One of my favorite subgenres of horror is the "Nature Bites Back" film. This was a staple of the 1970s, when people sat up and took notice about pollution and ecology became a hip topic. The movies all followed the same basic format: Man messes with nature (via littering, pollution, bogus science) and nature's critters fight back by noshing on B-list actors.
Frogs is a shining example of the subgenre. It's a silly film that isn't the slightest bit frightening unless you have reptile/amphibian issues, but is entertaining nonetheless.
Freelance photographer Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott, nearly unrecognizable without his mustache) is canoeing along the Florida waterways, snapping photos of local critters. But the further he canoes, the more pollution he sees: beer cans, discarded toys, sewage, and so on. What he doesn't see is Iron Eyes Cody with a tear in his eye, but perhaps that footage got left on the cutting room floor.
Pickett soon ventures out onto a lake, where a speedboat swamps his canoe and tosses Pickett into the water. The speedboat is driven by Karen Crockett (astonishingly scrawny Joan Van Ark) and her brother Clint (Adam Roarke), who are there for the annual Independence Day family reunion with their grumpy patriarch (Ray Milland) and extended dysfunctional family. Karen and Clint bring Pickett back to the family mansion so he can get some dry clothes.
But it's not all ice cream and lollipops at Casa del Crockett. Papa Crockett is a tradition-bound grouch who gets upset when the grandkids are five minutes late for lunch. The place is overrun with frogs, and Grover the handyman is missing. It turns out Grover has met his end at the hands of the local critters, and soon all the island's wildlife, including snakes, spiders, geckos, snapping turtles, alligators, leeches, and butterflies will be joining forces to knock off the Crocketts.
Like most films of this type, Frogs takes a little while to get going, with chitchat that could be called "character development" if the movie had any actual characters, as opposed to critter chow. No matter, because the film's Florida setting is atmospheric and creepy, the people are unlikable enough to make us root for the critters (but not so unlikable that watching them is painful), and the actors mostly keep straight faces. The death scenes are plentiful and ridiculous in a good way, though I'm still puzzling over the Death by Spider Silly String. And of course, the baffling Snapping Turtle Incident, in which a full-grown woman somehow gets stuck in ankle-deep mud and is killed offscreen by a snapping turtle.
The most puzzling thing about Frogs is, well, the frogs. Despite the film's title and the poster art ("Today the pond! Tomorrow the world!"), the frogs don't actually do much but croak a lot, sit around, hop menacingly (did I just write that?), and jump onto the birthday cake. The implication is that the frogs are the leaders of the critter uprising, which actually makes sense (did I just write that?) seeing as how frogs are among the first creatures in an ecosystem to show the effects of pollution.
Frogs isn't without its flaws - aside from the cardboard characters and inherent silliness of the premise, there are bad day-for-night shots, obvious insertion of stock footage, and breathing corpses. But the flaws are somehow endearing.
The DVD doesn't offer much (too bad, I was really hoping a director commentary would shed light on the Snapping Turtle Incident). There are both widescreen and full-frame versions, and the transfer is a nice one - the movie never looked this good on late-night TV. The only extra of note is the theatrical trailer, which is fun and includes a scene not found in the movie.
If you've ever wanted to see lizards use poison gas to kill a man, Frogs is your film. They don't make 'em like this any more.