A good title is hard to come by, even if that title doesn’t mean anything until you see the movie in question. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the gold standard for these, of course, and even that’s actually a bit of a misnomer (only one damn person is killed with a chain saw in the whole damn movie!) but at least you know roughly why it might bear such a moniker. 1988’s Hell Comes to Frogtown is a fantastic title and you have no idea what it might mean if you haven’t seen or heard of the movie. I’ll tell you what it means: there’s a town full of frogs, and Hell comes to it. It’s as simple as that. That it’s attached to a post-apocalyptic action comedy starring “Rowdy’ Roddy Piper is just icing on the cake.
Hell Comes to Frogtown is a movie I’d heard only mere whispers of in my many years of watching dumb movies but after a friend recommended it highly, I was compelled to track it down, which took all of two seconds because the internet is a thing. I was delighted to learn this was a New World picture, that being the company started by Roger Corman, and was one of a handful of 80-some-minute-long low-budget action movies they produced to capitalize on the drive-in public’s love of women wearing very little and some man shooting guns at other men. What a triumph! There’s a lot of The Road Warrior and Escape from New York about this movie, but with the requisite amount of perviness so you know it’s made by New World.
In the distant future, nuclear war has resulted in most of the populace having died out and severe mutations happening to those who have survived. Almost every “normal” person is infertile and the future of the human race is in some serious jeopardy. Luckily, there’s Sam Hellman (Piper), known affectionately as Sam Hell. Since the war, he’s gone around and slept with all the women he could find and reports are that he’s made several of them pregnant. After being apprehended by his latest conquest’s police-state-serving father (William Smith), Hell is taken by the all-female MedTechs to be tested for fertility. He’s EXTRA fertile, so they want him to go around the desert wasteland looking for similarly fertile women to impregnate. Decent gig if you can get it, except Sam is fitted with an electronic chastity belt of sorts; if he tries to “do anything” without approval, if he tries to run away, or if he really does anything at all, he’ll get shocked followed by an exploding of his bits. Ouch.
His handler for this mission is the chippy MedTech Spangle (Sandahl Bergman) who is ordered to use her attractiveness and ability to wear ’80s lingerie to keep Sam aroused but not active until it’s for the good of society. They are also joined by Centinella (Cec Verrell), an attractive woman who is good at shooting guns, which you know by the fact that her hair is short and she’s always carrying or laying on a gun. They rove the desert in a bright pink Studebaker with a sunroof for a massive machine gun searching for women. They eventually get one, who of course gets gotten by Sam (who protests to the artifice of it all… he’s a romantic, you guys) and she tells them that four pacifist fertiles have been kidnapped and brought to Frogtown to be sold as slaves.
Now, Frogtown… it’s exactly what you’d think: a town made up of mutated frog people. (That’s what you think, right? It’s not just me?) Using Spangle as a faux hostage, Hell has to make contact with the slave trader Leroy who is aided by human drifter Looney Tunes (Rory Calhoun), an old friend of Hell’s. Unfortunately, the trade is stopped by the right-hand man of Commander Toty, the head frog in these parts, and a man who wants nothing more than to see Hell’s junk explode. He also wants Spangle to perform the Dance of the Three Snakes, which is a reveal I won’t spoil here for a million lilies.
The film is only 86 minutes long, which is very common for a New World Picture, but it covers a lot of ground, and yet kind of drags a little bit. By time they get to Frogtown and it looks like it’s nearly the end of the movie, it’s actually only about 55 minutes in. Quite strange to feel completed with a story before the hour mark. There’s a lot of time spent with Spangle either trying to seduce Sam and him rebuking her, or her trying to seduce him and succeeding only for it to have been an exercise and resulting in his wang getting shocked. There’s very little nudity in the movie, though, despite all the scantily-clad women. Centinella gets her kit off as she also tries to seduce Sam, but they’re stopped by Spangle before that happens. That’s kind of it, which for a film of this kind made for this production company in this decade, is incredibly restrained.
Frogtown itself, at least what we see of it, is really just a warehouse/bar/thing and it seems to consist of two different types of frogs: the average ones which are people wearing elaborate makeup, like the character of Arabella who is a frog stripper who is helping the good guys retrieve the kidnapped girls, and the ruling class which are guys wearing puppet frog heads which look pretty good but don’t have the best mobility or articulation. Still, for a movie of this scale, these effects are pretty spectacular and really help sell the conceit, which is never really explained beyond “Frogtown” being the name of a place.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was having a banner year in 1988. Not only does he make this movie, in which he’s portrayed as the most fit and virile man in the entire world, but he also made John Carpenter’s They Live which is obviously a much better movie, but one where he also gets to shine as an actor. He’s limited, yes, but within those limits he gives a good, surprisingly sensitive performance, through his professional wrestler howling and yelling in a thick Saskatoon accent.
Hell Comes to Frogtown will probably never be on the top of anyone’s list of sci-fi/action movies, even from the ’80s, but it’s a surprisingly fun, surprisingly not stupid movie with a lot of humor and a good central performance by Roddy Piper. Sandahl Bergman is really not good, so that’s a shame, but you can kind of overlook it given the overall tone and scope of the thing. It’s a movie where frog people have guns and kidnap scantily-clad women only to be saved by a WWF wrestler; I think one bad actress won’t spoil anything.