CAPSULE: HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN (1988)

DIRECTED BY:  Donald G. Jackson, R.J. Kizer

FEATURING: Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, Cec Verrell, William Smith,

PLOT: After a nuclear apocalypse Sam Hell, one of the few remaining virile men on earth, goes into a town ruled by mutant frogs to rescue a harem of fertile women.

Still from Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Frogtown‘s most memorable quote is “you are one weird dude!,” spoken by a frog man who is about to cut off a wastelander’s futuristic chastity belt with a chainsaw. It just goes to show that “weird” is subjective, based on what you’re used to encountering in daily life. Although this charmingly stupid post-apocalyptic flick has a goofy mutant premise, we’re so besotted in bizarre pictures that we can’t honestly say “this is one weird movie!”

COMMENTS: No matter what you think about Hell Comes to Frogtown‘s quality, you cannot deny that the film delivers exactly what the title promises: it’s about a man named Hell who goes to Frogtown, which, as the name implies, is a town populated by frogs. The absurd premise disguises a by-the-numbers action plot, but the script throws in a few additional entertaining eccentricities. The first is Sam Hell himself, played by the affable “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in his debut film. Piper plays the archetypal reluctant hero more as a frat boy jonesin’ for a kegger than a dangerous rogue. Until the final act, the filmmakers don’t take advantage of his wrestler’s physique or athleticism; through the first half of the movie he keeps his shirt on and does nothing at all that’s remotely heroic or even physically imposing. He doesn’t even get into his first scrape until the 45 minute mark, when he’s coldcocked by a single punch—to the breadbasket. Further, Frogtown‘s biggest running joke is that studly Hell, the world’s most fertile man alive who can sleep with any woman in the wasteland, is never in the mood for love because his potential mates are either too aggressive, or too amphibious. There is a surprising amount of bondage imagery: Hell is outfitted with an electroshock chastity belt, to control his behavior and protect his precious seed. He gets to turn the tables on his at captor and putative love interest, voluptuous Spangle (Sandahl Bergman), in a role-playing session where she goes undercover as his slave girl, dressed in trashy black lingerie and a dog collar. Never has the mutual bondage inherent in romance been so elegantly allegorized in a mutant frog movie. As outlaws go, Hell is as nonthreatening a regular guy as you could imagine. But so much for Hell; what about the movie’s star attraction: Frogtown? It as, as stated, a town (actually an abandoned oil refinery, with all the action taking place inside warehouse-like interiors) inhabited entirely by mutant frog people. There are sexy stripper frogs, trader frogs in fezzes, chainsaw-wielding frogs. The toad masks are inevitably silly-looking, but actually effective; in the murky interiors, where we can’t really study their latex textures, they appear genuinely slimy. Kudos to the makeup department for just barely putting this over, using obviously limited resources. The rest follows standard action movie tropes, with (for the most part) reasonable budget execution of stock fight scenes. Of course, the entire rescue mission makes no sense on multiple levels: Hell and Spangle simply march into Frogtown with no obvious plan to rescue the captive women; and, if the world’s studliest remaining man is so valuable, why would you risk him on a dangerous infiltration? Don’t think twice about these things, though, as the script clearly doesn’t. What makes Frogtown work is that it toes a fine line of camp. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but neither does it apologize for asking us suspend our disbelief on something so ridiculous. It plays out its post-apocalyptic harem scenario as if it took place in a real alternate world, keeping the fourth wall intact. Frogtown is every thirteen-year-old boy’s ultimate fantasy: it’s like a summer vacation full of adventures, girls, and occasional frog-gigging. If you’re a thirteen-year-old boy, it’s the awesomest movie ever made; if you’re not, you may still find enough good-natured ridiculousness to keep you watching until the happy ending.

Donald G. Jackson made Roller Blade (an even more bizarre flick about futuristic roller skating nuns) in 1986 for under $100,000, and it grossed over $1 million at drive-ins. This success convinced New World Pictures to allow Jackson to tackle a more ambitious project, but they were nervous about handing the neophyte auteur a million dollar budget, and insisted on a co-director for insurance purposes. R.J. Kizer came from a sound design background and had shot some second-unit footage for Godzilla 1985. According to Jackson on the DVD commentary, Kizer had little creative input in the production.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film has a clear eye for the absurdities of its own plot without fully rupturing the envelope of credibility…”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review

(This movie was nominated for review by Royce. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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