As a product of the 1980s, I often reflect on my childhood and the distinctive pop culture of that era. Television provided me endless hours of action and adventure through the eyes of my favorite heroes. The Ninja Turtles and the X-Men were daily staples, and the WWF (now WWE) was in its prime. Contrary to better judgment, and probably the wishes of our parents, my friends and I would invoke the personae of our favorite wrestling superstars in the backyard. I was always the Hot Rod himself, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Roddy Piper’s fabled career spans more than three decades. Splitting his time between the wrestling ring and the silver screen, Roddy was the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson of his day with prominent roles in cult favorites like Robert Boris’ “Buy & Cell” (1987) and John Carpenter’s “They Live” (1988). And, while not my favorite Piper film, “Hell Comes to Frogtown” is a perfect case study of how a film achieves cult classic status.
A film can only be as good as its storyline. Despite significant setbacks like poor acting or an insufficient budget, a movie can still be a huge success with a powerful story that captures the imagination. On the other hand, all the best actors and special effects artists in the world can’t turn a rotten script into an Academy Award winner. “Hell Comes to Frogtown” is a little of both.
As the film begins, we are introduced to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. We learn that World War III has taken place, which has almost entirely destroyed the human race. As the story progresses, we are introduced to Sam Hell (Roddy Piper) who is chained to a chair in a dark room. He is being interrogated and beaten with glass bottles when two nurses enter the room. The interrogator is informed that Sam has impregnated a woman, which appears to be shocking news to them all. He is taken by the nurses, who are employees of Med-Tech, and offered a new life if he will help them with a special project. He is informed that the nuclear war eradicated over half the male population leaving the rest sterile. Apparently Sam is one of the few males left packing a “loaded weapon” and the government is desperate. He agrees to help and signs a consent form. It is only then that he is told of the rules and stipulations that come along with this assignment, chief among them that he is required to wear a chastity belt at all times to protect his now government-owned equipment.
As the film progresses, we follow Sam into the land of the “greeners,” Frogtown. He is taken there on assignment by Nurse Spangle (Sandahl Bergman) and Centinella (Cec Verrell), a tough as nails soldier tasked with protecting Sam. We come to find out that Sam’s ultimate goal is to infiltrate Frogtown, rescue enslaved human women and return to safety so that Sam can perform his “government duty.”
The group arrives in Frogtown where Sam meets an old friend named Looney Tunes. Looney informs Sam that he will be able to set up a meeting to negotiate the release of the enslaved human women, but during the meeting Spangle is taken prisoner by a Frogtown guard. Sam is attacked and taken prisoner as well. When he wakes up he is greeted by a female frog who confesses her love for him and desire to be with him. Sam, on the verge of giving in to her seduction (after providing a bag for her to put over her head), then remembers that Spangle is in trouble. His new frog friend, Arabella, becomes their contact into Frogtown and offers to take Sam to Spangle.
He finds where she is being held and stumbles into a secret meeting with Commander Toty, the leader of the frog people. Spangle is fastened to an altar surrounded by five women dancing seductively around her. These are the women that Sam has come to save. Standing in the way, however, is Commander Toty, who has become smitten with Spangle and intends to use her for his own pleasure. After a struggle, Sam is able to free Spangle and the girls and make it back to their truck to escape.
Toty’s attempt to pursue them leads to a final showdown between he and Sam. Toty is defeated, of course, and Sam and his girls head back to the truck. Spangle says that Med-Tech owes him a lot and promises that once he finishes his assignment she can get him a few weeks off so that they can be alone. When he finally asks what the assignment is the camera cuts to the five fertile women in the back of the truck. He then responds that it’s true what they say; a soldier’s work is never done. They drive off into the desert as the credits roll.
To give an idea of how poor the acting in “Frogtown” is, Roddy Piper’s performance was the lone bright spot. When you cast a professional wrestler as the star of your film, there are going to be issues.
Piper is surprisingly adept considering the little experience he had at the time and for the material he was given to work with. He was coherent and delivered his lines well with a slice of humor and charm. His performance, while raw, was solid and his character draws the viewer into the narrative. He manages to mold an arrogant character into someone sympathetic who we can root for.
Aside from Piper, the rest of the cast was less than notable. Sandahl Bergman, who didn’t add much to the film other than taking up space in most scenes, was the only other cast member with redeeming qualities.
There really isn’t much to say about sound and special effect in this one. I can’t really think of a time that it seemed out of place or hurt the film progression, only because I can’t really remember any musical score at all. The sound effects are classic 80s, a perfect match for “Frogtown.”
With a half decent script, this B-movie adventure may have achieved something more. Instead, that glaring problem took the film down, crashing and burning. Even in 1988 the post-apocalyptic narrative was tired and worn out. The writers attempted to put a new spin on it having the main character tasked with repopulating the earth, but the novelty wore off about 10 minutes in. If you love Roddy Piper, this film is definitely for you. It’s entertaining and it’s great to see Piper as a young actor. If you don’t like Piper or have never heard of him, don’t waste your time — it’s not even bad enough to be funny.