Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)
Donald G. Jackson/R.J. Kizer
Roddy Piper (Sam Hell), Sandahl Bergman (Spangle), William Smith (Captain Devlin), Rory Calhoun (Looney Tunes), Nicholas Wort (Bull), Kristi Somers (Arabella), Brian Frank (Commander Toty), Cec Verrell (Centinella)
“In the latter days of the 20th century there arose a difference of opinion. The leading experts at the time believed a nuclear war would only involve the exchange of a few bombs and then the suitably horrified combatants would sit down at the peace table. They were wrong. In just 10 days 10,000 years of human progress was virtually blown to dust. Ten years later, they tried again.” – Opening narration
I usually plot out my schedule for these columns at least month in advance so I didn’t have time to cover a Roddy Piper movie whenever he died of a heart attack back at the end of July. But I had a free column before I went on to my next theme month so the other writers for this site recommended I cover Piper’s second great genre film: Hell Comes to Frogtown.
Frogtown concerns Sam Hellman (nicknamed Sam Hell) a man who is equal parts badass wasteland warrior and big dumb goofball in the tradition of Big Trouble in Little China’s Jack Burton or Army of Darkness’ Ash Williams. We meet Hell as he’s about to be executed by Captain Devlin (William Smith, who is a bit of a column VIP as he will be seen fairly often, though he was previously seen in The Ultimate Warrior as the villain Carrot and Red Dawn as Strelnikov) for the rape of Devlin’s daughter. Soon two women bust in and reveal that not only was the sex act consensual but Devlin’s daughter is now pregnant.
Sam is apparently one of the last few fertile men in the wasteland and a fairly potent one to boot, so the women-led agency Med-Tech wants to use Sam to find fertile women and impregnate them. The only downside is that he has to wear a metal apparatus around his groin that delivers shocks if he’s separated from his handler, a sadistic drone named Spangle (Sandahl Bergman), and if he gets too far away it explodes.
Sam’s first mission is to infiltrate the mutant reservation “Frogtown” and rescue a group of fertile women from the iron grip of Commander Toty and his frog-mutant army. When there they meet their inside contact, Arabella, a frog-mutant dancer played by Kristi Somers, and Looney Tunes, an old friend of Sam’s played by Rory Calhoun. Spangle’s master plan to free the women runs foul when she’s sold into slavery by delightfully overacting frog-mutant Bull and is forced to do The Dance of the Three Snakes to appease Commander Toty. Now it’s up to Max, Looney Tunes, and Arabella to save Spangle and the other women and get the hell out of Frogtown (I’m sorry.)
Hell Comes to Frogtown is probably Donald G. Jackson’s (we’ll be seeing his name a bunch more, too) best movie. What’s surprising is that for a movie as over-the-top silly as this, it holds onto a veneer of seriousness for quite a while. Once things get going, though, Frogtown proves itself to be a low budget version of a big Universal adventure movie with more nudity and violence. Once we get to overacting frog men with prostheses and make-up of varying quality then things get decidedly more goofy.
Sam Hell is an okay character, he’s the grizzled anti-hero with a tragic past but he’s played as a bit of a doofus. Tim Thomerson and Daniel Stern were both considered for the role and I can’t help but feel they both probably would’ve done more with Sam. I love Roddy Piper but the man was anything but a dynamic actor; this was the second apocalyptic film he was in that released in 1988 and his turn as Nada in They Live showcased a much less annoying acting style.
Piper plays Sam as dense and goofy like a comedic-relief uncle on an early ’90s sitcom. Every now and then he gets that far-off look in his eyes and you get a hint of something deeper to the character, or occasionally he channels that roguish charm that Kurt Russell and Bruce Campbell had a much better handle on, but he’s generally borderline-insufferable. He does have a great badass scene at the climax where we get to see how capable the character is in a fight and I did enjoy the idea that Sam is actually a bit annoyed and overwhelmed by the legend of his sexual mastery and the way it causes random women to want him.
Sandahl Bergman’s Spangle is a shrew and her status as Sam’s romantic interest is dubious at best, but Bergman gives a wonderfully bizarre performance in character. Spangle is trained in seduction and though she spends most of the movie in her underwear, Bergman goes out of her way to make every “seductive” move by the character look clumsy and awkward so as to render her movements more embarrassing and decidedly unsexy. I’m not too impressed with the character (she’s an awful person until a random moment toward the end of the movie where she’s nice) but Bergman is delight
The movie has three villains: Devlin, Bull, and Commander Toty. Devlin and Bull are nothing special (beyond “Shut your hoooooooole!”) but Toty is pretty great. Not only does Toty have the best effects, he’s delightfully disgusting, like a frog-mutant version of Immortan Joe (I’m apparently not the only person to make this connection), still he makes a brief appearance at best and much like the other two he’s underdeveloped with a generic is-a-bad-guy motivation.
There is a certain part of Hell Comes to Frogtown that has bothered me in the past and did this time as well. At one point, Spangle and Sam go tearing across the desert and find a woman who has escaped Frogtown. She’s scared half to death but Spangle says that she’s fertile and needs to be impregnated, to the credit of the movie Sam does seem very uncomfortable with this idea and the next morning it’s shown that he’s cleaned her up and freed her. Now you can choose to believe that Sam sat and talked to her, explained the situation, and had a romantic rendezvous with the woman but all we actually see is a bound woman who is drugged to make her more passive and then her being grateful and thanking him the next morning with the knowledge that he had sex with her during the transition. It’s uncomfortable to say the least.
Hell Comes to Frogtown has a soft hero that doesn’t really become all that likeable until its ending, a secondary protagonist who is completely unlikable until the plot dictates that she will be about three quarters of the way through the movie, some middling to awful mutant make-up, and a really uncomfortable scene with a rapey overtone. But there is an undeniable charm to the movie and though a lot of things don’t really work, I have thoroughly enjoyed it each time I’ve watched it. It’s ambitious and pours a lot of effort into what appears to have been a rather small budget and I have to tip my hat to that. It’s a lot of fun and definitely worth a watch.
Hell Comes to Frogtown is out of print as an individual DVD and has never been released on Blu-Ray but you can get it as a double-feature DVD with the equally hard to find doomsday film Defcon-4 (It’s worth it) or you can just watch it on Amazon Instant.
NEXT TIME ON DOOMSDAY REELS
“Death was… eternal loneliness.”
Discuss this and other Doomsday Reels columns in the forum.