Don’t write off all revenge-of-nature cycle of hor­ror films from the ‘70s as pure camp. While films like The Giant Spider Invasion and Empire Of The Ants might encour­age such a def­i­n­i­tion, a detailed explo­ration of this sub­gen­re will reveal a small but potent core of films that remain effec­tive creep­fests. Sometimes they even offer a lit­tle food for thought amid­st the car­nage of mankind’s down­fall. One of the ear­li­est and best films in this vein is Frogs, a clev­er lit­tle film that goes after you at the pri­mal lev­el.

Frogs-posFrogs begins with pro­tag­o­nist Pickett (Sam Elliott) get­ting his canoe bumped over by an errant speed­boat while get­ting pho­tographs of pol­lu­tion for a nature mag­a­zine. Said boat belongs to play­boy Clint (Adam Roarke) and his sis­ter Karen (Joan Van Ark). They take him to dry land, where it is revealed they are attend­ing a birth­day gath­er­ing for patriarch/industrialist Jason Crockett (Ray Milland). Unfortunately, the ani­mals in the sur­round­ing swamp have a dif­fer­ent idea for the par­ty guests and start pick­ing off their ranks as Pickett tries to fig­ure a way out of nature’s revenge plot.

DespiFrogs-01te the title and mis­lead­ing ad cam­paign, Frogs doesn’t fea­ture any mon­ster-sized amphib­ians nor does it go for campy hor­ror. The script by Robert Hutchison and Robert Blees is much more sub­tle, let­ting the hor­ror gen­tly build as we meet the well-to-do char­ac­ters through Pickett’s eyes. A sub­tle kind of alle­go­ry is set up with the wealthy fam­i­ly stand­ing in for the rest of mankind as they are revealed to either be indif­fer­ent to the suf­fer­ing they inflict on nature or too pre­oc­cu­pied with their own prob­lems to notice what is going on. To the script’s cred­it, none are por­trayed as evil despite their flaws and this makes the hor­ror to come all the more potent.

Once nature starts to make its lethal inten­tion felts, Frogs shows a can­ny under­stand­ing of hor­ror film mechan­ics. Its pow­er lies in pre­sent­ing nature as a piti­less force that sim­ply allows the pow­er­ful to over­take the weak — and see­ing the­se flawed but decent char­ac­ters bru­tal­ly toyed with is Frogs-02unnerv­ing. A sequence where the most hap­less, comic-relief mem­ber of the fam­i­ly is attacked dur­ing a but­ter­fly hunt is par­tic­u­lar­ly mem­o­rable, play­ing on the audience’s worst fears of get­ting on the wrong side of a swamp’s creepy-crawly denizens (frogs are just the van­guard — snakes and sev­er­al kinds of lizards also play a big role in the attacks). It nev­er lets up — even the coda goes for the viewer’s throat.

Frogs-03Director George McCowan directs the film in a sim­i­lar­ly piti­less way, slow­ly ratch­et­ing up ten­sion to qui­et­ly unnerve the audi­ence and let­ting nature’s revenge tac­tics play out with­out overt com­ment or judg­ment. The use of a creepy avant-syn­th score from Les Baxter plays up the film’s chilly vibe, as does excel­lent, atmos­pher­ic cin­e­matog­ra­phy from Mario Tosi that cap­tures the creepy, cru­el side of the great out­doors. The cast is also quite good: Elliott shows ear­ly prowess as a lead­ing man, Van Ark is a charm­ing love inter­est and Roarke is amus­ing­ly smarmy as a hard-drink­ing, over­grown rich kid. Best of all, Milland steals all his sce­nes as the patri­arch, using his abil­i­ty to con­vey dis­dain to make a con­vinc­ing sym­bol of man’s indif­fer­ence to nature.

FoodFrogs-bluIn short, Frogs is one of the best films of ‘70s revenge-of-nature cycle and a film whose skill­ful, grim approach to its sub­gen­re will linger in the mem­o­ry well after the cred­it crawl.

Blu-Ray Notes: This title is now avail­able in hi-def form from Scream Factory on a dou­ble-fea­ture disc with Food Of The Gods. The trans­fer looks fan­tas­tic, full of beau­ti­ful details in the fre­quent out­door pho­tog­ra­phy and vivid col­ors. The PCM track makes the vin­tage mono track uti­lized here sound good.

A few extras are also includ­ed. The biggest is a 10 min­ute inter­view with Van Ark, who is charm­ing as she fond­ly remem­bers her first film. She has fun tales, includ­ing how she made her dad proud by star­ring in a movie with Milland as well as some swoon­ing over Elliott. Elsewhere, a punchy lit­tle trail­er makes the most of the film’s shocks, there is an appro­pri­ate­ly creepy radio ad and an ani­mat­ed image gallery offers up an impres­sive vari­ety of posters. All in all, this is worth of it for fans, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing they get Food Of The Gods as well.