It was with heavy heart that I learned of the death of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper last week. One of the all-time great wrestlers, without him providing Hulk Hogan with a memorable foil, allowing Wrestlemania to be the enormous event it was, pro wrestling would look very different today. His autobiography is perhaps the most “wrestling” of all of them (except Hogan’s himself) as it’s a tissue of lies from beginning to end; but one shouldn’t let that detract from the life of one of the nicest guys in the history of the sport.
Like most of his fans, I watched “They Live” almost immediately on hearing of his death. It’s one of the greatest sci-fi / conspiracy thrillers ever and Piper plays the everyman ass-kicker to a T (plus, could you imagine a 2015 movie where an honest, hard-working, homeless guy is the hero?) A couple of days later, a group of my friends congregated to watch another of his movies, the one he made at nearly the same time and that we all, with our faulty 25-year-old memories, remembered as being almost as good. So how does it hold up?
Never trust your memories, kids (this equally applies to ex-partners when you start to think “they weren’t so bad”). Anyway, what we have here is a reverse “Handmaid’s Tale” where, after two nuclear holocausts in quick succession, mankind has been pretty much wiped out. The vast majority of who’s left is infertile, but as there are way fewer men left, fertile men are very much sought after, and luckily Sam Hell (Piper) has the strongest sperm the Government has ever seen. So, he gets given a metal chastity-belt-style protector for his groinal environs- which also has a bomb in it, in case he decides Government duty isn’t the life for him – and is sent off into the wilderness. He’s accompanied by Government rep Spangle (Sandahl Bergman, probably better known as a dancer) and soldier Centinella (Cec Verrell), and his job is to impregnate the relatively few surviving women, and to rescue a small group of women from the clutches of Frogtown.
Frogtown is a town made up mostly of mutated frog people, so not just a clever name – some of the frog-heads look quite good, most of them look absolutely awful. For no reason, Bull (the main frog baddie) has a harem of human women, and it’s up to Sam Hell and Spangle (Centinella spends most of the movie waiting outside the town for a signal to attack, also for no reason) to rescue them and do their bit to save humanity. It’s a surprisingly campy sort of comedy, as Hell deals with wearing a metal thong, horny women, old male soldiers who remember the good old days, and the post-apocalyptic wasteland. When they get to Frogtown, they uncover arms smuggling, a frog with three penises, the evil and mysterious Count Sodom, and the world’s most rubbish bar. Will they succeed? Will Sam Hell get to sleep with every woman in the movie? And just who is under Count Sodom’s mask?
One name, as it came onto the screen at the beginning, filled me with dread. That name- writer/director/producer Donald G Jackson. Jackson has one half-decent credit to his name (the pro wrestling documentary “I Like To Hurt People”) but after that seemed to develop an odd obsession with roller-blading. Along with Scott Shaw, Jackson made “Roller Blade”, “The Roller Blade Seven,” Return of the Roller Blade Seven”, and “Legend Of The Roller Blade Seven” (plus a few other movies with “roller” in the title that look suspicious); this is on top of a couple of in-name-only sequels to this movie, with Shaw taking over the Piper role. They began calling themselves “zen filmmakers”, but unless “zen” now means “absolutely rubbish” I can’t see where that claim comes from. “The Roller Blade Seven” is in the running for worst movie of all time, with its endlessly repeated scenes, bog-standard acting and crappy meaningless plot – actually, saying “worst of all time” indicates it’s worth watching in some sort of perverse way. It’s not, so don’t blame me if you pop it on one evening expecting a few laughs. It will suck laughs from the rest of your life.
While “Hell Comes To Frogtown” isn’t quite as bad as any of the “Roller Blade Seven” movies, it’s still pretty bad. Piper is naturally great, of course, even if he’s given a lot of poor quality wacky slapstick-y comedy bits to do; but everyone else is just terrible, and I’m going to lay most of the blame on the director. He loves shooting those empty desolate desert-scapes, but after a while it all starts to look the same, and you notice it’s just flat shots of stuff you can see if you drive an hour out of Los Angeles, with nothing interesting to add at all.
By far the worst crime though, in a movie full of them, is sexism. A movie, written produced and directed by a man, about a world now dominated by women – first thing we see is the new Army vehicles are bright pink. Because they’re girls!!! HAHAHAHAHA!! Near the beginning, they capture a desert-dwelling woman, and realising she’s fertile and of age, drug her and get Sam to impregnate her. I guess it’s not rape because she’s super-happy the next morning? Every woman in the movie is awful and useless and is just waiting for the big strong guy to come and rescue them and it really begins to grate after a while. The last line, supposedly there to generate a laugh, is when Spangle (who’s now Sam’s girlfriend, I guess?) tells him his next job is to have sex with all the women they rescued. He looks dejected and says “a soldier’s work is never done”. Now, the saying is “a woman’s work is never done”, so do you think the director knew this and was making a “joke” or had he just heard it once, sort of remembered it and decided to bung it in the end of his garbage movie?
There’s a moderate-to-large plot hole that derails the movie the instant you think about it. Sam Hell is extremely valuable, right? So what’s the best way of utilising his ability – is it:
a. Send him off into the dangerous wilderness to impregnate women, on the off chance he finds them and that they’re at the most fertile time of the month
b. Keep him safe and send the women to him, testing them to make sure it’s the optimal time to procreate?
Of course, B is the most sensible choice, yet the movie chooses A (and also pretends that artificial insemination wouldn’t exist in a world where every remaining scientist would be working on fertility technology). Ah, dammit, I’ve given this garbage movie too much thought.
You don’t need to believe in female equality to hate “Hell Comes To Frogtown” though, you just need eyes, ears preferably, and to have seen other movies. It’s just terrible, boring, not funny, not dramatic, slow and stupid. A half-funny title desperately in search of a movie to attach itself to.
Rating: thumbs down