Cave

That’s “cave” in the Latin sense, of course, meaning “beware.” Beware of TROG, one of the worst films I’ve yet sat through as part of my demented quest to experience every morsel of terror and ennui suggested by the photo-illustrations within Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

TROG it was, of course, that inspired a young John Landis to try his hand at film-making, on the basis that he would be bound to make a better movie than TROG.

Controversial question: has he done so yet?

(I think he has, and would cite AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON as a really tip-top genre piece with a jolly pleasing touristic view of England. I’m just being what you might call provocative. I’ve still to see Landis’s debut, the directly TROG-inspired comedy SCHLOCK.)

What makes TROG the more deplorable, more than its puerile screenplay, wooden supporting cast, more than the lip-smacking yet deeply rubbish performance from Michael Gough (working with material, it should be admitted, that would strike less courageous [or foolhardy] actors with mutism and paralysis through its sheer awfulness), more than the ape-man himself, who has a serviceable prosthetic ape-face, attached to a hairless, chubby body which is rather noticeably a different colour — more than any of this, the film should be regarded with terror and pity because it’s the last movie ever to star Joan Crawford.

Yep.

It also ended director Freddie Francis’s directing career, or nearly. It made him want to stop directing films (he returned to his first love, cinematography, with excellent results). In fact, FF carried on helming turkeys for another five years, and even made a comeback in 1985, murdering the late Dylan Thomas’s fine script of THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS. If Thomas had been alive to see that, or if the film’s bodysnatchers had dug him up and anatomist Timothy Dalton had somehow revived him from his earthy slumber, I don’t know what he would have done. Probably got drunk — which is the best way to approach TROG, I would suggest. Some have suggested that was the only way Joan could get through acting in it.

Yet, stone-cold sober I viewed the atrocity, in which badly-acted spelunkers are mauled by a neanderthal in a cave in Berkshire. Handy scientist  Dr Brockton (our Joan) goes down the hole with a tranquilizer gun and soon has “Trog” the apeman eating out of her hand. But local citizen Gough is up in arms about this “demon” devaluing housing prices, or something, so he breaks in to the lab one night and sets it free. Makes sense.

Cue amusing mayhem, ketchup for blood, dead bodies that visibly breathe, and a car that explodes just because Trog rolls it over. There’s a great scene where he wrestles a German shepherd that looks like its having the time of its life. A hint of the wretchedness herein can be gleaned from the fact that the world-class surgeon they get in to give Trog the power of speech (!) is played by Robert Hutton, last seen hereabouts revivifying the head of Nostradamus in THE MAN WITHOUT A BODY.

Is Trog’s head really stolen from 2001, as somebody suggests? I suspect it might be. It has the same nicely articulated lips. Of course, the guys in 2001 were lucky enough to get costumes that continued from the neck down. Certainly stolen from Irwin Allen’s THE ANIMAL WORLD is the lengthy sequence of fighting dinosaurs, psychedelically tinted, which stands for Trog’s flashback to his prehistoric youth (he’s been frozen underground for trillennia). The Willis O’Brien/Ray Harryhausen animation is the only real touch of class in the film, but stops the plot dead because it has nothing to do with anything in the story. I will pass over in silence the grave scientific error in presenting T-Rex and Trog as contemporaries.

(Allen’s nature film was so completely cannibalized for stock footage, that it’s thought that no complete print survives — although the animation is intact.)

Are there any other pleasures to be had in this mess of potage? I sort of liked the way all the younger actors just look as if they’re really chuffed at being in a film with Joan Crawford. I liked Trog’s strange grunts — his repeated cry of “Ugh!” would make a great capsule review for the movie. The bad dialogue should have been funny, but was mostly annoying — writer Aben Kandel (which looks like an anagram, but for what? Banned Leak? — the same chump worked on KONGA and CRAZE for the same wretched producer, Herman Cohen) — the fact that the writer doesn’t know a flashlight from a flashbulb, and that nobody corrected him, is just slightly dismaying.

Overall, the movie sort of makes you wish this had happened, for real, when they were shooting it ~

Now you can rush over to Amazon and buy this, as I know you’ll want to —

Trog

43 Responses to “Cave”

  1. I have long regarded Konga as the most hypnotically awful B-horror I’ve witnessed. If Trog is worse – and this looks horribly likely – themn I’ll have to check it out. When I’m feeling a bit stronger.

  2. “Aben Kandel (which looks like an anagram, but for what? Banned Leak?)”

    Kneadable.

    Although, I like Kane ‘nd Abel as well.

  3. Nice! Good to know he’s kneadable, he’s certainly slappable.

    You can ALMOST make “banal naked” or “abandon elk” but not quite. Which makes me even more cross with him.

  4. Konga is indeed spectacularly awful, but it’s more “enjoyable” than Trog.

    Herman Cohen boasted that they got really good at matting shots together because of all the shots of Michael Gough in Konga’s paw.

    “You mean you didn’t build a giant hand?” asks the interviewer.

    “Hah! We didn’t have the money for a giant SCHMUCK!”

  5. Gough is heroically intense in Konga. I remember very fondly the stillness of the confrontation between him and his spurned assistant upstaged by the bobbing and slobbering, apparently inflatable carniverous plants behind them.

  6. david wingrove Says:

    It’s a long-cherished dream of mine to see this film. OK, I know it’s supposed to be crap, but just think…a Cro-Magnon monster up against an aging alcoholic Joan Crawford. Which one is more terrifying? I honestly can’t decide until I see it.

  7. Joan, of course.

    WhoDaThunk her career would climax with her soulfully staring into the camera and saying “Oh Trog, Trog!”

  8. Gee, I know of actors that had to take parts that weren’t exactly flattering to their careers due to financial woes, but Joan wasn’t exactly in that position. I’m guessing the booze finally destroyed her ability to think straight. I saw this movie years ago on tape with some friends, and I couldn’t make it to the end, no way, no how. I excused myself to buy a six-pack and never came back.

  9. If David C thinks that showing Trog and T-Rex as contemporaries is an error, I suggest he stay the hell out of Oklahoma.

  10. OK, he can go to “Oklahoma,” but stay out of Oklahoma, where they warble about Biblical inerrancy.

  11. “Inerrancy”? Is that a word? “It is in Oklahoma!”

    Joan is definitely scarier than Trog, and also sadder. He’s a lone survival from another age, but not as much as she is.

    I think Bette and Joan both just wanted to work, felt unemployment was demeaning, wanted to keep inflicting themselves on the public, as it were. Which I applaud. I blame the trashy filmmakers for not at least giving them decent roles in decent trashy movies. There are Joan roles and non-Joan roles. She’s not really the scientific type.

    At least this isn’t her last screen moment: TV stepped in to give her something to do in her declining years.

  12. The Harryhausen dinosaur animation from THE ANIMAL WORLD is included *in full* as an extra on the U.S. DVD of O’Brien’s THE BLACK SCORPION.

  13. Out fucking standing!

  14. I knew you’d love it. There’s even a reference to Trog.

  15. Christopher Says:

    wow..great video! ..lol..poor Joan..I’d be mad too!
    I could never understand why they couldn’t find decent Roles in movies around “Trog” times for some of the great old timers like Crawford or Swanson or Louise Brooks,who all still looked great and full of energy..Altho Joan and a few others like Stanwyk,did alot of made for tv-movies..

  16. Even Straitjacket, and Baby Jane, have more dignity than Trog! At least there’s a reason to use aging divas in those. Robert Aldrich belatedly came to believe starring former glamour icons in horror films was mean, and it was, but it did give them a new lease of life, and some roles they could get their teeth into.

  17. Tony Williams Says:

    Superb extract, David E. – and I don’t mean OKLAHOMA. On BABY JANE, a film generally regarded as camp, it is also a meditation on the disastrous effects of female ageing, especially in Hollywood, as well as child victims of entertainment families.

  18. Yeah, I could never see Baby Jane as real camp, it’s too painful and morbid. Not that those things are necessarily incompatible with camp, but here they seem to edge it out. But as a film about what Hollywood does to people, and about destructive co-dependent relationships, and as you say, aging in Hollywood, it’s quite strong. It has a kind of integrity, a reason for existing, even though it was perhaps unwise to cast those two opposite each other…

  19. What’s brilliant about Baby Jane is that it’s both camp AND a serious film about stars discarded because they’re “too old.”

    Streep has managed to triumph — for reasons that were she here to see her Joan would greatly admire. But she’s the exception to the rule. This year for instance Michelle Pfeiffer’s beyond fabulous performance in Cheri was virtually ignored.

  20. La Streep has already made her Baby Jane, of course, in the shape of Death Becomes Her.

    I’ve heard it suggested that Cheri is just not a strong enough film, with Pfeiffer giving it her all, but the movie isn’t backing her up. If you’re brilliant but the film isn’t, sadly nobody tends to notice. But I haven’t see Cheri so I don’t know if that’s so.

  21. No the film is brilliant too. But as it’s set in the bel epoque yet clearly relates to sexual and romantic attitudes that persist to this day — it was ignored.

    Based on Colette’s stories (and quite faifthful to them in every detail) Frears’ film is about a beautiful, intelligent, well-bred retired courtesan who finds herself falling for the wrong person.

    Ge that never happens, right?

    Who she falls for is the wastrel son of a fellow demi-mondaine. She thinks it’s just a pleasant little fling. She thinks she can handle it. But she can’t. And at the end Frears gives Pfeiffer a close-up the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Queen Christina.

  22. For some reason, I thought Bette did a little better in her old age, with films like The Nanny. Other aging actresses seemed to get stuck in the ’70s mass of disaster films.

  23. Tony Williams Says:

    I remember seeing a BBC production of CHERIE years ago with Yvonne Mitchell in the title role and the young actor who played in Russell’s THE SAVAGE MESSIAH. Lorna Heilbron (played his young wife) and the series ended on a very melancholy note. Brenda Bruce also played his mother.

  24. Scott Antony

    I saw Trog first-run.

    I trust you all realize that Trog spelled backwards in Gort.

    And Kalattu Barada Nikto to you too.

  25. Nothing for Scott Antony past 1974.

    Scott — where are you?

  26. Mystery! He was pretty good, too. I guess he got out of the business when British cinema imploded.

    The Nanny is terrific. And most of Bette’s later films weren’t complete crap. And she got The Whales of August very near the end. Even ending up on a Larry Cohen film — could be a lot worse.

    Trog is short for troglodyte — for what is Gort short?

  27. david wingrove Says:

    Glad I’m not the only one who loves CHERI – it’s a genuinely classy, elegant, old-fasioned romantic film. Beautifully shot, gorgeously designed and exquisitely acted.

    OK, the boy who plays opposite Pfeiffer is a total non-event. (His name’s Rupert Friend, and I kept asking myself – ‘But whose friend was he? The producer’s? The casting director’s? God’s?) If the male lead had even an iota of charisma, CHERI could be an all-time classic. As such, it’s merely one of the best films of this year.

  28. Well the important thing is that we believe that she falls in love with him. We don’t really have to — though that always helps. It’s hard to make youthful indolence and totally destructive irresponsibility sexy.

  29. david wingrove Says:

    Ah, but I disagree…’youthful indolence’ and ‘destructive irresponsibility’ are both enormously attractive to me, as long as the man who embodies them is half-way cute. Mind you, that probably says more about my dysfunctional love-life than it does about CHERI.

    Saw CHERI in London with a close friend who actually does find Rupert Friend sexy…and she was a total emotional basket-case once it finished! Bowled over, devastated, made her ‘Top 10’ list. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s definitely Michelle Pfeiffer’s finest-ever screen moment and I hope she gets at least a nomination at the Oscars.

  30. Tony Williams Says:

    Larry employed Bette following his policy of giving work to unemployed former stars. Unfortunately, she fell ill mid-way during the production so Larry had to revert to his usual inspiration which did not save the film (apart from the opening 10 minutes). However, although it went straight to video, it was the only MGM product that made money that year. Larry also stated that 10 minutes of the last footage of Bette Davis was better to be seen on the screen rather languishing in a vault.

  31. I think he’s right. It was a very sad story. I think he initially put out the story that Bette had left due to creative differences because he thought maybe she would recover and he didn’t want her to lose work due to rumours of ill-health. But as the doctors tried to repair one bit, another bit would go kerflooey, until there wasn’t enough of her in working order to call alive anymore.

  32. Tony Williams Says:

    Actually, her false teeth bridge broke and, despite Larry suggesting, they continue filming and post-dub later she refused to continue. Larry was a true gentleman and kept quiet about the real story until she died.

  33. david wingrove Says:

    My God, I never knew that…I just believed the story that Bette Davis was a holy terror on WICKED STEPMOTHER, as she allegedly was on most of her later films.

    After all, it was her antics on WHALES OF AUGUST that finally made Lillian Gish give up acting, after a career of nearly 80 years.

    Apparently, Gish did a beautiful close-up and the entire crew was in raptures. Bette’s response…

    “Well, she should be good at close-ups. The bitch invented them!”

  34. Tony Williams Says:

    She was a holy terror on the set but Larry knew about it and treated her with kid gloves so they had a really good working relationship while they were filming.

  35. I think I remember Crawford attributing lagte films like “Trog,” in interview to her being “broke or bored or both.” Which sounds credible enough.

  36. Makes sense.

    I think everyone on Whales knew it would be Lillian’s last. That was kind of the impetus for making it, and it prompted Anderson to at last invest himself in somebody else’s film. At one point they gave Lillian a prop photograph, possibly of Mary Steenburgen, and said “This is your sister,” and she replied, “But that’s not Dorothy…” Confusing reality and film, an easy mistake for an actor. She was still sharp, but starting to slightly lose her bearings.

    “Lillian is an angel,” said Anderson. “But be clear: people think of angels as rather insipid. Angels are STRONG. Now, if Lillian is an angel, Bette…”

    Looooong pause.

    “…has a devil IN her. I think she had to fight so long and hard in her career, that it’s become a kind of habit.”

  37. Just had a great idea. Joan and Bette in THE WHALES OF TROGUST.

  38. Here’s a more accurate reproduction of that Crawford quote, as well as some dandy graphics …

    http://carfaxabbey.blogspot.com/2009/07/whatever-happened-to-billie-cassin.html

    Do check out the “Trog” photos toward the bottom.

  39. Great stuff. It’s probably wrong to suggest that Bette’s work at Hammer was more respectable than Joan’s work for William Castle, though. The Nanny and The Anniversary are good films, more sophisticated than anything the old huckster came up with, but both actresses were seen to have fallen to low-rent exploiters.

    Bette did seem to have better luck: Madame Sin is a joy, and I have a soft spot for The Watcher in the Woods.

  40. I think Trog is not bad, but it’s so bad it’s classic. After all I’ve seen it five times and I’ve only owned the DVD for two weeks. Will be watching it again soon! I have a collection of Trog memorabilia including cinema press kits, stills and videos. You could say I’m slightly obsessed with it!! Someone at Warner Bros must have ‘liked’ this film as it got worldwide cinema distribution, a Super 8 release in the 70s, a VHS and Beta release in the 80s, a laserdisc release in the 90s, and a DVD release in the 2000s. It must be heading for Blu Ray in the imminent future. Let’s hope!!!

  41. Well, Joan had a big history at Warners, maybe they backed it to the hilt for old time’s sake. It’s a consistently surprising film, I’ll give it that!

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