Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Season of Horror Lives Again: Trog (1970)

It is 11:30 in the morning, and I'm settled in to watch a film that has been enjoyed by very few people. 

"Like nothing I've ever seen before."

Three jovial British spelunkers have discovered a cave and are going in see what they can find. They are excited to find an unexplored cave that contains water. Brave Bill strips to his boxers and takes a dip in the icy water to see what he can discover. His buddy, Cliff, decides to get in on the action and strips down, slipping into the water and making his way through the cave behind him, while Malcolm decides to safely remain where he's at.

Trog appears and pounds Bill to a pulp. Cliff finds his mangled body and runs back to Malcolm, sobbing hysterically.

As Cliff lies sweaty and distraught in a hospital bed, Dr. Brockton (Joan Crawford) tries to get him to tell her more about the creature he saw. He whimpers and whines about its eyes and is basically useless. 

Malcolm flatters Dr. Brockton, so she invites him to be her assistant. She convinces him to go in search of the creature in the cave, which makes total sense, since it just killed a strapping young male. 

In the cave, Dr. Brockton gets a classic photo of the cave man lifting a rock over its head. It's no wonder the inspector doesn't believe it's real when she shows it to him since it appears totally staged. She informs him that they've discovered a cave dwelling Trog, half-man, half-ape. 

Television cameras are set up around the cave, police are on hand, and spectators are lined up to get a glimpse of the troglodyte, with refreshment stands set up. 

Cameras in the cave capture Trog as he murders a scuba diver, causing the other reporters to flee. Trog emerges from the cave and drops a rock on the head of a foolish cameraman who stood filming as he did it. 

Badass Dr. Brockton gets out a gun and shoots Trog with a tranquilizer dart. It takes her 3 darts to take him down and he falls at her feet. 

Back at the lab, Dr. Brockton and her her daughter, Anne, feed Trog a bucket of fish and lizards. Malcolm is concerned that Anne is getting too close, but she says she's not afraid, and her mom baselessly claims that she shouldn't be.

A group of reporters go to see Trog in his cage. Dr. Brockton explains that he is the missing link and needs to be studied and brought into the 20th century. Curmudgeonly Mr. Murdock denies her assertions, stating that it's a monster that must be destroyed, citing biblical reference to argue against evolution. A reporter sets off Trog with the flash on his camera and she yells at them. 

Dr. Brockton and Anne are in the cage, giving toys to Trog. He doesn't like the moon rover with astronaut, but is oddly entranced by the little walking girl doll. They are teaching him how to wind up the doll, and he pleases them when he shows he can wind up the doll all by himself. They give him more toys.

As Malcolm films their experimentation, they play classical music, which he seems to enjoy, but as soon as Anne puts on go-go music, he freaks out like somebody's square grandpa. 

Now they're showing Trog colorful circles, while Dr. Brockton teaches him color names. He does not seem to like red, but stops tearing up the circle when Dr. Brockton yells at him to stop. He indicates that he likes her pink scarf and she gives it to him. 

Mr. Murdock is drinking with Dr. Selbourne as they bash Dr. Brockton, complaining about having to answer to a woman, conspiring to discredit her work.

Dr. Brockton and Anne are playing ball with Trog in a park. When a dog tries to get in on the game, Trog grabs the doggie and slams it to the ground before the good doctor can get her hypo gun to stop him. 

An inquiry is being held due to complaints about Dr. Brockton's experiments with the creature. The inspector and Mr. Murdock claim the creature needs to be destroyed because it is an animal that has killed. Dr. Brockton argues that it is important to keep the creature alive as an important scientific discovery that needs to be studied. She says Trog can help them understand human history and they should try to unlock his mind. Brockton is told to keep the animal secured while the judge makes a determination of whether Trog should live or die. 

Brockton shares footage of her experiments with Trog in a room with scientists from all over the world. They are excited to be able to prove origins of man. She introduces Dr. Warren, who is tasked with surgically implanting a transistor device into Trog. 

Trog is being shown slides of dinosaur skeletons and when his heart rate goes up, Brockton gives him a shot of Pentothal, which causes him to have a vivid flashback. Trog reminisces about cool dinosaur battles, as T. rex kills Stegosaurus, then battles another T. rex as they go off a cliff together. In his mind, he sees a baby dinosaur hatch and then a volcano erupting, as dinosaurs sink into tar pits and fall into crevices caused by violent earthquakes.

When Anne walks in the room, Trog says her name and then starts listing color names. The scientists are thrilled. 

The inquiry resumes and Brockton shares that they have been able to give Trog the power of speech through experimentation and surgery. She calls upon American doctor, Warren, to substantiate her reports and provides documentation from scientists around the world to support the validity of her work. She explains that they will teach Trog how to speak and that he will then able to share his knowledge of the history of evolution. Mr. Murdock gets thrown out for having one outburst too many.

Late at night, Murdock shows up at the lab with a crowbar and takes out the security guard. He enters the lab where Trog is sleeping like a baby in his cage. He starts gleefully destroying the lab and he unlocks Trog's cage. He calls him a monster and throws a rock at him in his cage and leaves. At he goes to his car, Trog shows up and gives him a sound whooping. 

Brockton, Anne and Malcolm, hear the commotion and run out of the house to find Trog standing by Murdock's corpse in the car. Brockton tells Malcolm to get her hypo gun, but Trog pushes Anne and Malcolm aside and doesn't listen to Brockton telling him to stop as he runs off into a field, appearing very upset. He falls asleep by a tree.

The inspector is organizing police to go after Trog. Meanwhile, Trog is walking down the street in a village where shops are beginning to open up. Trog sees some produce outside one of the shops and helps himself. When he's caught by the shopkeeper, Trog decides to toss him through the window and destroys his produce. The butcher next door goes after him with a cleaver, and Trog hangs him up on a meat hook. We are treated to his bloodied body dripping amongst the carcasses with a hook jutting out from his body.

When Trog runs out in front of a driver, who honks at him, he overturns the car, which immediately explodes, incinerating the man inside. 

Trog makes his way to a playground full of children playing. He wants to get in on a game of soccer. The kids see him and run away screaming. Trog grabs a little girl from a slide and carries her off as her momma screams.

Trog brings the unconscious girl to his cave. Regiments of police and soldiers are at the cave with Dr. Brockton. The little girl's mother shows up and yells hysterically at Dr. Brockton. 

Brockton implores the inspector to let her go in the cave to try and save the girl. The inspector goes off on her and she reminds him that Murdock is to blame for letting Trog loose. He says it's a killer that has to be destroyed. Brockton sneaks off into the cave as the inspector protests. 

She finds the little girl whimpering in the cave. As she goes to her, Trog jumps in front of her, snarling. She yells at him and he stops. She asks him to let her have the child. He hands the kid over and she strokes his cheek and thanks him. 

She emerges from the cave with the girl. Brockton begs to go in with the hypo gun, arguing that Trog can be reasoned with, but the colonel orders his soldiers in to the cave to destroy Trog. They fire on Trog, who falls off a cliff and lands on a stalagmite. 

A reporter asks for her comment on the destruction of Trog, but she refuses to give one and walks away. 

End credits roll over the image of Trog impaled on a stalagmite. 


While this is probably not a film I will watch again, I also did not find it to be that bad. It was a bit clunky in the way Dr. Brockton went about her experiments with no real explanation for her methods, though it seemed the intention was to make Trog out to be similar to a child, with an interest in playing with dollies and wearing pink scarves. The basic premise of finding evolutionary proof and exploring the possibility of having an early human ancestor be able to recount what life was like in prehistoric times, no matter how ludicrous, was interesting. While the dinosaur sequences were fun to watch, it might have been nice if Trog had had some memories of his cave family to provide that connection to humanity that Dr. Brockton was trying to establish. Of course, science deniers had to go and screw things up, and while we knew that loudmouth, misogynistic Murdock would come to no good end, it was clear that the same would be true for Trog. 

In contrast to other reviewers, I have nothing bad to say about Joan Crawford in this film, and thought her talent as an actress was evident, and helped make this film watchable. 

Next in the lineup is The Vampire Lovers, as the mad marathon continues!


Don said...

Thanks for covering this. I never would have watched it if you had not said it wasn't too bad. I always assumed it must be dreadful.

I haven't seen Joan Crawford in many movies, but I thought she was amazing here. Whatever it used to be that made someone a star, even in Trog, it was radiating out from her whether she was in a meeting or shooting tranqs.

It was a fun watch, marred only slightly by the awful Trog costume.

Criterion PS: Even though I am not in the expected demographic, I have become hooked on Gold Diggers of 1933 on Criterion. Recommended to all (as long as I can do it anonymously). We're in the Money sung in pig latin, and Billy Barty made 2020 a lot more bearable.

Christine said...

Thanks, Don! I'm glad I didn't steer you wrong. I also thought it unusual to see a big ape head on a hairless man body, but Dr. Brockton did say he was half-man, half-ape. Apparently, Trog was transitioning.

Gold Diggers is one of my favorite Busby Berkeley choreographed movies and infinitely rewatchable! It was surprising to see Dick Powell as a smooth talker in the film noirs he did later after getting to know him as a romantic crooner from these BB flicks. Be sure to check out some of the other films in the Joan Blondell collection. I promise not to tell anyone if you do!