Very recently, I introduced my awesomely curious girlfriend to the hostile wastelands of the original Mad Max Trilogy (1979-1981-1985) and, after falling in love with ‘Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) all over again, I became curious about other science fiction flicks that took inspiration from (or directly ripped off) THAT well-constructed (and ballsy!) Australian franchise.
Among the flicks I pondered, one bizarre title (stemming from my days as an ’80’s’ kid wandering around the local VIDEO store, while taking in all the gnarly box art), sprang to mind. ‘Hell Comes to Frogtown’. If for no other reason…THAT name alone should be worth a couple hours of your time…just to say you saw it.
The story goes like this:
Taking it’s cue from the 1980’s post-apocalypse craze (rooted in the understandable Cold War paranoia of the day), this flick tells the story of an immature, but beefy drifter/criminal named ‘Sam Hellman’ (Roddy Piper), who is finally captured by the authorities for various past trespasses. However, Hellman’s incarceration comes to the high-powered attention of the federal medical authority, and he is quickly whisked away. “Why is he whisked away?”– you ask. Well, it turns out that ole Sammy Boy is carrying around a ‘gun’ loaded with some of the most potent ‘ammo’ the female-controlled Med Techs have ever seen. Therefore, it’s determined that his criminal history will be completely forgiven…on the condition that he sneaks into Restricted Mutant Territory to rescue 5 fertile woman being held captive by a local mutant war-lord…and then knock em up!! Yep, those are the man’s orders. Seeing very little choice (and having stupidly signed a contract without reading it first), he is outfitted with an explosive jock-strap that is proximity-wired to his ‘handler’, ‘Spangle’ (the sexy Sandahl Bergman). Along with a tomboyish sex pot named Centinella (Cec Verrell); a chick who seems to have a fetishistic fascination with her M-60 machine gun, ‘Hellman’ and ‘Spangle’ head out into The Wasteland to carry out the mission, driving a silly pink truck. After a chance encounter with an escaped ‘fertile’ (whom ‘Hellman’ eventually sexes up, after a stimulating strip tease from ‘Spangle’), they enter Frogtown, with ‘Hellman’ posing as a flesh peddler, with ‘Spangle’ as the merchandise. From there, they meet various allies and villains, eventually springing the 5 ‘fertiles’ and ‘boss fighting’ the targeted war lord ‘Commander Toty’ and his amphibian minions.
The tone of this strange flick reminded me of a couple other Mad Max knock-offs, ‘Cherry 2000’ (1987) and ‘Tank Girl’ (1995). Where ‘Mad Max’ (1979) and ‘The Road Warrior’ (1981) carried a certain ‘savagery’ to their ‘flavor’, these ones floated along on a layer of flat-out absurdity.
This one mixes that absurdity with a noticeable dose of adolescent sexual perversion and innuendo. Having said that though, this one was also a little scatter-shot in it’s tone.
There was numerous times where they came close to The Line, but never seemed to fully commit. If you’re going to be weird and fucked-up, just go hard. Given the overall nature of the twisted story, these filmmakers shouldn’t have merely ‘toe’d the ‘R’ rating. Go for the gold, guys!!! Many times, it felt like they were playing it too safe.
That being said, I think ‘Hell Comes to Frogtown’ could’ve greatly benefited from some more sick and violent shit in it’s content. It feels like it should be a proudly crass ‘grindhouse’ flick, but it suffer’s from the potential ‘rot’ being ‘watered’ down. We’re talking about giant mutant Man-Frogs (the make-up is actually a little unnerving and icky, for some reason) that purchase human women for sex in a ravaged, nuclear holocaust wasteland (that again looks like an abandoned industrial district somewhere in the American midwest). Seriously, the suggested bestiality is blatantly held aloft as part of the narrative. Just check out the ‘Dance of the 3 Snakes’ scene! Perverted and weird…but not enough.
Which brings me to my next complaint…the violence. Given how repugnant these mutant amphibian bastards are, many of them deserved ghastly deaths…which they don’t get!! It’s mostly the ‘*gunshot*-spins-clutches chest-falls down’ variety. I would’ve loved it if ‘Sam Hellman’ had just lost his shit, and went on a kill-crazy rampage (‘Meet The Feebles’ style!) through Frogtown with his two pump-action 12 gauges, splattering uppity swamp creatures all over nearby surfaces! I wanted squibs!! I want exploding Man-Frogs!! I have no idea why I’m SO hung up on the chances that the filmmakers SHOULD’VE taken…but I am, damn it!
Roddy Piper wasn’t an Oscar-calibre actor in this…but he was funny, with a boyish charm that helped carry his awkward line readings along. This was still in the days when he was transitioning from the WWF ring to the lower budget tier of Hollywood. In THAT capacity, he was perfectly serviceable as ‘Hellman’. I still would’ve like to have seen his character be ‘let off the chain’, to wreak gory havoc through the nuclear mutant ranks. As the key female protagonist, Sandahl Bergman was fun. I had a ‘thing’ for her, in my youth, after seeing her as ‘Valeria’ in ‘Conan The Barbarian’ (1982), and this one reminded me of how sexy I used to find her (right around the time my voice and balls began to drop). Her character’s hipster glasses helped (I dig the Sexy Librarian look). The rest of the cast did what needed to be done.
One thing that I mentioned a little earlier was the make-up for the frogs. For a micro-budgeted genre flick, some work DID go into certain elements. The frogs looked slimy and potentially infectious. That’s the impression I’m left with. Slimy filth. And that’s great, as that’s what the repellent creatures are supposed to be. I just wish that a bit more of that effort also carried over to how many of the creatures were ‘dispatched’.
Some of the cinematography surprised me. Much like the make-up, it seemed as though at least an iota of care went into it. There’s a lot of ‘long lens’ work here, and it went a long way to help accent the limited locations.
All in all, ‘Hell Comes to Frogtown’ is a bizarre little flick that probably shouldn’t exist, given how absurd the idea is. But somehow, here it is. And it’s fun for what it is. I just think it could’ve been better had the perverse and violent aspects been ‘pushed’, had it fully embraced it’s ‘grindhouse’ pedigree and went full-bore with it. It’s worth seeing for the novelty…especially if friends, beers and/or herbal pharmaceuticals are in the audience. Just saying.