TROG/1970 /FREDDIE FRANCIS /JOAN CRAWFORD/MICHAEL GOUGH
1970 /Director: Freddie Francis/Writers: Peter Bryan, John Gilling
Cast: Joan Crawford, Michael Gough, Bernard Kay, Kim Braden, David Griffin, Robert Hutton
Now here is a film that is really beaten nearly to death in reviews over the net and while it deserves some degree of flagellation it is not the total waste of time most people make it out to be. There is some degree, albeit half-hearted, talent involved with the project and while the movies suffers from an over serious attitude often found in British low budget films it is nonetheless worth a watch. At least if you the type who can watch and enjoy other films that producer Herman Cohen produced while he still lived and worked the US such as I was a Teenage Werewolf and I was a Teenage Frankenstein. In fact 1970’s Trog was originally slated to be called I was a Teenage Caveman. Appearing in the film is a regular of Cohen’s other British horror films (Horrors of the Black Museum, Konga, Berserk and The Black Zoo) the manically over the top and hammy Michael Gough. Leading the cast in her swan song film role is Oscar winner Joan Crawford who had all but slipped into 60’s style B movie oblivion after 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. While a lot of her films during this time are derided I thought a couple, like Straight Jacket and Cohen’s Berserk, were pretty good “psychotronic” fare. Off screen Joan was not only downing copious amounts of vodka but more than her fare share of Pepsi as well. In fact, everyone on the set was drinking Pepsi since Joan had become a member of Pepsi’s board of directors and I managed to find a couple amusing shots of Joan sharing a cold bottle of the soft drink with Trog himself. The last piece of talent involved is none other than seasoned Hammer actor, cinematographer and director Freddie Francis (Dracula Has risen from the Grave, the Evil of Frankentstein). Surely Trog will not be remembered as the nadir of any these people’s careers but I found it a fair watch. I may be slightly biased here as Trog holds some sentimental value for me. I saw the film a couple times back when it was first released in San Antonio Texas (Joan Crawford’s city of birth) at the Lackland Air Force base matinee for all of .35 cents. Some young friends and I had a good time reinacting some of the scenes later.
To enjoy the film one must first enjoy the guilty pleasure of the classic man in an ape suit adventure. This can run the gamut from the irritatingly comical Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (irritating because of the obnoxious Martin & Lewis rip off duo of Duke Mitchell and Sonny Petrello, review coming eventually) to Planet of the Apes (the original of course) and even Stanley Kubrick’s opening sequence to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Speaking of 2001 the mask used for Trog is part of a custom used by one of the prehistoric men in Kubrick’s classic. But they literally only used the mask and it is obvious as there is a ape like head with wild and wooly hair planted onto pos a place skinned, hairless guy (Joe Cornelius). Actually Trog does not look too bad and is a step up from previous men in suit apes. He even has some facial expression and lip movement that was lacking in the 1968’s Planet of the Apes masks.
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Trog opens up the credits appearing over a trio of college buddies exploring the English country side looking for caves to explore. They stubble upon a cave that does not appear on any of their maps and excitedly prepare to be the first to explore it. The interiors of the cave, though unrealistically well light, look like something from a Hammer Film of the period, no doubt Freddie Francis’ influence. The lads find an underground spring and showing absolute lack of good judgment decide to swim under the cave wall to see where it leads. Well, it leads to a chamber where a troglodyte exists. It never really explains why he is still alive or how he managed to survive in cave other than he may have been frozen solid and thawed out recently but he is not happy and kills one of the students and drives the other to a near nervous breakdown. The spelunking student who opted to lag behind Malcom Travers (David Griffith) takes his friend to the Brockton Research Center located, fortunately, right down the road. And if that weren’t lucky enough the Center’s area of research just happens to be anthropology. It is headed by Dr. Brockton, of course, who is played by Joan Crawford who simply never seems to look like a brilliant anthropologist. She is fascinated by Malcom’s story and suspects the creature he describes may just happen be to a prehistoric missing link, the kind anthropologists and evolutionary scientists have bben searching the world over for, and by golly there is one in a cave a short drive from her research center. She goes to the cave with Malcom and appears in its depth in a goofy looking white leisure suit, the same place the three spelunkers arrived at using by crawling and shimmying along in the dark. She aims her camera into a dark niche and on her first shot captures a great picture of what appears to be a troglodyte about to hurl a massive rock in her direction.
Soon the news spreads and the community, led by Dr. Brockton, is at the entrance of the cave in quest of Trog. It is not long before Trog is out of the underground river and killing scuba divers and idiotic cameramen who feel they do not have to use their zoom lens but rather should walk within a foot or two of this raging beast to get a good shot. Dr. Brockton soon immobilizes the pissed off caveman with her hypo gun and he is taken back to the institute, much under the angry criticism of local land developer Sam Murdoch (Michael Gough) who sees the troglodyte as a threat to his investment plans. Who wants a cozy country cottage next door to an ape beast who has already killed a student, a scuba diver and two newsmen. And I have to be honest I sort of see his point. Dr. Brockton must all these lost lives as collateral damage in the big scheme of things and soon she is having Trog play with dolls and toy trains in her research center where he happily gulps down rubber looking lizards for snacks. She is soon joined by scientists from around the world in her quest to establish that Trog must be kept alive. Among the imminent researchers and doctors who support Brockton is the American surgeon Dr. Richard Warren (played by The Slime People’s Robert Hutton) who does something that allows Trog to voice simple and mostly incoherent sounds. All of this worthwhile research is being carried on the in the shadow of town hearings to determine whether or not Trog is a threat to the community or not. The hearings get a little too “lofty” as Brockton, the voice of scientific reasons, squares off against Murdoch the voice of prejudice and religious superstition and sound real estate planning.
Things almost turn against Trog when he kills a German Shepard dog that just wanted play ball with Trog and Dr Brockton, but ultimately the hearings favor letting the murderous caveman remain alive and run around the grounds of the Brockton institute with only Dr Brockton and her young assistants to watch over him. Sam Murdoch has had it and one night breaks into the laboratory holding Trog (after waylaying a night guard with a crow bar of course) and soon is taunting him and throwing objects at him and finally releasing him from his cage. Bad idea, since a minute or two later Trog kills Murdoch and escapes into the local countryside and into the local town where he runs amok for a few minutes. During that time he turns over a car and causes it to immediately burst into flames, throws a produce stand clerk through a plate glass window and hangs the neighboring butcher on a meat hook. The towns folk panic and run through the streets and at one point even run past a Pepsi stand. Again, this is at the behest of Ms. Crawford who wanted product placement for the soft drink in most of her latter films.
Trog grabs some little girl and seeks shelter in a nearby cave though I am not sure if it is the same cave he was discovered in. The British army show up in force and though Dr. Brockton is able to coax the child away from Trog the general sentiment is one of “enough is enough” and the soldiers descend into the cave and amazingly miss Trog at point blank range for a few machine gun clips until finally he is hit and falls and impales himself on a stalagmite. The film is not really too violent except for the meat hook part and even that is pretty tame. Crawford was reputedly unhappy with the results and after viewing the movie claimed she may have committed suicide had it not been for her conversion to the Christian Science religion. Instead she stayed home and became a reclusive “Mommie Dearest” until her death in 1977. She would stop drinking in her last couple years because of her commitment to Christian Science. Michael Gough is great playing the snobbish aristocrat he typically plays but his scenes are pretty sparse. Movies here at the Cafe are not Oscar winners and this is not a movie for people who cannot tolerate bad cinema. It is certainly a bad and cheezy flick but it is well shot and no way a total waste of time. The story has been done before in most all the gorilla movies and the only thing really missing the beauty to further give sympathy to the beast and make its inevitable death at the hands of the military more heart rending. I assure you no will cry when Trog gets blasted at the end and what does that ultimately say about us as a species? That would be another high brow ethical debate for Dr. Brockton and Sam Murdoch had Trog not killed Murdoch.