Thursday, 6 January 2011

Trog

1970
Dir. Freddie Francis

After the discovery of a prehistoric troglodyte in a cave in primmest, quaintest England, Dr Brockton and her team of anthropologists attempt to communicate with it. The local townsfolk however, are not happy about a potentially dangerous Neanderthal residing so near to their quintessentially quaint English village. A botched plan to get rid of the creature results in it causing all sorts of havoc and mayhem in the local village. Can Dr Brockton and her immaculately shaped eyebrows put a stop to naughty Trog’s antics before civilisation crumbles? Can she heck!

Trog is really only significant and of any remote historical interest because it marked Joan Crawford’s last ever big-screen role. It was the second film she worked on ‘as a favour’ for her friend, filmmaker Herman Cohen. Hey, a girl’s gotta eat, right? Their other outing together was Berserk! Despite the absolute humiliation Crawford must have undergone making such drivel, she still throws herself into her role as the pert, unflappable and chic pant-suit wearing Dr Brockton with gusto. Aided no doubt by her trusty hip flask of 100% proof vodka.

Director Freddie Francis, who was already a reputable cinematographer and director of such horror titles as The Skull, Paranoiac, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave and The Evil of Frankenstein, doesn’t fare much better, failing to inject any sort of life or sense of momentum into the laborious tale. His direction feels stunted and uninspired, and aside from the mildly creepy opening, in which several men fall foul of the titular beast as they explore an eerily lit cave in the English countryside (!), exhibits no flair or imagination whatsoever, and his obvious indifference to the material ensures events simply trundle along at a corpse’s pace.


The film begins intriguingly enough with the same uneasy, stiff English malaise that wafts throughout the likes of Amicus and Tigon films; that bizarre juxtaposition of contemporary setting with an oddly cold, slightly gothic atmosphere. After our jaunty spelunking team are set upon by a briefly glimpsed ‘thing’, events quickly move on as Dr Brocton arrives with her hypogun and tranquilises the cave-man-beast and takes him back to her clinic for research. Henceforth the film becomes a combination of inane scenes featuring Crawford ‘taming’ the troglodyte and an even more inane series of court hearings in which disgruntled villagers demand the creature is exterminated. After all, his presence runs the risk of bringing property prices down.

Hammy acting, over enthusiasm and hopelessly overwrought emoting soon become the order of the day, ensuring Trog falls firmly into the category of ‘so bad, it’s good.’ In what other film would you see a montage of Joan Crawford playing catch with a man in a pelt and cheap gorilla mask? Said montage also features Trog listening to music, playing with toys, being rewarded, and gently reprimanded when he gets a little rough (“Bad Trog!” scolds Joan Crawford, and we really believe she means it).

Get me my hypogun, quickly!
A delightful flashback to prehistoric times featuring stop motion dinosaurs is lifted directly from Warner Bros.’ The Animal World (1956). As wonderful as it is, it goes on for rather a lot of time and runs the risk of suggesting Mr Francis was attempting to pad out the film. Trog’s highlight, when we finally get to it, is the sight of the titular creature bounding through a quaint English village, pushing jolly greengrocers through plate-glass windows and hanging inquisitive butchers on their meat hooks. There’s even a scene where he frightens off a group of small children and proceeds to traverse their climbing frame. Bad Trog! The rabble of journalists, villagers and policemen who pursue Trog back to his cave appear to have been told by director Francis to simply ‘run around a bit’, such is the ineptness of the climactic scene.

Some vague attempts at moralising and the faintest whiff of social commentary are thrown into the mix. No, really! You see, because Dr Brockton is a woman, and a fairly feisty one at that, no one trusts her to be able to run the experiments and control Trog. So many women in the Sixties and Seventies faced similar hardships. Unfortunately we don’t get as far as seeing Crawford burn her bra, though there are a couple of courtroom scenes which would have provided the perfect platform for such a show of rebellion. And certainly would have livened things up a bit. The authorities only believe Trog shouldn’t be put down when several male scientists validate Brockton’s approach, which was regarded by many as mollycoddling an untameable man-beast.



Stiff dialogue between characters often strays into attempts at moralising, though it’s all so outdated the result is just laughable. A few mildly interesting debates about Darwinism and Creationism are tossed into the already wordy mix. It would appear scriptwriter Aben Kandel views ‘mother earth’ and nature as monstrous, and if I may put on my ‘over analytical’ hat for a moment; that sure was a vaginal looking cave Trog came out of. Trog is not created in God’s image, he is a product of evolution – a ‘concept’ those pesky god-fearing villagers don’t accept. He is of the earth; mother earth. These aspects of the script, and the maltreatment of Dr Brockton, because she is a woman, provide a rather interesting anti-feminist slant to proceedings. Is it because of a woman’s ‘meddling’ all this damage has been done? Is that what they’re saying? Is it? I must know!

There is some subversive humour in how the civilised society Trog finds himself in, though no fault of his own, treat him in such an uncivilised way. The conclusion? Trog is a sentential being who can actually be reasoned with, but not in the face of civilised society, who only want to destroy him. Oh the irony.

Best enjoyed with a stiff drink.