By Jason Harris
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.
An interview with Throg director Matthew T. Power is here.