Movie of the Week: Trog (1970)

Written by Aben Kandel
Original story by Peter Bryan and John Gilling
Directed by Freddie Francis
Starring Joan Crawford, Michael Gough, Bernard Kay, Kim Braden
Released October 24, 1970
RT 93 min.
Home Video Warner Archive (DVD)
Classic Horrors rating = 4 (out of 10)

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One of the movies I remember not liking from my adventures at the Enid Drive-In is Trog (1970). You can’t say a movie like Trog ever really improves; however, much to my surprise, I liked it more than I would have guessed when I recently watched it again.

Oh, it’s not good by any means. But if you get past the cheesiness of the entire thing, it’s somewhat enjoyable.  One of the odd things about this movie is that if it were made 20 years earlier, it would be a lot better in the context of other talky, relatively action-less schlock films with a badly-realized monster.  Maybe that’s a perspective one can see only by looking at it 44 years later.  In 1970, though, it would have seemed just plain bad.

Back then, I thought the monster was horrible. Today, it’s still hard to get past the silliness of it.  “Trog” is a troglodyte (half man, half ape) discovered by a “freelance expedition” of three explorers in the caves of the English countryside.  There are so many things wrong with the way he looks.  First of all, it’s so obviously a huge mask simply placed on a human body.  His head is rock star hairy, and reaches to waist level, yet his body is hairless.  And he’s stylin’ in a pair of mini-Uggs on legs that sometimes look like are wearing tights.

Even his movements are silly. Again, he looks just like a man with a huge mask jumping around onscreen.  He’s supposedly deadly; however, it’s hard to take seriously a creature that lifts big fake rocks and throws them at cameramen.  (It’s even harder to take seriously that a cameraman would stand there and let this lumbering creature throw a big fake rock at him.)  There are times when Trog is more threatening, such as when he hangs the village’s butcher on a meat hook.  But those times are mostly out of place with the rest of his shenanigans.

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Joan Crawford (yes, I said, “Joan Crawford”) plays Dr. Brockton, a compassionate scientist who wants to domesticate Trog. Treating him like her pet dog, she beams and says, “Good boy, Trog” when he rolls a ball at her.  It’s unclear what kind of operation she performs that can make him talk, but she seems more interested in bringing him into modern times rather than studying him to learn about our past.  This is even though she claims this missing link can teach us “the baffling mysteries of human evolution”.

Opposing her viewpoint is Sam Murdock (Michael Gough). His role in the village is unclear, but he’s concerned about Trog ruining his plans for development in the area.  He believes Trog is a monster that should be destroyed.  The two have several verbal battles that scratch the surface of some potentially interesting issues, particularly with the debate in recent years over creation versus evolution.  Even though scripture is quoted on both sides, the conversation never goes deeper than the minimum amount required to generate melodrama.

More shocking to me than the fact that Joan Crawford starred in this Z-movie is the fact that Trog was directed by Freddie Francis, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer who got his start with Hammer Films and Amicus Productions in the late-50s/early 60’s. With a couple of exceptions, his Hammer and Amicus films are not my favorites, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that he doesn’t make more of his effort here.

On the other hand, there is actually a good scare in Trog. When Murdock stages an escape for Trog, there is a resulting moment that made me jump.  Perhaps if the entire movie took that approach, it would be more effective.  Otherwise, it can barely be considered a horror movie and has no creative or suspenseful work behind the camera.

The screenplay is by Aben Kandel. When you read his resume, you’ll instantly understand the tone of Trog.  He also wrote, sometimes under pseudonyms, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, How to Make a Monster and KongaTrog perfectly fits that sensationalistic, B-movie mold.  Like I said, though, it comes nearly 20 years too late.

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Another potentially successful approach for Trog would have been to play it strictly for laughs. As it is, though, there are only a handful of humorous lines.  For example, as Dr. Brockton feeds Trog, her daughter comments, “For a senior citizen, he has quite an appetite.”  This line is out of place.  It neither releases any tension (because there isn’t any) nor maintains any consistency in tone.  It’s just odd, like the movie itself.

A final oddity in the movie is when, under sedation, Trog remembers various encounters with dinosaurs from his time period, which, by the way is described in a range of either “thousands” to “millions” of years ago. In these “flashbacks”, we see stock footage from another movie entirely, The Animal World (1956).  This footage, which could have been trimmed, includes some decent stop-motion animation, but also some terrible close-ups that look like they’re from Land of the Lost.

Speaking of that great TV show of the 70s, the cave sets in Trog look like they were shared between the two productions. The caves themselves look real, but the stalactites and stalagmites are colorfully out of place.  Otherwise, most of the story takes place in the confines of either a laboratory or a courtroom.

Hmmm… have I said one good thing about Trog? It seems like I have nothing but criticism for it.  Perhaps that’s what makes it tolerable; you know, the “it’s-so-bad-it’s-good” phenomenon.  At the end of the movie, a reporter asks Dr. Brockton if she has anything to say.  She gives a labored glance at Trog’s cave, then pushes the reporter’s camera aside and walks away.  That may best describe the way I feel about Trog.

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