Fear the Frogs

Frogs (1972)
"If you are squeamish stay at home!!!"

So I’m watching Frogs. After my nights in the caravan, up in Darwin, surrounded by billions of the ravenous beasties all thirsting for my blood—or at the very least, determined to slightly hamper my attempts to sleep—it seemed the thing to do. If you really want to watch this movie for yourself, if you really don’t want any spoilers, look away now… No really, read no further if you ever want to find out for yourself how this gem of cinematic excellence turns out!

Here be spoilers…

Okay, I thought those poor deluded fools would never leave! Those of you who are still with me, let me tell you about Frogs!

A family of rich white folks—along with their two black servants, and a middle-class white photographer who just happened to be in the area—gather on the island home of the family patriarch, a cranky old guy whom nobody likes but who will one day die and leave them all a lot of money if they’re nice to him. It’s the combined 4th of July / patriarchal birthday celebration, and the old guy sure does know how to party. Apparently. If sitting dourly in your wheelchair and glowering at everybody who dares to have non-scheduled fun is partying, this guy knows how! Not even the mildly unfortunate deaths of a number of his family members is gonna stop him from having a good (or bad?) time!

Death #1: This poor guy was dead before we ever saw him—and nobody really cared because he didn’t seem to be actually related. He was dead before the movie began. When he was finally discovered, face-down in a boggy puddle—several minutes after the music had warned us to expect him—he was covered in hundreds of … well, about six frogs. However, the person who discovered him—who may well be a frog sympathiser—later claimed he’d been “hit by a snake”. Number of frogs actually involved: zero.

Death #2: This guy, patriarchal grandson #1, while following the phone lines in his jeep to determine why the phones were dead, inexplicably stopped, leaped out of his vehicle, and fired his massive gun—at birds. Then, equally inexplicably, he went racing off into the undergrowth, stumbled, and shot himself in the leg. On the ground he was attacked by, um, creepers. Creepers and spiderwebs. There were spiders present—but not the sorts of spiders one normally associates with spinning webs. Actual cause of death may have been spider bite—although I’m not sure those huge tarantulas are overly venomous—but it seemed to be mostly asphyxiation. By creepers. Number of frogs involved: zero. Number of shots of frogs sitting around watching. And croaking. And hopping. Quite a few…

Death #3: The third guy, patriarchal grandson #2, was poisoned. In the greenhouse. By lizards. They pushed bottles of poison—many, many bottles of poison—off the high shelves on which they were rather foolishly stored. When his body was finally discovered, it was covered in hundreds—well, about six—of tiny, tiny geckos. Similar to the geckos which swarm through my house in great numbers (of, y’know, six or more…) Number of frogs watching—from outside the greenhouse—quite a few. Easily several. Number of frogs actually involved: zero.

Death #4: The fourth death was that of the daughter-in-law of the patriarch, an old biddy who had gone running off into the swamp in her frilly party dress, net in hand, chasing butterflies. After accidentally almost strangling herself with a piece of vine which was strung across the path—and she looked really distressed before realising that this was not her death scene and she could just step back out of the “noose”—she got well and truly off the beaten track, and was mildly startled by a trio of croaking frogs in her path, which led her to run wildly, thrashing and screaming, into the undergrowth, where she was attacked by snakes. Several of them struck at her, but missed. She next fell into a puddle full of snakes, crawled out covered in leeches, peeled them off and screamed some more, ran through more undergrowth, finally returned to the spot where she’d dropped her net, and was bitten by the snake which had taken residence when she bent to pick it up. Number of rattlesnakes living in the swamp: more than you might expect. Number of frogs on the grassy knoll: three. Number of frogs actually involved in her death: zero.

Death #5: Patriarchal son #1, husband of the fourth victim, was out wandering through the swamp looking for his wayward wife. After stumbling blindly past her corpse without seeing it, he was eaten. By alligators. Frogs involved: zero.

At this point, the photographer—perhaps slightly rattled at having discovered two bodies (one bit by a snake in the swamp, one fallen foul of a bizarre, tragic accident in the greenhouse)—is talking about abandoning the island in case this is happening everywhere, although it’s not entirely clear what he could possibly think this is. Needless to say, the patriarch wants to stay and have his grumpy-party no matter who might be dead…

The black folk want to leave, and grandson #3 takes the three of them—the maid/cook, the butler, and the gorgeous supermodel girlfriend of poisoned grandson #2—to a deserted jetty on what is presumably the mainland. “Jesse”, who apparently should have been there—and who had apparently, until very recently, been both fishing and barbecuing—was missing. As grandson #3 wanders around looking for him, the others head off into an equally undeveloped wilderness where they are attacked. By Alfred Hitchcock. No wait, that can’t be right; they are attacked by birds. Nearby, some frogs hop menacingly as the people are attacked by birds. One of them may have even croaked…

And while we don’t actually see it happen, my guess would be: birds, three; black folks, nil. Frogs: zero.

Death #6: Grandson #3, tired of looking for the missing Jesse (or is it Jessie?) returns to his boat to find it has drifted out into the river because the mooring rope has been cut clean through—apparently by a lizard. Although surely it must have been a frog that wielded the blade? We may never know. We may never want to know. The same frog (or lizard) had stolen the keys to Jesse’s (Jessie’s) boat, so grandson #3 is forced to swim out to his boat. In the water he is attacked by … you thought I’d say frogs, didn’t you? Nope, he was attacked by snakes. Well, at least one snake swam through water that may have been the same water he was in, and then his hand got all covered in blood, and he went under. Number of frogs involved: zero.

Death #7: The wife of grandson #3, having just watched all this happen through binoculars, runs down to the waters edge—in heels—and takes two steps out into the water where she promptly gets stuck. Unable (or unwilling) to simply abandon her shoes and scarper, she screams for help as she is very slowly menaced by a large turtle. Fade to blue sky as not even the producers could figure out how that death was going to happen. Number of frogs which hopped into the water afterwards: one. Number of frogs involved in the turtle-related homicide: zero.

Patriarch still wants to stay—and the inference is that anyone who leaves (by this point, there’s the granddaughter, and grandson #3’s two orphans, and the photographer) doesn’t get the inheritance… This implied threat is not enough to prevent the rest from leaving—although we’re not sure how they’re gonna get off the island without the boat.

Oh yeah, the photographer’s canoe. They’re gonna need a bigger boat!

Death #8: After the others have indeed escaped (with obligatory question mark: they got to the road, but the boy in the front seat of the car that picked them up was holding a frog…) we return to the patriarch who dies of, um, death. Anxiety-induced heart attack, would be my best guess—and there were certainly a large number of frogs in the room when he fell over, grimaced, and passed away. Actual frogs involved in his murder: zero. And while the implication is that they phoned him before they “killed” him, and apparently cut the power afterwards, my response to that is: “how could they cut the power, man? They’re animals!” Besides, it was more likely the lizards who cut the power…

Frogs sure did a lot of hopping, and croaking, and staring—but I’m not sure they actually did anything to merit being given the title of the movie!

I’d say the best reason to watch this movie is for a glimpse of Sam Elliott in a rare non-cowboy role (before he had the white stetson surgically implanted.)

IMDB: Frogs

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