This scary movie was so un-scary I was waiting for Count Floyd to come out.

It’s a bit understated for a horror movie title, don’t you think? “Frogs” – not “Attack of the 50 Foot Frogs” or “Revenge of the Frogs” or “Night of the Rana” – just “Frogs.” There’s no symbolism or cleverness in the title either – it’s not an ironic society-as-swamp comment that I imagine you could get from the New German Cinema; it’s evocative not of Fassbinder but Ron Howard. There are frogs in the picture, so it’s called “Frogs.”

Hang onto that last sentence tight, because it’s the last thing that’s going to make sense for a while. Sam Elliott, he of the bushy mustache and grizzled cowboy voice, plays our hero, Pinkett Smith, without his bushy mustache or his grizzled cowboy voice. His job is to rescue a large, wealthy family, all of whom hate life, each other and everything that isn’t booze, from a large number of frogs, who hop around and croak, harming absolutely no one – all of which adds up to a scary movie that’s so un-scary I was waiting for Count Floyd to come out.

Sam Elliott, Beefcake

We kick our story off in a quiet bayou inlet which may or may not be where they filmed Kermit’s opening number in The Muppet Movie. Pinkett is taking photos in his canoe. Somehow he drifts into the ocean (I think), where a drunk speedboat dude named Clint and his hippie sister interrupt preparations for the big “ducks crapping on water” photo. Pinkett is so mad he flips over his own canoe, and Clint has to make amends by bringing Pinkett ashore for a dry pair of cargo pants and a little badminton at his family’s nearby estate, a stately dwelling enveloped in the fog of its neighboring swamp and the liquor-enhanced malaise of its inhabitants.

There’s no understating that malaise, either. While they never quite crest over into dysfunction, man, do these people whip up a super-size order of cranky. Top complainer is Grandpa (Ray Milland), who literally bitches out his grandchildren for enjoying the swimming pool too much; the other 809 family members do a yeoman’s job of hating life, love, each other, and not drinking. And frog noise, which they want to squelch by dropping a layer of oil on the bayou (seriously!). Pinkett gets upset at the prospect of eco-genocide and convinces Grandpa to hold off, at least long enough for him to make an escape from this bunch of loonies. Unfortunately Pinkett comes across the body of one of the caretakers before he can skedaddle; this kills his chances of scoring with the hippie lady, so now he’s cranky. Also: there are also frogs nearby when he finds the caretaker’s body, thus proving the deadly force that is frogs.

Some guy gets killed by not frogs

“Nature is trying to get back at us,” says Pinkett, and this is true, except for one minor detail: the frogs never do anything to anybody. The most diabolical thing any frog does in this movie is sort of jump near a (closed) window (that no one’s near anyway). All the other species, though, really glom onto the “raging psychosis” zeitgeist of the neighborhood, and kill in large numbers.

Again, pay close attention to who kills who here:

  • Tarantulas: they do in one of the cranky guys, though he helps by shooting himself in the leg in a bout of drunken jackassery.
  • Lizards: they kill off some dude in a greenhouse by knocking over bottles of poison gas
  • Leeches and snakes: there’s an odd Norma Desmond sort of lady who gets lost in the woods and falls into a small mud puddle. This is too much for her and an elaborate leech/snake alliance is there to close the deal
  • Alligators: one shows up for about thirty seconds to eat a guy, then vanishes
  • Turtles:seriously, a turtle offs some lady.

Notice which species for whom this scary movie is named isn’t on that list?

Norma Desmond's Clone is killed by leeches - not frogs

Amidst all the carnage, crazy Grandpa insists on celebrating his birthday, and he’s very disappointed that the more disloyal elements of the family decided getting killed by lizards was more important than his party. He wants to go ahead with the day’s events as planned, but Pinkett and the rest of the remaining characters want to go ahead with leaving. This they do, though when they make it to civilization they get a ride from a mom and little boy returning from camp, and the boy has A FROG so everything is scary again. Back on the island, frogs enter the house and sort of browse the book collection, which is enough to cause grandpa to collapse and die, which is pretty much what I want to do by the end of the movie too.

Oh, and after all that, we should point something out: none of the frogs in this movie are actually frogs – they’re toads. Yes, that was your head you just banged on the nearest hard surface.

Ray Milland is gonna mess you up!

All in all, Frogs is a nondescript movie without a whole lot of ambition. Ray Milland puts on a gloriously insane performance as this family’s Big Daddy, but Sam Elliott’s usual screen presence is as absent here as his famous ‘stache, and I’ve already forgotten pretty much every other character. There’s a lot of sheer confusion, though, and that might make this worth a look, especially if you’re drunk and cranky. Mildly recommended.