Film #27: Hell Comes to FRogtown
reviewed Jan 4, 2018
Today we will be reviewing “Hell Comes to Frogtown″, which stars Rowdy Roddy Piper and Sandahl Bergman
A Nuclear War, or several, has/have happened. To drive this point home we are treated to an opening scene of two "men" fighting over the relevance of a Statue of Liberty souvenir. Those who are left alive are left to face a post apocalyptic future of sterile men, a handful of fertile women, governance by splintered organizations, and a wilderness occupied by mutated amphibian "people". We meet Sam Hellman (Piper), nicknamed Sam Hell, the "Hell" of the title. He has been accused and arrested by a member of the military organization for seducing his daughter. This appears to be Sam's claim to fame wherever he goes, he is the Don Juan of the nuclear wasteland. His legendary status has drawn the attention of an all-female leadership group known as Medtech. Medtech is in charge of making sure the human race continues by finding viable male and females, and now they have found Sam Hell. Sam is told that he is to be sent on a mission to impregnate as many females as he can and that his "romances" will now be regulated by Medtech. To ensure that he does not decide to flee from his mission and to protect his "gift", he is fitted with a silvery-wrestling -thong-type chastity belt that also contains a tracking system and an electric shock.
Sam, his handler Spangle (Bergman), and and their armed escort Centinella (Cec Verrell) travel off in a pink vehicle to search the world for women. Along the journey, Spangle informs Sam of their true mission; they will be traveling beyond the border to Frogtown in order to rescue fertile women who have been captured by the mutants. There are many scenes of the three of them camping in the wasteland. In one scene, we learn it is Spangle's job to seduce to Sam with lingerie dancing to keep him fertile. In another scene Centinella puts the moves on Sam until they are caught by Spangle. "You are out of uniform!" Yet, another night finds Sam performing his "duty" with one of the captive females they find roaming dazed through the wilderness. Spangle clearly had developed feelings for Sam, as evident by her giving the couple jealous eyes in the morning.
However, the mission must go on. After sending the girl packing by herself back in the direction of the border, the 3 of them journey into Frogtown, which is basically an abandoned factory. In Frogtown, Spangle strips down into the slave attire she packed for the mission and makes Sam act as the man who is going to sell her off to a high bidding mutant. Mutants roam Frogtown a plenty, some with half human faces and clear latex mouths, others wearing full rubber frog masks. Apparently humans who hate the government also hang out in Frogtown, like Sam's old mentor Looney Toons (1950's western character actor Rory Calhoun), who has a particular rebellious need to shoot road flares as his weapon of choice. So, Looney works for a slave trading frog named Leroy. Leroy seems to have a very bored attitude towards slavery, and Spangle is taken away by the village badboy, Commander Toty (Brian Frank). Woah, I almost forgot to mention the underground contact mutant, a frog stripper named Arabella (Kristi Somers). Frogtown comes to a cinematic climax when Toty separates Hell and Spangle, something we learned from an earlier Sam escape attempt that will explode Sam's belt and destroy his apocalypse power. What follows is an "action" filled escape by Sam and Arabella that involves a lot of amphibian on amphibian violence. Meanwhile Spangle is among the captured fertile girls who are also pacifists. The girls dance around her with scarves trying to help her learn how to survive Commander Toty's dance of the 3 snakes. I would love to describe the dance, but you will need to watch it to believe it...and then convince yourself that you just watched "Hell comes to Frogtown". I won't spoil the end, but I will say these things; desert escape, Mad Max style vehicle chase, a subplot about weapons dealing, and a pseudo moral about hope in the face of hopelessness.
Obviously the first thing I would remind the reader of, is that this is pretty typical "R" rated drive in fare from the 1980s. That means there are sexual themes, more sexual themes, sexual frog ladies, and scenes of gratuitous nudity and 80s lingerie. Don't say I didn't warn you. That being said, I did not hate this movie. I mean, don't get me wrong, there is some super terrible acting and some pretty glaring plot holes, but the movie definitely finds ways to hold your attention. I even thought Roddy Piper did a pretty good job showing different types of emotion and pushing this film forward. He is the perfect kind of sarcastic, devil-may-care, 80's action hero. Much of his range is caught in his WWF Rowdy Roddy character I was used to from family nights eating pizza, drinking New Coke, and watching him battle the Junkyard Dog. However, his laughter and the gleam of anarchy in his eyes is infectious. He definitely had fun making this movie and is happy to be running through the wilderness locations.
I also wasn't put off by the rubber frog masks. The articulation of the mouths were pretty crude, but how can I criticize what is obviously similar to movies I adore like Howard the Duck and the original Teenage Ninja Turtles movie? Is the movie basically a rationale to lure audiences to a drive-in with half naked and fully naked women, rocket launcher explosions, and oddities? Absolutely! It is a movie that belongs to a certain time and place However, it got me thinking about successful apocalypse, or "lone survivor" movies. What makes a successful apocalypse movie and what makes a bad one? If you contemplate the plot of most of them, they probably sound equally as far-fetched as venturing to a town run by mutant frogs to impregnate pacifist virgins. Think about the plot of Mad Max, The Road, I am Legend, Wall-E, or even The Walking Dead. Is a lone robot left to clean up the world's trash, cannibals in pickups, or a planet filled with mutated apes any less palatable then frog men who indulge in drinking toxic waste in a nuclear wasted desert? Sure, Frogtown is not filled with A list cast members, but if you look at IMDB some of the cast have steady acting work. It does not have the most realistic story and also has a somewhat creepy need to fulfill the belief of some producer that women need to be half naked and submissive, but there is a certain "I can't look away from the collision" magnetism to the film. It is unapologetic about the type of movie it wants to be. If you are looking for a movie about post apocalyptic frogs and Roddy Piper as the last virile man in the world that doesn't take itself too seriously, then this is the movie for you. If you are looking for a movie that has lines like "Eat lead froggies!", look no further.
What this means in the larger ideas of 1988
This movie plays well into a larger collection of nuclear fallout pictures like Miracle Mile and Wargames. At the heart of this movement is the terror that many Americans felt in the 1980s about the end of the world coming at the end of a Soviet missile. The Anti Nuclear movement is portrayed in films like License to Drive and played to comically-tragic ends in music videos like Land of Confusion by Genesis. I honestly feel like the movie is being smartly subversive in being a send up of how serious films about the end of the world were taking themselves, laughing at the heavy handed message of The Day After or even Mad Max. I might even be so bold as to call it 1988's homage to Dr Strangelove, which can even be seen in the arms dealer character and his motivation for giving mutant frogs access to tanks. He comes just short of saying "Flouride". It is a Roger Kormanesque vision of how to laugh inspite of the Cold War, especially as the nation was moving past the idea of a Reagan with a nuclear itch to a Reagan who had just negotiated the INF treaty with Gorbachev. Perhaps this movie is the soft answer to the super serious message that had just been presented in Superman IV
Beyond the nuclear war stuff is the 1980s culture that is smattered all over this film. In a world that was gravitating around action stars like Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger, VanDamme, Norris , Segal, and so many others, how refreshing is it to see wrestling bad boy Rowdy Roddy Piper toss his mullet around with a hearty Errol Flynn boyishness? He bounds around the nuclear landscape in a chastity belt with such an gleeful enthusiasm, it is hard not to root for him, even when he is at his most slimy. Piper was the chief villian in the WWF, a loud-mouth in a kilt pointing his finger at Hulk, showing up in action figure lines, WWF's album, and the cartoon series. Secretly, wasn't it always more fun to be Rowdy Roddy Piper on the playground then any of the "good guys"?
This movie can also help us understand the waning days of the drive in movie. There was a time when cable was new, and studios were trying to drain the last bit of blood out of the midnight feature. These movies were chalk full of oddities, gore, scantily dressed women who naively ran toward the danger, and neanderthalic men who defied social grace. There was very little main stream appreciation for these films, but all of that would change with the marketing of camp on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and USA Up all Night. The idea of the cult classic was easier to spread with VHS and cable. The trade off was the closing of our nation's drive ins to the point where very few still exist. A picture like this is the perfect vehicle to understanding that culture.
Cannot find a 1988 review of this film