Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Review - Trog (1970)

To say that Trog is the worst film ever made may seem a tad harsh. But if you, as one of the poor unfortunates to have seen it, think otherwise, I’d ask you this – if it isn’t the worst film ever made, what is? What could be worse than a film in which the leading lady – a faded former Hollywood starlet – seems at times drunk, depressed or in some weird, childlike trance; is obviously reading her lines from “idiot boards” behind the camera or simply making them up? What could be more depressing than knowing that for this woman, Trog marked the end of her movie career?
But it’s not just Joan Crawford’s bizarre antics on-screen that mark Trog out as a truly dreadful film. This is a production that has caves which have never been explored before, but seem remarkably easy to get into by a 70-year-old dressed in a pack-a-mac and a pair of culottes. It has a script in which the fate of a living prehistoric man is decided by a town council meeting, and the killing of a German Shepherd dog overshadows the multiple deaths of assorted potholers, cameramen and onlookers earlier on to such an extent that everyone seems to have forgotten about them. It is a film so lacking in budget that for what seems like aeons, we are treated to the sight of Joan Crawford winding up assorted toys and watching them waddle across the floor, Joan Crawford rolling a ball across the ground, and, most inexplicable of all, a good five minutes of footage from an ancient film showing plasticine dinosaurs scrapping and running away from an erupting “volcano”.
There is no redeeming feature to Trog. No apologists for some films being “so bad they are good” (which includes myself) could possibly think Trog was anything other than bloody awful. It is just so jaw-droppingly painful to watch that it somehow leeches any fun out of the whole shoddy performance. There’s no tongues in cheek here, no nodding post modern irony. Trog is quite simply a bad film, made by people who should have known better for a cinematic audience they obviously considered to be drooling morons. It is a 50s monster movie, 20 years out of time – but if it had been made in black and white with a more with-it Crawford, it would be no better.
However, I would imagine that by decrying Trog so damningly, all I’ve probably done is whet your appetite for more. “What’s it all about, Alfie?” You’re probably asking. Well, what it’s all about follows. And don’t call me “Alfie”.
Three young chaps find an unmapped cave, which has been hidden for millions of years from human view by a tiny gorse bush. After one of them forces his way in through a tiny crevasse, Descent-style, the other two wander in fully upright as if they’ve just sauntered down a flight of prehistoric stairs. After noting that this suspiciously brightly-lit underground cavern is bereft of footprints and must therefore be unexplored, one of them decides to explore further by stripping down to his boxers and jumping into a rock pool. “Ooh, it’s freezing!” He opines, not very convincingly. He wades through a low, water-filled tunnel into another cavern, and is followed by one of his mates. Both are then attacked by a fat bloke wearing a monkey mask and a pair of furry bootees, leaving the third (Emmett from Keeping Up Appearances) to flee and tell the world that he’s found a murderous “Troglodyte”.
Luckily, in a house nearby is Dr Brockton (Crawford), an expert on such things (every small village should have one). She immediately takes charge, much to the consternation of blustering bobby Inspector Greenham (a badly overacting Bernard Kay), who, understandably, wants to conduct a murder trial. Local busybody Sam Murdock (Michael Gough) also puts in his two pence worth, but Brockton is adamant that this is a big scientific discovery which needs handling in a professional and low key manner. Once the television crews have been set up both outside and inside the until-recently-completely-inaccessible cave, the caveman reappears on cue and starts killing everyone in sight. He makes his way up to the surface, kills a couple more unfortunate technicians, and is then stopped in his tracks by Brockton and her highly scientific tranquilliser dart gun.
Despite all these shenanigans being captured on film, the rest of the world seems entirely oblivious to such a monumental event, allowing Brockton to start her highly scientific experiments. This big toothed ape-like killing machine is put in a shaky looking cage and allowed to play with dolls and listen to classical music (rock music makes him angry, of course). She even gives him a scientific nickname, “Trog”, which she then uses to refer to the creature for the rest of the film.
Meanwhile, the local villagers are up in arms. Lead stirrer Murdock reckons that a “demon” has been unleashed and that it should be destroyed (it has to be said that Gough, usually a bit of a ham at the best of times, is on pork overdrive here… it’s like he knows the film is shit so he’s decided not to care). There then follows several excruciating scenes as the whys and wherefores of Trog’s existence are played out before a village meeting presided over by Thorley Walters, who spends most of his time telling Gough to put a sock in it.
Eventually Brockton’s cow eyes and pseudo scientific mumblings win the day, and Murdock is so incensed that he immediately breaks into Dr Brockton’s high security laboratory (apparently killing a guard in the process) and unleashes Trog on an unsuspecting leafy village. Why, I have no idea.
Murdock dies in the process, and he is but the first. In the film’s first (and only) stab at any sort of horror, Trog conducts an early morning reign of terror on the sleepy village, throwing a grocer through his own shop window, spiking a butcher on his own meathook, and tipping a Morris Traveller on its side so gently that it immediately explodes. He then kidnaps a little girl from a playground and carts her back to his cage. Finally, everyone decides that enough is enough and the army is called in. Brockton is convinced she can sort the whole thing out with her dart gun, but the military has other ideas and blows the crap out of the cave, shoots the monster and watches him fall and impale himself on a polystyrene stalagmite.
Trog truly is an awful film, which has no idea which way it wants to go or what it wants to achieve. Just one knowing wink at the camera would have saved it, but the whole thing is played completely and utterly straight faced. From Crawford’s wet-eyed emoting I’d imagine that the idea was that Trog was supposed to be a tragic, misunderstood character, but nothing else in the film suggests this. Every time he sees something he kills it or smashes it up, so when he eventually does the decent thing and pops his clogs, you feel nothing, except a genuine hatred for the makers of the whole crappy farrago.
As an end note I’d like to add that the director of this sorry mess was one Frederick Francis. That’s right, the supposed director genius responsible for classic films like The Creeping Flesh. Freddie, if you were still here, you should be hanging your head in shame.


Matthew Coniam said...

It's weird all right, but strangely compelling. Hard to imagine adults coming up with it, for sure, but I think you are being a tad harsh. (But then, that is your way.)
By the way, the answer to your question 'what, if not this, is the worst film ever made?' is One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

vwyler said...

Worst film ever made...? My dear fellow, clearly you are not familiar with the true depths of celloid debauchery!

Trog is eloquent compared to such travesties as "The Beast of Yucca Flats", "The Creeping Terror", "Frankenstein Meets the Space-Monster", or practically the entire works of Edward D. Wood Jr.

Heavens, man!

Anonymous said...

Worst film ever made? How about Jaws The Revenge? Trog is bad, but in the hands of decent filmmakers it could've been brilliant, lol.