A Frog-Lover’s Dream
by Stacey Longo
Why do I love the B-movie Frogs (1972) so much? Is it because it makes me nostalgic for my years on the farm, catching toads and lizards, only to release them in my sister’s bed? Or is it because a young Sam Elliot spends part of this movie shirtless in wet jeans, making insightful comments in his sexy voice that percolates like fresh-ground coffee in the morning? The truth is I never was very nostalgic about the farm. Hello, half-naked young Sam Elliott!
This fabulous film opens with Pickett Smith (Sam) canoeing on the lake, only to be swamped by a powerboat owned by the Crockett family. Clint and Karen Crockett (Adam Roarke and Joan Van Ark) fish Pickett out of the lake and tow his canoe back to their family’s island. Karen Crockett takes one look at Pickett and starts throwing herself at him like a cheap tart, proving that Joan Van Ark is a slut.
On the island, we’re introduced to Jason Crockett, portrayed by a cranky Ray Milland, who is probably wondering how he wound up in this movie. My guess is since he was wheelchair-bound, his agent just rolled him on to the set and ran like hell. Nevertheless, Milland portrays the monstrous patriarchal grandfather perfectly. His anger at the relentless noise of the bullfrogs without so much as a wink of irony at the fact that the family made their fortune on toxic pesticides had me so moved that I began to root for the frogs. That’s fine acting, folks.
The members of the family begin to disappear one by one, leaving Jason, Karen, and the rest of the Crocketts stumped. The only one who has an inkling of what might be going on is Pickett, because besides being sexy as hell, he’s a brilliant ecologist, too. He quickly deduces that the frogs are psychically controlling all of the reptiles and amphibians on the island and ordering them to kill everyone.
Reptile and amphibian (and even tarantula) fans will not be disappointed. Bad luck for the Crocketts, who found the only island in the world on which ball pythons, Burmese pythons, alligators, bearded lizards, monitor lizards, American snapping turtles, caimans, and what I presume to be cottonmouths but what suspiciously resembled Northern water snakes all live together in harmony. Crockett cousins, in-laws, and caretakers all die horrible deaths due to these vicious creatures (I never knew the chameleon had it in him) and to the amusement of the viewer.
Ironically, all of the black characters (the maid, the butler, and a model) make it safely back to the mainland, which is practically unheard of in a horror movie. There’s a possibility that they were attacked by seagulls as they ran to their car, but since I saw no eyeballs being swallowed nor any brain matter leakage, I like to think they made it. Eventually, the only characters left are Jason, Karen, Pickett, and two whiny Crockett kids. Jason demands that everyone stay because he wants to celebrate his birthday, frogs be damned. But Pickett and Karen take one look at the bullfrogs licking their slimy little lips as they press their beady eyes against the window and decide to make a run for it. They hop in the canoe, paddle to shore, and hooray! Sam Elliott takes his shirt off again! Miserly, miserable Ray Milland is left, wheelchair-bound and surrounded by frogs. He promptly falls face-first in to a pile of murderous amphibians. But he was such a wretched old coot, who cares, really?
This movie is fun, slightly ridiculous, and one of my all-time favorites. Why? Not because I’m a sucker for bearded lizards, though they are awfully cute. It’s because Sam Elliott is a bona-fide slab of hunky ecologist meat in this fine, fine production. Did I mention he goes shirtless?
I saw this film at The Salem Theater (moment of silence, please) in my hometown of Salem, MA. It was a transcendent experience, but not because of Sam Elliot, it was because of the great line, “Now you’re gonna be the Wormface!”. Absolute brilliance. By the way, just for posterity, I saw this as a double feature with “The Incredible Two-headed Transplant” (but, alas, Pat Priest of Munsters fame) did not emulate Sam Elliot and go shirtless…
There’s no horror in it but if you’re a Sam Elliott fan you should be aware of LIFEGUARD, in which he spends a fair amount of the movie in a bathing suit. I don’t respond on the same visceral level as you do but he’s a tall cool-looking drink of water and his line deliveries are quite fine in that laconic drawling way he perfected long ago. I also love the life choice that’s at the center of the movie and where he ends up when all’s said and done.