If this film’s title wasn’t enough of an indication for you – yes, Hell Comes to Frogtown is a cheese piece, a staple of the “so-bad-it’s-good” genre of action adventure films, and more to the point, it’s a 1980s film, and in all aspects, it is both a considerably under-seen, and dare I say, underrated little gem of a film.
By classical film standards, this film may be considered nothing but a resounding smudge on the sleeve of the cinema of yesteryear, yet the opening moments of the film alone should cause you to realise that this was made with the tongue very firmly planted in the cheek – I have an inkling that everyone involved with Hell Comes to Frogtown knew that it would be both an extremely fun film to make, and moreover, be ravaged by critics upon release.
The film’s plot, which cannot be described as anything less than “offbeat”, involves the preposterously-named, hilariously virile Sam Hell (Roddy Piper) standing among the few men left with their reproductive organs in tact following World War 3. Soon enough, Sam is captured by a band of scientists and informed that he must aid them in kidnapping a group of virgins, and subsequently inseminating them. Yes, the plot sounds as though it was torn directly from a pornographic film, but it works, as long as you’re not expecting high art, and if you are – what on Earth did you expect with a title like “Hell Comes to Frogtown”? Furthermore, the female scientists escorting Sam on this mission are naturally quite fetching once free of their glasses and army get-ups, and their unequivocally ridiculous mission objectives include keeping Sam “excited” throughout his mission, in order to promote potency, a feat apparently best achieved by stripping off, at times of class, into lingerie, and at all other times, to nothing. Additionally, near enough any female that Sam comes into contact with (even the frog-like females of Frogtown) pounces on him, turning the ever-trite stereotype of “the lecherous male” on its head, one female even asking Sam, “I guess you have to be in love first?” in response to not wanting to be used “like a machine”. It’s a refreshing turn, and funny to boot, thanks largely to Piper’s ever-present charm as the dumbstruck last hope of mankind.
Of course, what would any bite of 80s cheese be without the forced, shamelessly telegraphed sexual tension, which quite naturally pans out as you would expect. Of course, this tension is somewhat stunted by the fact that, to every male’s cross-legged cringe, the love interest herself, the lead scientist (Sandahl Bergman), is wearing earrings which control an electronic codpiece that Sam wears, and even worse, if the earrings get too far away from her, the codpiece will explode, a plot thread which is of course explored exhaustively.
Almost half of the film passes before we finally meet the stars of the show – the inhabitants of Frogtown, by-products of man’s nuclear war, melding the DNA of humans and frogs together to create a bestial entity that assumes the form of a human, whilst the skin and facial features resemble that of a frog. Considering the all-encompassing B-movie aura surrounding this film, the effects are surprisingly impressive looking, and any flaws, such as the often out-of-synch mouth movements, only add to the fun, as if guffaw-inducing frog-men themselves weren’t levity enough. Moments from Sam and his cohorts entering Frogtown, they hear of the town’s anger that they were all herded into Frogtown by the government, and moreso, disallowed from handling weaponry (not that this stops them). This in itself is interesting food-for-thought in relation to the place of deformed individuals in today’s society, and whilst it’s never dwelled on in any great detail, it doesn’t have to be either.
Once our heroes settle rather comfortably into Frogtown, the film becomes something of a caper, and quite predictably, Sam and company become embroiled in a scrimmage with the inhabitants of the town, attempting to both rescue the helpless virgins, and escape Frogtown themselves. However, even as the gunfights ensue, Hell Comes to Frogtown never surrenders its whimsical tone, never endeavouring to take itself too seriously. This is to the film’s credit – it aids us in not focusing on its misgivings, but simply sitting back and absorbing this truly harebrained work of cinema.
The film’s solution relies on an outrageous measure of coincidence, making no attempt whatsoever to emancipate or otherwise inspire, but it’s so flagrant and deliberate in its delivery that one has no other choice than to laugh. Nevertheless, once the smoke clears, everything is tied up a little too nicely, and we are left with little time to ponder anything (as if there was anything to ponder) before the credits roll – we are simply invited to observe our protagonists riding away into the sunset.
It is quite sincerely a cinematic truth that few films can hold claim to being able to “out-cheese” Hell Comes to Frogtown, but this film, above all else, is a huge ball of fun. If made today, moreover, without the imposing “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, it likely wouldn’t be half as fun, but on the sheer “strength” of its premise alone, would enter into the cult film lexicon. Hell Comes to Frogtown is one of the many films of decades past that no doubt influenced such post-modern cheese-fests as Crank, Snakes on a Plane, and more recently, Shoot ‘Em Up, and so Hell Comes to Frogtown is at least something more than forgettable guys-in-costumes fare with, of all people, a professional wrestler as the protagonist. Just ensure to steer well clear from the purportedly dire spate of sequels.