Craptastic Cinema: Trog

Trog: The 1970 horror film starring Joan Crawford

Good day, I’m Julian André, and welcome to Craptastic Cinema.

Trog was Joan Crawford’s last film role. Pity. The First Queen of the Movies had earned three Academy Award nominations, winning Best Actress for Mildred Pierce. But that was back in the ‘40s…a lon-n-g-g-g-g time ago. It was now 1970, and things were, shall we say, different. According to producer Herman Cohen when Joan arrived in England to do the movie she brought along four cases of 100-proof vodka. And by-the-by ,on set Ms. Crawford always had a huge frosted Pepsi-Cola glass at hand. Putting it politely: the mug wasn’t filled with soda. I do not condone this behavior, but after watching Trog I can understand why.

This crapperific cult classic opens with three dashing spelunkers on a remote British hillside searching for caves to explore, and as luck would have it one of them discovers an opening behind some brush. They crawl into the entrance and find it tunnels down quite far. Unpacking their kit the handsome young men have much difficulty abseiling (rappelling down) the dangerous cavern. They are careful to hammer in their anchor spikes, attach the ropes to their climbing harnesses, and, aided by lighted helmets and flashlights, methodically make their way down. They shimmy under extremely low overhangs; dangle precariously over steep precipices; and squeeze through sharp, barely passable crevices all while narrowly avoiding falling debris.

Lest I mislead you lovely readers, let make take this time to point out that the scene I just described is not the least bit thrilling. It is tedious, dull, and thoroughly lacking suspense. But the director takes pains to belabor over two seemingly significant details, namely:

  1. This is a very secluded cave. A “virgin” grotto never before seen by human eyes.
  2. Inside, the cavern is extremely treacherous to navigate.

Points taken, we rejoin our trio of strapping lads at cave’s bottom…

The rugged threesome arrives at a lagoon. The leader stays behind while the two other dishy chaps strip off to follow the underwater passageway to another cove. Bad move. The first is attacked & pummeled to death by a strange, fearsome monster; the second, seeing the savage attack, is reduced to a gibbering, blubbering mess, falling into the arms of his buddy after making a hasty swim back.

Still with me? Good, because to this point you’ve endured the crap. From here on out it’s craptastic!

We cut to a hospital where the bedridden explorer lies, clearly in a state. He’s prattling on about the never-seen-anything-like-it hideous ogre to Doctor Joan Crawford. But hang on, we soon are enlightened that Joan is not a medical doctor but an anthropologist—and this is her private research facility. See where we’re heading here? Just wait… Doctor Joan must see this creature for herself. She implores the other surviving spelunker to take her to the remote cave. Cut to the underground lagoon where Joan is wearing khakis and flats (one of many fetching outfits she flaunts throughout the movie), donning a small school backpack, hard hat, and a camera, looking fresh as a daisy. I guess she’s an amateur climber as well? Anyhoo, she snaps a photo of the manimal and next thing you know they’re both back in her office explaining the scenario to the local constable. Doctor Joan immediately deduces that this is no mere animal. It must be a creature that’s survived the eons—a troglodyte! Seems like the babbling caver came to the right place—Coincidence City!

What’s that you say? How ugly is the brute? Well, picture in your mind a caveman. Got it? That’s pretty much it. In fact, no one else for the rest of the movie makes such a to-do of its looks. Here’s what all the fuss is about:

Really? A half-naked guy wearing an ape mask and Ugg boots? He’s not even hirsute!

Standing on the hill where the cave is located Joan watches policemen dutifully clearing the shrub from around the cave. Meanwhile, a crowd of onlookers has gathered curiously watching the official proceedings. Hey, according to number 1 (above) this is supposed to be a far & away locale. The villagers look like they just came from down the street. Gadzooks, there’s even a man pushing a sundry cart! As luck would have it the prehistoric barbarian decides the time is ripe to venture outside for the first time. Joannie-on-the-spot has her trusty tranquilizer gun at the ready and bags the oncoming beast.

Amongst the gawking citizens is land developer Michael Gough. Villainous from the start, he’s frothing at the mouth that the cave dweller should be killed…something about it driving potential clients of his away. No combination of sound reasoning and psycho-babble from Dr. Joan can appease the ranting & raving businessman as he embarks on a mission to undermine her and rid the his city—nay, the world!—of such a ghastly abomination. Mwoo-ha ha ha!!!! [Diabolical laughter inserted for emphasis.]

A tug of war ensues: At various court hearing scenes to determine the ancient caveman’s fate a smartly attired Ms. Crawford clearly enjoys her high-minded, long-winded pseudo-scientific speeches (the vodka helps); Gough snarls and smirks, tossing acid-tongued barbs Crawford’s way while running a gamut of emotions from irate to enraged.

Back at the chintzy set laboratory—we know it’s a lab ‘cause there’s lots of vials and beakers with multi-colored liquids in them—Joan gets down to the real science of studying the troglodyte, whom she lovingly dubs Trog. This includes: bossing around her lab assistant daughter—insert snarky comments here—to bring Trog toys; feeding him rubber lizards; listening to classical music (Trog like!) and rock’n’roll (Trog hate!); sitting cross-legged in a cage playing dolls with him; attempting to have Trog speak by showing him colored construction paper and repeating the word “blue” at him; and teaching Trog to fetch a ball. The fetching thing doesn’t go so well: Trog throttles a dog to death. You can take the man out of the cave…

I’d be remiss to not mention that bright lights and loud noises really piss Trog off. He goes nuts when that happens. So when Trog is agitated/upset and needs to be calmed down what is Doctor Joan’s clinical solution to soothe the savage breast? Jumping up & down while sternly yelling “Trog!” You have to see it to believe it:

That’s the stuff!

Despite the pooch-killing debacle Joan is undaunted in trying to “civilize” Trog. She brings in venerable doctors from across the globe to study Trog and they collectively agree that an operation is needed to make him talk (currently he simply emits sounds not unlike a squirrel being strangled). The first part of the operation involves inserting a transmitter in Trog’s chest. That task completed, they go right into phase two where they fit him with a wired headband which will project his thoughts visually onto a screen. One cheap spiral-mesmero effect later and we see the exciting results: Trog remembers viewing Irwin Allen’s 1956 film The Animal World! Well, not really. The director just inserted Ray Harryhausen’s stop-animation dinosaurs and other prehistoric/ice age stock footage from that film to pad out this film’s short running time represent Trog’s memories from his youth. And you anthropologist-wannabes out there can just spare me the men-didn’t-live-with-dinosaurs argument—haven’t you seen the Creation Museum?

Teachable moments be damned, dastardly Michael Gough has had enough. For the sake of mankind—and his flagging business interests—Trog must be destroyed! He concocts a cunning plan: Under the cover of night he’ll drive up the institute’s long driveway, turning off the car’s headlights just before the gate, knock out the unsuspecting guard (clearly not knowing a car’s just pulled up), steal his keys, enter the lab where Trog is caged, smash the beakers that contain the precious colored liquids, and release Trog so that the beast can go on a rampage causing murderous mayhem in his beloved sleepy town. Why not just shoot Trog, you ask? Don’t be daft. It all goes according to plan. Mission accomplished! Well, there was one small miscalculation. After opening the cage Michael didn’t count on Trog killing him. Didn’t see that coming.

Once on the loose Trog terrorizes a playground, abducts a young girl, and takes her back to his underground den. Why? I haven’t the foggiest. Doctor Joan gets wind of this and heads straight to the cave site. The army(!) is already there warning her to stay away, they’re in charge now. But Joan isn’t going to be pushed around by some uppity general, she storms right into the unguarded cavern and pleads with Trog to give up the child. I know it has been awhile but do you recall number 2 from our story’s beginning? You know, the bit where navigating the cavern is perilous? Apparently Joan now descends its depths—sans any gear whatsoever—as easily as trudging down to the cellar. Trog relents, relinquishing the youngster to Joan who leaves the not-so treacherous pit as quickly as she came, returning the girl to her sobbing mother.

We cut back to Trog’s lair where the army is now streaming in, firing a hailstorm of bullets towards him. Perhaps they need more training, they are all missing terribly. Eventually, however, Trog is shot. Atop a rocky crag Trog grabs his chest, teeters for a moment…and falls to his death impaled upon a stalactite. Stalagmite. Whatever.

You can watch the exquisitely craptacular trailer here:

Dreadful. A boozy Joan Crawford playing mommie dearest to a guy running around in an awful ape mask. Who would want to see such a thing? Guilty, as charged. But in my defense I ask: How could you not want to see such a thing?


I’m Julian André, humble scrivener, blogging exclusively for MovieFanFare. Until next time, I bid you a fond adieu! 

Julian André