I can't overstress how misleading the title Frogs is. This is a film ostensibly about killer frogs, in which the frogs don't really do any of the killing. To be fair, they are a constant presence-lurking in every shot and ribbiting their way into your nightmares. (Honestly, without amphibian reaction shots the movie would be half as long.) But a more apt title would incorporate all the other creatures that attack the environmentally-unfriendly family at the film's center. My suggestion? Frogs, But Mostly Snakes, Lizards, Spiders, Birds, Leeches, Alligators, Giant Turtles, Crabs, and Butterflies. Terrifying.
Of course, the real villains in this 1972 eco-horror flick are the humans. If they weren't stomping their carbon footprints all over the island, spraying pesticides willy-nilly, the native species wouldn't be forced to take up arms against them. The people are universally terrible, aside from our stalwart hero Smith, played by a strapping Sam Elliott. On the one hand, this makes it an awful lot easier to side with nature. On the other, why am I supposed to care if everyone dies?
The only good thing the humans do is figure out the problem quickly. Primary antagonist Jason Crockett, played by the iconic Ray Milland, declares, "I still believe man is the master of the world." In other words: poison everything. To which Smith knowingly replies, "What if nature were trying to get back at us?" He also gets points for remembering to use the subjunctive.
That having been said, my real problem with Frogs is the absurdity of it all-and I say this as someone who would have bought a film about killer frogs. Frogs on a rampage? I can accept that. Frogs banding together with every other species in the near vicinity? That's just illogical. I have a tough time with movies about animals seeking revenge-aside from genetically-enhanced primates. (What up, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.) Nature is scary enough without turtles and birds standing together against a common enemy. And when you factor in that old science-fiction stand-by radiation, there are plenty of ways to conceivably (at least in this context) make lizards bloodthirsty.
I guess this is a silly bone to pick, especially when some of the greatest animals-gone-bad horror flicks-The Birds, for example-involve creatures going apeshit on humans for no reason at all. Why am I fine with that, but not OK with the idea that spiders are actively conspiring against us? Maybe it's their tiny spider brains. Maybe I'm just disappointed that I watched a movie called Frogs and didn't get to see the titular amphibians do any damage.
OK, fine, let's move past this: I will suspend my disbelief enough to accept the island's onslaught against its douchey human inhabitants. But at least give me some creative kills. The havoc these creatures wreak is surprisingly lame-and I'm not just referring to the frogs' inaction. How do the lizards take down their prey? They purposely knock over a bunch of bottles marked poison and hotbox a greenhouse with noxious gas. For their part, the spiders slowly crawl toward their victim and then bite him. I think. It's not really clear what's going on, though his writhing O-face sends a mixed message, to say the least.
And the rest of the critters-the legitimately scary ones, like the snakes and the gators-don't unleash any special tricks. They bite, and then they're done. Which, nice going with the realism, but if you're going to present a scenario in which all of these creatures are (telepathically?) communicating in a calculated attack on the humans, why can't they be a little creative with it? As stupid as the scene of the lizards strategically knocking over poison is, at least those guys put some effort into the proceedings. I would have liked to see the natural killers think outside of the box a bit.
Now, let's return to the title, just for a moment. Why are the frogs front and center? Was this film pitched as a frogs vs. people rumble in the jungle, or were they simply forced to pick an animal and run with it? While frogs aren't inherently scary, there's a lot of material to mine there. Frogs were one of the ten plagues of Egypt. Frogs are an animal most all of us dissected in elementary school. Frogs have long been associated with witchcraft. But the movie doesn't do anything with its frogs: they just hang out, occasionally pressing against the glass door, or-in one particularly harrowing scene-hopping all over Mr. Crockett's American flag-decorated birthday cake.
OK, there was one cool frog moment. After the credits, an animated frog jumps out with a hand in its mouth, which it then swallows, loudly. It's kind of cute and kind of creepy. But it's literally the final three seconds of the movie-and thus, not worth the wait.