, but that kind of determined middle-browedness is part of the appeal for me. I like the sound collage during Ray Milland's death sequence so much, it's in regular rotation on my iPod.

It's an admittedly awful movie, and Baxter's experiment could be considered a failure, but for a genre-film soundtrack buff like me, it's still a fascinating piece of music.

Oh, man, I remember this movie. Ray Milland getting stomped to death (or smothered, or whatever) by all the frogs at the end - that's an image I will have with me forever.

Thanks for the background, HP. I kid because I love these movies, and experimental or unique as the soundtrack may be, I can't say I was a fan. Still, it sounds like you know quite a bit more about these films than I do, and I appreciate the "behind the scenes" info.