‘Frogs’ (1972) Review

Fear Flashback is a semi-regular review column of classic (and not-so-classic) horror movies and TV shows.


“The frogs are thinking now, the snails are planning strategy…”

I wanted to pick a 4th of July themed horror movie for this Fear Friday, but there aren’t any. I mean, there are plenty that take place on or about the 4th – Jaws, Return of the Living Dead, The Bay, I Know What You Did Last Summer, etc. There are patriotic horror movies, like Uncle Sam and… uh. Well, Uncle Sam. Independence Day isn’t a horror film, despite the aliens. In the end I decided 4th of July adjacent would have to do, and that’s how I ended up with Frogs.

Frogs is the movie that started my love of the ‘animal attack’ genre. I watched this back to back with the original Piranha and the combo worked some kind of strange magic on me, leading me into dark waters that include films like Squirm, Grizzly and Slugs. I haven’t re-watched Frogs since that first showing, and I’m looking forward to it!

The Medium
I’ve got a double-bill blu-ray of Frogs and Food of the Gods from Scream Factory. The picture is substantially better than it was on my old DVD copy, but it’s still low-budget 70’s stuff. The most shocking visual in the movie remains Sam Elliot without facial hair, and this is only slightly enhanced by high def. The extras are nothing to write home about, with an interview with Joan Van Ark being the highlight.

The Movie
First thing you need to know: there are no giant man-eating frogs in Frogs. Curse you movie poster, you lying bastard! At least Night of the Lepus had giant rabbits. What it does have is a shirtless Sam Elliott, a pre-Dallas Joan Van Ark and  The Man With the X-Ray Eyes himself, Ray Milland. And frogs, lots of cute, hoppy little frogs (and toads).


The filmmakers do their best to make the frogs look menacing. Lots of closeups, shots of frogs banging on the glass (don’t ask) and the only people who actually hold frogs are children, making them appear larger than they are (the frogs, not the children). But in the end the problem is that they’re just frogs (and toads). Not even poisonous frogs. And they don’t kill anybody!

Seriously. Why name your movie after the one creature in it that doesn’t kill something?

The plot, such as it is: nature photographer Pickett Smith (Elliot) gets swamped by a power boat while shooting an ecology layout for a magazine. He’s picked up by the boaters and Karen (Van Arc) insists he join the family gathering on the island he’s been canoeing around.  There he meets the patriarch, Jason Crockett (Milland) and ends up staying the night when it turns out the phone lines are down. Frogs attack. Everyone dies.


Wait. No, that’s not how it goes.

We’ve got this severely dysfunctional southern family run with an iron fist by Jason. The wheelchair-bound old man is referred to as ‘grandpa’ by almost everyone and is a bit of a dick. As the shit hits the fan he keeps alienating everyone around him and insists on having his birthday go on as originally planned (on the 4th of July, giving me my excuse to rewatch). The man even insists the family sit down to dinner at a table he’s just splattered snake all over.

While all sorts of proto-Dallas nonsense goes on at the Crockett estate, the wildlife on the island is getting pissed. Jason asks Pickett to go look for a handyman who was supposed to be spraying poison to control the frogs. Pickett finds his snake-bitten corpse in the swamp. Then some lizards knock over a bunch of chemicals and asphyxiate one of the Crockett men. Another shoots himself in the leg and gets covered by tree moss – er, spider webs. A dotty aunt goes looking for butterflies and winds up covered in leeches and bitten by a rattlesnake. The uncle sent to look for her ends up wrestling a tired-looking alligator for a while – I think he drowns, because there’s no way the ‘gator kills him. Especially not with its mouth wrapped in electrical tape like that.


This time around I was also struck by the death of the dotty aunt. Everyone else dies fairly quickly, but her demise – eventually by rattle snake bite – is so extended and ugly (for a PG movie) that it feels mean spirited. Like the director really didn’t like the actress or something.

I guess you could make the case that the frogs are coordinating everything. They’re present at every death and they sometimes seem to hop away in satisfaction after a human has gone down. I dunno, maybe I’m reading too much into amphibian movement. Maybe they’re all just versions of the Watcher from Marvel Comics – doomed to observe, but never interfere.


Frogs is one of those ecological horror movies that seemed to abound in the 70’s. The animals are attacking because of all the pollution. Jason seems involved with that – maybe just because of all the spraying he orders. There is some evidence that the attacks are not just restricted to the island, as people who leave are attacked by birds (hey, maybe this is just what happened to other people on the same day as the Hitchcock movie takes place!). In some ways this movie reminds me of that M. Night Shamalan movie The Happening – except that Frogs is a lot better. Even frogs are better monsters than trees.

The thing is, this could almost be a good movie! A believable monster, some more gore, and it might have been a nice little b-picture. As it is, it’s bad enough to edge into being fun. The actors play it completely straight and have awful, hammy death scenes. The producers used real animals wherever possible, but tried to make sure they weren’t hurt – so we get such howlers as Pickett whaling away at… well, nothing but empty water while the film cuts back to shots of water snakes. The only death where frogs seem to be directly involved has the character basically having a heart attack because the damn things are so loud. You can almost see them high-fiving each other as they hop on his corpse, “Dude, we made him croak!”



The Bottom Line
Frogs is pretty corny low-budget ridiculousness, but that’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had. The characters are cookie-cutter and their interactions the definition of melodrama, but some of the deaths are fun and there are hints of a larger story going on in the world outside. I like imagining this is someone’s idea of a followup/extension to The Birds. Elliot and Milland are always enjoyable to watch. And despite the lack of killer title animals it’s way more fun than Night of the Lepus.

The last thing I want to say about Frogs is that it tickles me in a unique way. I sometimes imagine the same actors in different roles as being the same character. For instance – in my head, the captain of the boat in Anaconda is what happened to Ed from Deliverance (both being played by Jon Voight). So, in my mind, Pickett is the young version of the character Sam Eliott plays in Roadhouse. This makes me laugh.

Author: Bob Cram

Would like to be mysterious but is instead, at best, slightly ambiguous.