Retro Flashback presents: Hell Comes To Frogtown

Retro Flashback presents: Hell Comes To Frogtown 


Welcome to Retro Flashback. Today we take a trip into a post-apocalyptic future as seen by low-budget filmmakers in the late eighties. Our study will begin with the creator of Frogtown, Donald G. Jackson, and his unique vision of filmmaking. We will also study the career of Frogtown's leading man, the late great Roddy Piper. Hell Comes To Frogtown may not be a particularly good film, but does it still warrant a place in your genre education? Lets dive into the ballad of Commander Toty.

In the beginning...

Donald G. Jackson was born in Mississippi but grew up in Michigan. He worked at an automotive factory where he met his friend and future co-director Jerry Younkins. The two of them had a plan to make a feature film but could not put together any funds. Fate then stepped in. Jerry got into an accident at work that left him without a few fingers. The insurance check came through and they were in business. With Jerry's finger money, they began working on The Demon Lover (1977). The Demon Lover featured Gunner Hanson as Professor Peckinpah – are these two references in one: Leatherface as legendary filmmaker? The film became their calling card. Though it was not great cinema, it showcased what these men could do with little money. This would be the slogan of Jackson's career. He would eventually become known as the Ed Wood of the video age.

What Jackson lacked in abilities as a filmmaker, he made up for it in his ultimate hands on approach. On any one of his features you see him as director, producer, editor, cinematographer, writer, special effects artist, composer, and costume designer. A true jack of all trades and a master of none. He worked on other films as well. He did additional camerawork on Class Of Nuke Em' High 2 and a lesser known film The Terminator. His second film, Roller Blade, featured a dystopian society where rebels refute their government and rely on the assistance of roller-skating nuns. He made money with no budget, so his distribution company gave him carte blanche for whatever feature he wanted to shoot. And Hell Comes To Frogtown oozed forth into existence. We'll get to Hell in a moment, but before we get there, the real saga for Jackson began after Frogtown.

Jackson met Scott Shaw not long after Frogtown was released. They became fast friends. Scott had interesting ideas about filmmaking and recruited Jackson to help. The two of them came up with the term Zen Filmmaking and set out to create videos based on tenants they invented. They would make movies based on intuition, not scripts. Instead of building sets, they would travel to locations. They would let the moment lead the action.
“In Zen Filmmaking there are no rules and no definitions. The spontaneous creative energy of the filmmaker is the only defining factor. This allows for a spiritually pure source of immediate inspiration to be the only guide in the filmmaking process.” -From zenfilmmaking.com
Needless to say, the quality of the films that Jackson made after his enlightenment made Hell Comes To Frogtown look like a Fellini film. “In Zen Filmmaking nothing is desired and thus, all out-comes are perfect.” Are you sure about that? Shaw and Jackson both agree that their style of filmmaking came before Dogme-95 and mumblecore. They also agree that in no way were they inspired by Cinema Verite. If you see any of these Zen films, you'll agree that labeling him the Ed Wood of the video age is the perfect description. Frogtown actually spawned some zen sequels. The closest I'll get to them is their trailers, which make Mighty Morphin Power Rangers look like high art.

What are we here to discuss?

Oh yes, Hell Comes To Frogtown, that cinematic gem resting at the bottom of a collapsed mine that should be forgotten. There are some who believe Frogtown is perfect trash cinema and there are others that wouldn't even watch it on USA Up All Night. Let's keep in mind we are in the low-budget realm of the late eighties. A new form of exploitation was beginning to boom. This was a time when videostores were king and they needed to line their shelves with anything they could get their greasy hands on. The bad movie took on a whole new life. Films like Cannibal Women In The Avocado Jungle Of Death, Sorority Babes At The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, and Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshells gained popularity during this video market heyday. Given the climate of the time, Hell Comes To Frogtown is not as outlandish as it may seem at first. Or is it?

What is it about?

We are given an introduction into this gloomy future by a disembodied narrator. She tells us that the war was supposed to unleash a few nuclear weapons. Once the smoke cleared the leaders of remaining nations were to then meet and hash out their differences. Unfortunately, one bomb led to many, and the result was total destruction. After the devastation of man/womankind the only formidable government that exists is populated by warrior nurses known collectively as MedTech.

Enter Sam Hell (The late great Roddy Piper), fertilizer extraordinaire. His seaman is legend. When we meet Roddy Piper's character he is being tortured by William Smith's Captain Devlin. Smith is known best as Conan The Barbarian's daddy. He can also be seen in Maniac Cop and Red Dawn, before he went on to suffer in the tragedy of Zen Filmmaking. Captain Devlin is upset at our protagonist for raping his daughter. Wait what? Why is this piece of shit our protagonist? MedTech rushes in and saves the rapist. They say that the captain's daughter has retracted her accusations in light of getting pregnant from the assault. This is just how important re-populating the Earth is, they hire convicted men without morals to provide the seeds of future generations. Few women are fertile and even fewer men are potent, so anyone meeting those requirements becomes government property. Hell's junk is locked in an explosive chastity belt. If he gets out of line or tries to escape, they can electrocute him or blow off his penis. A fitting end. At this point in the film, I'm hoping there's accidental castration somewhere in the plot - you know, for irony / punishment.

Enough backstory... 

Dr. Spangle, played by Conan The Barbarian's love interest Sandahl Bergman, leads a rescue mission to save fertile women that have been kidnapped in the wasteland. Spangle along with Centinella (Hollywood Vice Squad's Cec Verrell) and Hell must outwit the overlord of Frogtown. The town is an industrial waste site inhabited by mutant frog hybrids. The leader of the mutant reservation is Commander Toty. Frogtown is referred to as a reservation in an attempt at social commentary. The by-product of war has produced these mutants and as a way of removing them from social consciousness, the government has round them all up and placed them in a ghetto. Before making their way to the titular city, our group finds a fertile woman wandering in the dessert. It is up to Sam to impregnate her. The woman is bound and gagged, injected with an ovulation serum, and Hell is forced upon her.
“Well maybe you outta try making love to a complete stranger in the middle of hostile mutant territory, see how you like it.”
Sam has trouble finding the inspiration to rape the girl. Another, WTF moment that doesn't age this film well. Luckily, Dr. Spangle has been trained in seduction techniques. This may come in handy later, it may be something we want to remember. The next morning the woman is in love with Hell. His sperm is magical. Finally, they get to Frogtown and we get to see the frog people we were promised. We haven't seen a single frog person yet, come on movie.

Our first encounter with the mutants shows us a robust frog stripper, who just so happens to be their inside informant. While at the bar they meet a character from Hell's past, Looney Toons. At last, Night Of The Lepus' Rory Calhoun. What a treat for us. To pass as something considered normal in Helltown, Hell tries to barter ownership of Dr. Spangle - as if she is his slave - but is interrupted by Toty's right hand man, Bull. Yes, with a stretch of the imagination you can see where they got the inspiration for the name Bull. He takes Spangle off to meet Toty, but before leaving her with the fertile women of the commander's harum, he lets out the famous line, “Shut your HOOOOOOOLE!” Bull's over-the-top acting only gets worse from there. If nothing else, please search that scene on youtube, it is the absolute best.

Gaston Bussière - Dance of the Seven Veils (1925)
“The dance of the three snakes,” what could that be? I'm gonna bet, with the caliber of this film, it's gotta be a real high-brow reference to Strauss' Salome. Spangle is told about this dance, and that she better feel passionate prior to performing. Or else, she could end up dead. The ladies of the harem perform a sexual scarf ritual that makes Spangle feel the passion only a piece of cloth can provide. In the meantime, Hell has been captured. Bull uses a chainsaw to cut off his chastity belt and it explodes in his webbed hands. Hell is free and he comes to the rescue, but first, what are the three snakes? Oh, here we go, Spangle does Salome for the 'king.' Oh, the three snakes are Commander Toty's three penises of course. Spangle has aroused all of his amphibian tallywackers by using her “seduction techniques” - I knew that was an important fact to remember. Hell and Spangle have a moving moment of character backstory way too late in the film to matter. We find out that Hell's daughter died in a sentimental exchange:

Spangle: The war was a long time ago.
Hell: Not for me
Back to the film, they free the girls and get out of Frogtown. All is going well and everyone is full of hubris: “I told you my plan would work.” Then people die, Toty chases them, some random masked villain is unmasked, late-in-the-game exposition that doesn't matter, Hell kills Toty and the guy from the beginning of the film we forgot about, and Hell rides off with Spangle and the fertile ladies. When Spangle informs him that he'll have to have sex with the vixens, he replies smugly with, “A soldier's work is never done.” And that is how you end this film with class.

Roddy Piper

The one and only “Rowdy” Roddy Piper took this job as a way of breaking into acting. Luckily, Carpenter hired Piper before this film was released or maybe we may have never had Nada. That's not a double negative, Nada is Piper's name in They Live. His acting career never really took off, but he continued to show up in the ring. Though he wrestled between 1973 and 1987, he'll always be one of the most famous villains of the WWF. Piper was Scottish Canadian, which set him apart from - - everyone else in the world. His long running feud with Hulk Hogan made him notoriously famous. He was even given his own show, Piper's Pit, where he congratulated the bad guys of wrestling. Aside from his wrestling career, he will always be known in the horror community as the guy who, “...came to chew bubblegum and kick some ass,” and have the longest true on-screen fight with another actor. We salute you Roddy Piper.
“Just when they think they know all the answers, I change the questions.”
- Roddy Piper

How does it rate:

Provided you contextualize the era in which Frogtown was released, it is still difficult to see any merit this film may have. Some argue that it is a fun cult classic, but to me there are not enough cult-y elements to make that case. In the category of eighties low-budget exploitation films, this one still lacks the excitement that any of the Troma films have – nudity, gross-outs, and innovative practical effects. No to step on Joe Bob Briggs’ shoes, but Frogtown only includes one pair of breasts. I only bring it up because the B plot is about fertilizing women. It is as though they set out to make the tamest exploitation film ever. Also, these films were known for gratuitous violence and gore – neither are present here. Even if we side with the psuedo feminism portrayed via a worrior-nurse government, the lead actress still falls for a rapist. Exploitation can be fun and filled with social commentary. Independent and low-budget horror films can be truly innovative. Hell Comes To Frogtown misses all of the golden opportunities it could have had. It is my unfortunate duty to say this film is only for those scraping the bottom.

Here's a breakdown of the categories:

 True Landmark
Absolutely essential.
Certified Geek
For a more seasoned viewer.
Esoteric Necessity
Difficult to find, but worth the search.
PHD
You may begin prescribing horror.
Masters Degree
Cult cinema for higher education.
Bachelor's Degree
Horror snobs begin here.
Associate's Degree
Shot well with a few scares.
Trade School Certificate
One or two learning moments.
Copycat Junk
There's no point.
Scraping The Bottom
When there's nothing else.

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