Movie Review: ‘Throg’

By Stacey Longo

Throg

I can promise you you’ve never seen anything quite like Throg (2004), a medieval dark comedy about an idiot who is destined to travel through time for the mere entertainment of a bunch of bored gods on Mount Olympus. Our hero, Throg himself, is a numbskull, yet he still seems to come out on top, despite the havoc that his bumbling ways wreaks.

We first meet Throg (Dana K. Lee) in a mental hospital, where he’s being tortured by Dr. Braun (Stephanie Hughes) and her demented henchman, Billy (Wayne Woodbury). Hughes showcases her stupendous overacting abilities in this role, causing one person who was watching the screening with me to whisper, “I don’t understand. Why didn’t Divine get top billing?” She’s a delight as the twisted tormenter, and makes Nurse Ratched look like a pussycat in comparison. Throg’s treatment at the mental hospital leads to a series of flashbacks, over which the major plot points of this fine film unfold.

We see Throg as a young man, at the moment when his adoptive parents abandon him. Before leaving Throg, his father (Throg the Elder, played by Dale T. Phillips) experiences a moment of tenderness. “Take this,” he says, handing his son a large stone. “It’s the rock we found you under.” This rock becomes a running gag and plot device throughout the movie.

The audience is then treated to a scene atop Mount Olympus, in which the gods decide, for fun, to each choose an avatar on Earth to represent them, and fight to the death. (Which, I’m sure, you and your friends do for giggles all the time.) There’s also a fool hanging out on Mount Olympus (missing from my Greek mythology studies, but hey, I’ll go with it in the interest of fine cinema), and he decides to insert himself into the game for his own amusement. The last avatar left alive wins (or, more accurately, the god that picked him wins). The avatars die horrific deaths one by one, until all that remain are Ares’ choice, Urshag the Destroyer, and the Fool’s avatar. That’s right: it’s poor, hapless Throg.

Over the course of the flashbacks, the audience watches Urshag pursue Throg through centuries of time, where it’s determined that Throg is neither a hero nor passably competent, but remarkably lucky. But his luck can’t hold out forever, and the Fool appears on Earth to help Throg hone his battle skills. What follows is a sidesplitting dance/music montage that makes every minute of this movie that you sat through up until this point completely worth it. Matt Power’s (who also directed, as Matthew T. Power?)  performance as the Fool is fabulously campy, and this sequence ranks up there with some of the finest Monty Python skits in its goofiness.

In the meantime, Urshag has a series of entertaining near misses in his quest to kill Throg. The flashbacks end as we see Throg’s admittance into the asylum. It turns out that when he’s confined to the mental hospital, Urshag can’t find him. This creates a bit of a quandary for the great destroyer, who finds that he’s losing his evil powers because he can’t find Throg. What’s a bad guy to do? He winds up responding to an infomercial for a complete makeover, and recreates himself as a hideous demonic clown.

While Urshag is discovering his inner John Wayne Gacy, Throg manages to escape the mental hospital, and after a “groundbreaking” (that’s the same as “bizarre,” right?) animation sequence, finds himself in modern times, working at White Meat Castle. That’s where Urshag finds him for their ultimate showdown. Action, gore, and hilarity abound as Throg and Urshag duel in a final light saber fight, which (spoiler alert!) one of them wins, quite by accident.

The movie pays homage to a wide range of cultural icons. In addition to Monty Python, you’ll spot nods to Xena: Warrior Princess, Highlander, Excalibur, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, among many, many others. (You’ll find yourself shouting out movie references frequently throughout the film. “Better Off Dead! “Empire Strikes Back!” I’m sure there’s a drinking game to be found in there somewhere.) In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I’m acquainted with Phillips, so I might be biased, but honestly, his performance as Throg the Elder is one of the best in the film. He channels his inner Shatner, delivering witty lines with such gusto that you’ll laugh out loud.

Throg actually won Best Cinematography at the 2004 Boston International Film Festival, so obviously, I’m not the only person who loved this thing. Absurd, hilarious, and silly, I can’t recommend Throg enough. It’s available now to rent or buy on Amazon. This low-budget horror/comedy/fantasy flick is absolutely worth an hour and a half of your life.


 Editor’s Note:

An interview with Throg director Matthew T. Power is here.

 

An Interview with ‘Throg’ Director Matthew T. Power

 

By Stacey Longo

 

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the release of the dark comedy, Throg, Stacey Longo caught up with director Matthew T. Power to discuss the ins and outs of what is arguably his masterpiece.Throg

SL: Matt, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I think the first thing our Throg fans will want to know is, how did Throg come to be?

MTP: At a local indie film screening we actually showed a three-minute pilot scene of Throg walking into the Sword in the Stone scene in the woods, pulling the sword out and the stone, tossing the sword away and walking off with the stone. The audience went NUTS. So we (perhaps crazily) said  . . . Throg needs to be a movie!

By the way, here’s a link to an article on Throg special effects I wrote for Moviemaker magazine: http://www.moviemaker.com/archives/moviemaking/directing/articles-directing/chromakeying-can-change-your-life-2935/

SL: Had you directed or acted in anything prior to Throg?

MTP: Well, I had directed a few plays in college, and done a lot of acting. I trained at National Shakespeare Conservatory and the University of Maine, got my degree in theater . . . and my dad is a theater professor/director who was actually pals with Kurt Vonnegut. Tony Shalhoub was one of his acting students, too. I still do acting now and then—usually Shakespeare—I played Caliban in The Tempest at the Freeport Shakespeare Festival a couple of years ago, then Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night a year later. Recently I played the lead in an Irish stage drama called Someone to Watch Over Me.

SL: Well, that explains the Shakespearean undertones in Throg! You were able to get some fabulous actors for this film—Dana Lee, Stephanie Hughes, Dale Phillips, and your own performance as the Fool were among my favorites. Where did you find your cast?

MTP: Some were just old friends like Dana and Dale, who had done medieval reenactment with me for years … others were people I met in theater school, and others were anyone we could get to wear a pig suit! My friend Dennis Green — Urshag the Destroyer, the big villain — passed away this year. He was a gentle giant and we really miss him … so gentle that we sometimes had a hard time getting him to be “scary” in the part.

SL: That’s terrible news, and I’m sorry to hear it. Urshag was certainly a memorable part! Watching the movie, one gets the sense that you were all having a lot of fun filming Throg. What was shooting like?

MTP: Well, it took us four years to shoot it, mostly on weekends, and it was often fun and we laughed a lot, though it was also very exhausting. We had no crew really, so a handful of us: Melissa Ross, Lori Power, Wayne Woodbury and myself, had to lug lights, gear, costumes and so on everywhere we went and that started to wear after about the third year. For the last shoot, we rented an airplane to shoot Throg on that island getting hit by bird crap and we “missed” when we tossed the bird crap, and had to crawl on hands & knees scraping it out. That was the last straw for some of our poor crew—we needed it to end!

SL: What was the budget for this fine movie?

MTP: We paid the whole thing out of pocket, probably a total of about $35k over the whole period, which I attribute to my being in film school. We spread out the pain, in other words.

SL: Tell us about the Boston International Film award you won for Throg.

MTP: The award we won was for Best Cinematography, and I think it was in 2004. The movie also showed at the Magic Film Festival in Maine and the Rome International Film Festival in Georgia. We sort of annoyed all the “serious” filmmakers at that last one, because Throg got a huge front page write-up in the local paper, and I kind of agree with [the other filmmakers] that the films they had there were probably more important socially and, well, just better. But I did get a laugh out of some of the curves that Throg’s very short-lived popularity threw at us. I always looked at the movie as an in-house experiment, not something I’d want to show off to the world . . . I don’t take criticism or praise too seriously; that’s a good way to lose your creative drive.

SL: I think Throg fans everywhere are dying to know: are there any plans for a sequel?

MTP: Not to the film, but I’m really interested in making an interactive graphic comic that could include clips from the movie as a special bonus . . . and I think the Throg character could continue to have many adventures and maybe eventually his own web video series of shorts.

SL: Where can people go to learn more about you/your company/the movie?

MTP: Well, right now I don’t have a Throg website or anything up that tells much about the film. I have done a lot of other short videos since then, including a comedy that won Best Comedy at the Phoenix Film Festival, if people want to see other stuff I’ve done post-Throg.

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SL: Well, Matt, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. We look forward to seeing your next endeavors, especially if they’re as enjoyable as Throg!

MTP: Thanks, Stacey.