MGM Studios DVD presents
"Frogs attacking windows, snakes in chandeliers. These aren't exactly normal things, Mr. Crockett"- Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott)
Stars: Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan van Ark, Adam Roarke
Other Stars: Judy Pace, Lynn Borden, Mae Mercer, David Gilliam, Nicholas Cortland
Director: George McCowan
Manufacturer: Sunset Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: PG for (violence, mild language)
Run Time: 01h:30m:01s
Release Date: 2000-09-19
DVD ReviewI remember being transfixed back in 1972 by the amazing poster for the movie Frogs, with its enormous frog, complete with human hand protruding from its mouth. The movie didn't quite measure up to the poster, even then. Now on MGM's new DVD release of this weird little film, the PR folks have determined that the mesmerizing poster can be relegated to a little picture on the back, and that they'll sell more copies with a butt-ugly graphic of various body parts and reptiles and a rearranged version of the original graphic. I'm not sure I agree on the marketing strategy, but the movie itself holds up surprisingly well.
Frogs, not surprisingly, bears more than a few similarities to Hitchcock's The Birds. Once again, nature is on the attack, apparently in retaliation for man's abuse of the environment, although this link is much more apparent in this later film. Frogs opens with Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott) paddling his canoe around a swamp, taking photos of toxins and raw sewage pouring into the water. He is dunked by the drunken Clint Crockett (Adam Roarke), who speeds by in his motorboat, along with his sister Karen (Joan Van Ark). Karen insists that Smith join the family at their retreat in the swamp to get dry and join in their Independence Day festivities.
At first this feels like a setup for 2000 Maniacs, especially when we meet crotchety old Crockett patriarch Jason (Ray Milland, a long ways from Lost Weekend). Soon we learn that Grover, a laborer hasn't returned from his task of spraying insecticides in the swamp to help control the bugs and the frogs. Before long, of course, all hell breaks loose as frogs, snakes, spiders, birds, a gigantic snapping turtle and all the other swamp fauna lays siege to the house and eliminates anyone who dares venture out.
While there are plenty of icky creepy-crawlies assaulting the cast, the gore is restrained and almost entirely happens off-camera (no doubt a requirement of the low-budget origins of the film). This helps make the tension more effective, although sometimes victims seem to just be screaming and thrashing at nothing in particular. More care could have been given to the script. The cast seems not to notice that characters seem to be disappearing one by one, and the stubbornness of Milland's character seems downright self-destructive. The participants are almost willfully stupid in this film, although at least Clint has his drunkenness as an excuse. One place that Frogs has it over the Hitchcock classic is that there's actually an ending instead of the movie just stopping abruptly.
Probably the most effective part of the film is Les Baxter's subtle and highly disturbing score; full of dissonances and the musical equivalent of swamp noises, it magnifies the suspense and tension of the film significantly. There were apparently some serious problems shooting on the water, since the movie is constantly going in and out of focus during these segments. After a while, one starts to feel a little seasick. The montage near the end of the film, of Jason's hunting trophies glaring at him accusingly, with their glassy eyes, is in particular well done and raises the hackles nicely.
Overall, a surprisingly effective little shocker, although the script has its problems.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes||no|
Image Transfer Review: MGM does a very nice job on the image of this film, giving us a new 16:9 anamorphic transfer. Artifacting is minimal, even in foggy and dark sequences, with very good blacks and excellent color. Shadow detail is very good. The occasional loss of focus is clearly a problem of the source materials. Frame damage and speckling are few and far between, although there a couple irritating frame jumps that should have been remedied.
The full-screen side of the disc is an open-matte presentation which, while disrupting the compositions, at least does not lose significant amounts of picture information.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Both an English and Spanish 2.0 mono track are included on the disc. Dialogue is clear, and Baxter's music comes through without distortion. Hiss is barely perceptible. While the original track should always be included, I can't help but feel that this film, with all its swamp noises, would have made for a terrific 5.1 remix. But as it is, the audio is perfectly satisfactory.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: All we get is a trailer, in fairly poor shape. The chaptering is very good, and there are French and Spanish subtitles. But MGM, why no English subtitles? If there's both a Spanish track and Spanish subtitles, shouldn't English speakers get the same consideration?
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsPETA members will probably enjoy this film; although they will be upset by the number of animals that are killed in the process, in the big picture the animals get even quite nicely. A surprisingly chilling variant on The Birds, except with an ending, given a very pleasing transfer by MGM, considering this is a fairly minor catalog title. Worth a rental.
Mark Zimmer 2000-09-17