The Movie Waffler DVD / BluRay Review - <i>Hell Comes to Frogtown</i> (1988) | The Movie Waffler

DVD / BluRay Review - Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

Arrow's reissue of the cult eighties Roddy Piper vehicle.

Directed by: Donald G. Jackson, R.J. Kizer
Starring: Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, William Smith, Rory Calhoun, Cec Verrell

The Movie:

A daffily agreeable slice of eighties direct to video sci-fi action, Frogtown tips a wink to its cinematic ancestors from an opening scene of a tarnished and battered Statue of Liberty. We then zoom out to reveal it is a gift shop memento dug out of the post apocalyptic ground by a scavenging frog man. A neat opening joke that the rest of the film, a hodgepodge of influences moulded into a Frankenstein’s Monster of B movie hokum, struggles to match.
Sam Hell (Piper) is one of the last fertile men on earth (the gene pool might be in trouble as Piper in his first role looks like a redneck potato with the hair of Charlie’s Angels era Farrah Fawcett), an ethically dubious ne’er do well with an eye for the ladies and a tin ear for amusing dialogue. Captured by the government, where his Johnson becomes property of the state, he is to be used for breeding purposes. Things go awry when a group of fertile women are abducted by the nefarious Commander Toty (Brian Frank) in the mutant enclave called Frogtown. Hell is assigned to rescue the captured women with the assistance of Nurse Spangle!! (Bergman) and Guardswoman Centinella (Verrell), get them back safely and presumably knock them up in short order.
What we have at its core is an extraction movie with an untrustworthy anti-hero. A riff on Escape From New York, like that film it even has an explosive device that will go off if the mission fails or he escapes. In this case the explosive device is attached a little further south of the neck, making Piper a One Eyed Trouser Snake Plissken.
It may sound like a sci-fi sex romp but in depiction it’s quite a chaste one. Nurse Spangle and Centinella might be written as sexy characters but for some reason the costume department have put glasses on Bergman that make her look more like Junior Soprano than a teenage boy's fantasy of a nurse, and Centinella looks like she would be equally handy in a fight as she would in the bedroom.
Roddy Piper is at once the film's greatest weakness and also its strength. He is completely incongruous as an action hero, looking more like he should be moving hay with a pitch fork as a background actor in The Dukes of Hazzard than trading sexually charged bon mots with actors above his pay grade. However, his naive "aw shucks, I’m just pleased to be here" approach to the role makes him a likable presence. It also gives it an amateur comedic charm because at times there is an "Oh God, the directors are taking this seriously" approach to the film. He is helped out by B-movie stalwarts such as William Smith and Cowpoke legend Rory Calhoun (playing the Ernest Borgnine role from Escape) giving performances way more committed than the script deserves.
It may have a few decent moments and some nicely sleazy ideas such as the “dance of the three snakes” but it trades on good will and a catchy title rather than any real quality. The make up effects are surprisingly good for Commander Toty and it doesn’t have the set bound feel that undermined even such big budget fare as Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake, but there is a feeling of cheapjack hucksterism about the whole project. The title will bring the unwary and curious to the tent, like the freak shows of old, even if what is behind the curtain is not strictly what was advertised. It may destroy any VHS nostalgia you may have had for this most eighties of actioners but there is just enough in it to make it worth a revisit.

Available in Blu-ray, the version reviewed was on DVD (which looked fine) so I will not comment on the upgrade. For this release you get a 20 minute interview with Roddy Piper, who is gregarious company, revealing that the original director hated him and telling anecdotes which may displease his wife. 
A short interview with Brian Frank discussing his role as Commander Toty. Steve Wang, the SFX creator, also discusses his work on the film and how little he was paid for it. 
We also get an extended scene that looks like it was taken from a sixth generation VHS copy, and a trailer. You also get a booklet with writing from Calum Waddell. 
An adequate selection for a slightly below par movie.

Jason Abbey