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

 

 

  • Rick Cardona

    I actually like some things about the movie. 1 – the ape mask was technically better than the ones worn in The Planet of the Apes movies of that same era. 2 The caveman actually displayed believable superhman strength, unlike in the Planet of the Apes were the apes seem to be no stronger than a man. 3 the man wearing the get-up seemed to actually be athletic. The rest of course was pretty bad.

  • Quasiblu

    TROG is great to play at parties with the sound turned off. Excellent visuals that match any DJ playlist brilliantly well. I felt for poor Joan in this, I must say. Balancing a hardhat on top of her elaborate coiffure and stepping uncertainly around styrofoam boulders, one half cringes at her last film, but then at the end, you kind of have to say “Atta girl!!”

  • bonnerace

    THIS MOVIE IS AWFUL!! I saw this at the ripe old age of fifteen at the drive-in with a car full of friends and yelled, cussed, threw stuff at the screen for at least an hour. I saw it again thirty years later and was tempted to repeat my original reactions. YUKKK. I don’t feel sorry Joan or anybody else in it….she chose her own path. IT STINKS!!

  • Blair Kramer.

    I LOVE “Trog!” It’s every bit as good (BAD) as “Plan Nine From Outer Space!” Is this film finally coming out on DVD? I’ve gotta have it in my collection!

    • Blair Kramer.

      Ooppss… I just discovered that “Trog” IS available on DVD. I’d better buy it NOW!

  • Ron

    I just think its a bit tacky to be too critical of once fine actors who have fallen on hard times and judge their worst films as a part of their legacy. Same with any actor on the down side of their careers who no longer have control of the material. If she made money and paid the bills, I’m fine with it.

    • Blair Kramer.

      I believe Joan was running Pepsi-Cola when she made “Trog.” But even if that were not the case, I doubt she had any money problems. Her late husband left her a big estate. In any case, I don’t think we’re actually attacking Joan Crawford when we make fun of “Trog.” It’s the story and execution that made the film a target. Personally, I see nothing wrong with Joan Crawford’s performance. In fact, she deserves some credit for having been able to play her part with a straight face!

      • http://www.moviesunlimited.com Julian André

        So gallant of Blair to come to my defense! Indeed, it was not Joan’s performance that made Trog as deliciously dreadful as it is. But even if that were the case, this movie is part of her oeuvre. Surely we must recognize Ms. LeSueur’s finest moments (which I did at the outset), but not at the expense of ignoring the lesser lights.
        And one final note: I don’t know if this is Ron’s first exposure to Craptastic Cinema, but we’re all about the “tacky” here. If you want dry, humourless fawning screeds from stuffy reviewers, there are plenty of places to get that…just not here.

  • fred buschbaum

    Regardless of who stars in it, there are films so bad that you have to watch them all the way through believing that there must be at least one scene a bit less crappy. But, only once!

  • Gord Jackson

    The lasting image for me from this film is a Pepsi-Cola stand out in the middle of nowhere. Talk about tacky product placement!

    Oh yes, “Trog” is so embarrasingly bad it’s a hoot. And while I don’t care for Julian Andre’s “humourless fawning screeds from stuffy reviewers” crack, I do find his own writing style engaging and entertaining, almost as much of a ‘hoot’ as the movie itself.

  • Gary Vidmar

    A masterpiece of troglodyte emotion, featuring Joan at her most passionate, powerful and pitiful. It proves she never laid a hand on those goddamned brats of hers!

  • KRIS the KLINGON

    Julian–TROG is a truly magnificent piece of crap. I’ll suggest
    to you two others: ASTRO-ZOMBIES, and from Italy, VULCAN,
    SON OF JUPITER. TROG has Joan Crawford, but ASTRO ZOMBIES has John Carradine. It also has a zombie with a solar panel on its head….when this gets knocked off in a fight, the zombie holds a flashlight to its head and runs off.

    VULCAN? Ancient gods in bathrobes, lightning bolts scratched onto the film. YEAH!! You don’t find junk like this every day.
    Well, Julian, maybe You do!
    Kris

  • maxfrabien

    It’s a shame that so many of the final films of great actors are so bad. Joan Crawford in “Trog”, Bette Davis in “The Wicked Stepmother”, Peter Sellers in “The Fiendish Plot of FuManChu”, just to name a few. There are several others.

  • Anonymous

    Joan should have retired one picture earlier. “Strait Jacket” was so-bad-it’s-good” camp. “Trog” was just a waste of time. I seem to remember one scene where they did’t even bother to match the shots. Medium shot of Joan cuts to Michael Gough cuts back to Joan wearing a diferent outfit. What a stink bomb!

    • Jerry

      One picture earlier would have been “Berserk!”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=586188672 Michael Rulon

    Strait-Jacket was probably the best of her “so-bad-it’s-good films, but I do have a soft spot in my heart (or perhaps in my head) for some of the more craptacular ones, including Trog and Berserk. I even enjoyed the almost-but-not-quite unwatchable Wicked Stepmother, which has the dubious distinction of being Bette Davis’ swan song. I would never be so naive as to consider any of them as good films, but every now and then I enjoy pouring a glass of bourbon and watching something absolutely ridiculous with some friends, a la MST3K.

    • Jimrick10

      I AGREE WITH YOU EXCEPT MY DRINK IS SCOTCH AND WATER…I AM A CRAWFORD FAN/FOR GOOD OR BAD…..JOAN DID A TV MOVIE BACK IN THE SIXTIES/ALSO WITH DIANNE BAKER…WHATS WITH THAT RELATIONSHIP?  SHE WAS IN “THE BEST OF EVERYTHING” BACK IN THE LATE 50′S….THEN THE TV MOVIE/YOU CAN SEE IT ON YOUTUBE/THEN STRAIGHTJACKET???

  • Joseph Imhoff

    I think ‘Trog’ was Joan Crawford’s greatest role! Oh, she didn’t play Trog? My mistake, but it was hard to tell!

  • Mark

    Yes, it is pretty sad when you consider what a big star Joan was for so many years. However, she is as much to blame as anyone else – she stayed at the “star” party way too long. She should have retired gracefully.

  • Jerry

    Crawford was contractually obligated to complete a second feature film for Herman Cohen. Sadly, this is what she was offered to fulfill said contract.
    She regretted it until the minute she died.

  • Blair Kramer.

    The actor playing “Trog” is simply wearing a grotesque chimp/gorilla mask and nothing else! The production staff didn’t apply make-up to the rest of the body to match the head! As it is, “Trog” looks as though someone transplanted an extremely ugly chimpanzee head onto the body of an otherwise normal human being! It’s just too incredibly stupid! For this reason alone, you should not miss this truly great movie!

  • Rob

    The movie is indeed terrible, but to Joan’s credit, she didn’t fake her way through the movie, she acts just as sincerely as if she were acting opposite Clark Gable rather than a man in a caveman mask.

  • David in LA

    Come on! This is a monster movie from 1970, not Mildred Pierce. Joan Crawford was fine in Trog, playing this as a role in a kids movie. I saw this on a double bill with Taste the Blood of Dracula, and remember enjoying both films. Michael Gough is always worth watching.

  • Lorraine M.

    From the heights of “Grand Hotel” and “Mildred Pierce” to the basement lows of “Berserk” and “Trog.” Don’t go to Hollywood, children. Listen to your mother.

    • raymond

      TROG remains of the 100 worst movies of the last decade from 1970 to 1979. It’s right up there with another horrible monster movie titled EQUINOX released the following year in 1971.

  • Mike

    I’m sure it was horrible. I’ve never seen it. Michael Gough could be counted on to bring Class to any Herman Cohen production ..but a word about Herman Cohen. I knew him from way back around the time of Konga. He knew a good film from a piece of crap even if I didn’t. I remember dragging him to a film …The Miracle ..he didn’t want to see it, but I did and it was an education I’ve never forgotten. He quietly explained all the techniques, all the shots, and knew the names of all the players I had always figured had to completly nameless. Looking back on it ..he took it all very seriously..you can look for him in all of his films, buying a newspaper or some little bit. He was a very nice man..even if his films were so so lame

  • Ani C.

    The trailer tells the entire story… almost as detailed as the above article. No need to see the movie now.

  • Joni Mazzepi

    I’ve never understood the fascination the movie going public has with Joan Crawford or Bette Davis. I’ve never been a fan of either of them. They were both scary looking without makeup in most of their latter films. And, the best that could be said about them in their younger years is that they were ‘cute’. Ravishing beauties they never were. Joan always looked like she was one moment away from blowing her stack and slapping silly anyone within her reach. In TROG she looked positively manic. The ape creature looked like a leftover from the ape people from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. TROG wasn’t craptastic – it was just crap. Hey, maybe it was Bette Davis under the ape creature mask.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=586188672 Michael Rulon

      Trog’s mask actually *was* a leftover prop from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  • raymond

    TROG was produced in England at Shepperton Studios under Hammer Films and Warner Bors. Pictures. in 1970. I do recall this movie being rated “GP”. I knew Micheal Gough was in this but wasn’t Burt Reynolds?

    It was the same Warner Bors. Studio that Joan Crawford worked for years,and it was the same studio that brought her the Best Actress Oscar in 1945 for “Mildred Pierce”.

  • markus

    Fantastic review, i enjoyed it greatly. Hope you would consider doing one for Berserk, which is nearly as bad a film, hilarious at times, with a loverboy for Joan (nearly 30 years her junior) and a cheesy Brit cast (Diana Dors, Judy Geeson and Gough again) helping Joan shovel the crap.

  • Newellm

    Poor Joan! She should have called it quits one movie earlier. “Strait-Jacket” was campy fun. “Berserk! was bad enough, but “Trog” was pooper-scooper crap on the sidewalk. I remember a scene where the camera cuts away from Joan, and when it cuts back, Joan is wearing a different outfit.

    BTW,  Joan, a clothes-horse in her glory days, was wearing her own outfits in “Trog”, as she had done in “Berserk”. Isn’t itinteresting to note that both Joan and arch-rival Bette Davis, two of Hollywoods most respected movie star actresses, had such a need for attention that they would even appear in garbage like “Trog” and “Wicked Stepmother” just to keep their names on a movie marquee.