Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Trog (1970)

Trog is included in Warner’s Cult Camp Classic 2: Women in Peril collection and there can surely be few movies more deserving of the camp tag. Its other claim to fame is that it was Joan Crawford’s final feature film.

It’s almost impossible to guess what anyone connected with this movie thought they were doing. Were they all drunk? Drugged? Did they do it on a dare? As a joke? We’ll never know.

In the peaceful English countryside three students are exploring a series of caves. Their expedition ends in disaster with one of them dead, one seriously injured and the other babbling in terror. What horror lay concealed in the cave?

The director of the nearby Brockton Research Institute is determined to find out. Dr Brockton (Joan Crawford) sets off for the cave with the surviving student. She takes her camera with her and the photo she snaps sets the scientific world light. Could this creature that seems half man and half ape be the Missing Link?

I was never quite sure what exactly the mission of the Brockton Research Institute was or what Dr Brockton’s field was. It’s the kind of movie where this doesn’t matter. All we need to know is that she is a Scientist. When she returns to the cave she takes her trusty hypogun with her and pretty soon the mysterious creature is locked in a cage at the institute. He is named Trog, since he’s a troglodyte (a cave-dweller).

If you thought the movie was strange early on it’s about to get much weirder. Dr Brockton is determined to teach Trog to communicate so that he can reveal the secrets of the dawn of humanity. She uses toys to train him. In a rather surreal and oddly disturbing scene Dr Brockton and her daughter and assistant Anne teach Trog to play with a doll. This seems to bring out Trog’s nurturing side. He’s very fond of his dolly.

There’s another bizarre scene in which Trog is drugged and shown slides of skeleton of prehistoric beasts. This triggers visions of scenes of dinosaur fights from a 1950s movie. It’s like Trog is having a bad acid trip.

The villagers are not happy about the goings-on at the laboratory. This brings us to another odd feature of the movie. Although it has a contemporary setting the villagers behave like superstitious peasants straight out of a Hammer gothic horror flick. The town’s leading citizen, the violent-tempered Sam Murdock (Michael Gough), demands that this unnatural creature be destroyed. A public inquiry is held which turns into a kind of evolution vs creationism debate.

Dr Brockton teaches Trog to speak but her research project is not destined to be allowed to continue unmolested. The anti-Trog forces are on the warpath. Trog has survived since the dawn of humankind but can he survive the world of 1970?

At times the movie plays like a whimsical cute-monster kids’ movie, but then you suddenly get a couple of very gory violent scenes. At times the story seems to be played for laughs, at other times it’s absurdly sentimental, and then on occasions it gets into philosophical and ethical musings. Director Freddie Francis had a pretty reasonably track record with horror movies but he allows this one to get badly out of control. Perhaps he just read the script and gave up.

Joan Crawford was made of sterner stuff. She takes it all quite seriously and delivers a perfectly straight performance. She was apparently a friend of producer Herman Cohen but whatever led her to take the part she was too much of a trouper not to give it her best shot. Michael Gough on the other hand treats the movie as it deserves and his performance is, as usual, great fun.

Yet another jarring aspect of the film is Trog himself. The facial makeup is quite good but that’s the only attempt to make the actor playing him look like a ape-man. So, inevitably, he ends up looking like a sort of joky pantomime ape-man. And he just isn’t convincingly scary.

In fact the movie itself fails utterly to produce any scares but fortunately it has so many wtf moments and so much weird wrongness that it’s really extremely entertaining in spite of itself. And it’s worth seeing just for the scenes with Crawford, Trog and Trog’s dolly.


Hence72 said...

Just watched it because of you - brilliant

feelingfine said...

The best part is when Trog sticks a butcher on a meat cleaver - four years before The Texas Chain Saw Massacre!!!