Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)
AKA Transmutations, The Hunter
Starring Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, Cec Verrell, William Smith, Rory Calhoun
Directed by Donald G. Jackson & R.J. Kizer
Expectations: High. With a name like Hell Comes to Frogtown, it has to be good.
On the general scale:
On the B-movie scale:
The term cult classic gets thrown around a lot, but more often than not, the films referenced just don’t deserve the moniker. Hell Comes to Frogtown, however, is a true cult classic. Starring Rowdy Roddy Piper and Valeria from Conan the Barbarian, Sandahl Bergman, the film plays out like a wild, testosterone-fueled, post-apocalyptic male fantasy. It never betrays its B-movie roots or pretends to be something other than super-fun trash. Instead directors Donald G. Jackson and R.J. Kizer put the pedal to the metal and go full-bore into the oblivion of Frogtown.
Roddy Piper plays Sam Hell, a man with a high sperm count in a very infertile world. The governmental department Med-Tech places a C4-laced chastity belt on Hell and contracts him to enter Frogtown and save a group of nubile women taken hostage by the Frog leader, Commander Toty (pronounced Toady…get it? He’s a frog!). Along for the ride are Spangle (Sandahl Bergman) and Centinella (Cec Verrell), a pair of Med-Tech operatives tasked with keeping Sam Hell safe and ready to procreate.
The film spawned three sequels but unfortunately none of them feature Roddy Piper. I’m interested to check them out, but without Piper it’s unclear whether they will be worth it. I really enjoyed his work in this and They Live, as one-dimensional as it may be. His physicality is used well in both films and his over-the-top acting is always amusing to watch. The final battle with Commander Toty recalls shades of the epic fight between Capt. Kirk and the Gorn from the Original Series of Star Trek. Both fights were shot at Vasquez Rocks, CA, a popular sci-fi filming destination near Los Angeles.
Frogtown sells the post-apocalyptic world better than most others I’ve seen in the genre, including major studio Hollywood fare. It’s quite impressive given the small budget and is achieved mostly through careful shot selection and a script that truly understands the villainous nature that should inhabit this kind of world. The plot is incredibly far-fetched, but it’s so much fun that you’d hardly notice. The acting and directing are definitely better than expected. I had heard lots about creator Donald G. Jackson and his reputation for “Zen Filmmaking,” a technique where he would work without a script and film the ideas of the moment. This was actually a little before that time though, so this is a more traditional film.
One of the film’s most lasting scenes comes near the end of the second act when Spangle must perform the Dance of the Three Snakes for Commander Toty. The actual dance is something short of erotic, but I’m not a frog so the dance wasn’t really targeted at me. Commander Toty and the three snakes, on the other hand, were thoroughly engaged. The filmmakers stop just short of revealing the full monty, leaving me just a bit dissatisfied and wishing this was a Troma release. They at least would’ve had the balls to go all the way with it. Overall, this is one of the better B-Movie sci-fi offerings from the ’80s and succeeds on many levels. The frogs look great and Roddy Piper is the perfect choice for the lead. Recommended for genre fans.