A few people were amused when i admitted on Twitter that I had seen Trog when it was first released in 1970, on a double bill with Taste the Blood of Dracula. It is very probable that being stuck in a theater full of sugar-buzzed children who scream at everything was the ideal viewing circumstance for Trog.
Three amateur spelunkers find an unexpected cave hidden away in an English pasture, and that’s not the first extraordinary thing you are going to be asked to accept (ah, I miss those salad days of college, when my friends and I would loll about in fields, carrying all sorts of equipment, just hoping to happen upon a cave no one else had ever found). What they find in the cave, on the other side of a frigid underground stream, is Trog (Joe Cornelius), your typical missing link.
One dead and one injured spelunker later, the last spelunker standing (David Griffin) remembers that his old professor, Dr. Brockton (Joan Crawford) has a research clinic nearby, and gets his friend there. We’re never quite sure what research goes on there since Brockton is an anthropologist, but never mind, we have a monster to capture. Once safely in a cage at the Clinic, Brockton and her daughter (Kim Braden) set to trying to civilize the troglodyte, even going so far as to perform surgery to allow him to attempt speech.
Of course, all this is going to be opposed by someone, and that someone, as is nearly traditional, is Michael Gough, England’s foremost portrayer of unrepentant dicks. He plays Sam Murdock, who is afraid the presence of Trog will jeopardize his planned housing project. One night, he releases Trog and trashes Brockton’s lab, knowing that if the man-ape is on the loose, the authorities will likely kill it. Murdock will also be the first of Trog’s victims, so ha ha dickweed.
There follows the usual rampage through the nearby village, with Trog lashing out with deadly effect to anyone who startles or attacks him (the butcher cutting Trog with his cleaver and getting hung on a meathook in return, four years before Texas Chainsaw, was a particular favorite of my kiddie crowd). Also, did you know if an ape man turns a Brit truck on its side – sorry, a lorry – it blows up? Good to know!
As one of the training aids Brockton used on Trog was a wind-up doll with blonde hair, Trog of course kidnaps a young girl with blonde hair at a playground, and takes her back to his cave. Brockton defies the police and military men outside to go into the cave and convince Trog to hand over the girl, hoping that this will prove that Trog can actually be reasoned with – no such luck, as there is a full assault and Trog winds up on the wrong end of machine gun fire and a handy stalagmite. The end.
Trog is a twist on your typical Frankenstein story, as Brockton tries to civilize the creature instead of abandoning it; in that respect, it gets interesting in its attempts to affect us emotionally, but never quite succeeding. Joe Cornelius does a very good job with the body language as Trog, and that ape head was reportedly left over from 2001. Its quality is quite manifest, as the movie never attempts to hide Trog from us, even at the beginning. Getting that head was either a stroke of luck or (more likely) the whole reason this movie was ever made.
It’s not the only thing Trog lifts from another movie; at one point after Trog’s operation, he is shown slides of dinosaur skeletons, triggering a flashback that, even at the tender age of 13, I knew was the work of Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen, from The Animal World. Perhaps the movie needed a few minute’s padding to reach a contractual length, perhaps it was the cagey Herman Cohen infusing a bit more production value at a minimal cost.
This is famously Joan Crawford’s last movie, and done largely as a favor to her old friend, producer Herman Cohen (she had done the same thing three years previous in another movie, the circus-set giallo called Berserk!). Crawford handles the pseudo-scientific claptrap like the pro she is, and even manages to brings some subtlety to the role. Michael Gough is terrific as usual, but the part of Murdock is written so cartoonishly that any attempt he might make to render the character in more than one dimension is useless.
So this re-watch of Trog some mumble mumble years later (oh, all right – forty-six!) was more entertaining than I expected. Not a great movie by any standard, but Herman Cohen was in the entertainment business, and he always delivered (on a budget). Director Freddie Francis was equally solid, and as a fantastic cinematographer in his own right, we can at least be sure the movie always looks as good as possible.
Trog is not a classic, but then, it doesn’t try to be, either. It’s a good way to spend 90 minutes, and if you can do it with a roomful of children willing to scream their heads off at the slightest jump, so much the better.
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