Hell Comes to Frogtown (UK - DVD R2 | BD RB)
Chris takes a look at this limited edition release DVD/Blu-ray from Arrow Video...
With the 20th Century drawing to a close, nuclear war has wiped out civilization as we know it. The embattled human race’s last remaining hope lies with one man and his loaded weapon.
Sam Hell may be an ex-con, but he also happens to be one of the last surviving fertile men on the planet. Now, under the custody of a group of feisty female fighters, Sam finds himself enlisted on a mission to impregnate a harem of beauties. Sounds cushy enough, but the ladies in question are prisoners of Frogtown – home to a gang of mutant (and ill-mannered) amphibians!
Starring wrestler-turned-actor Rowdy Roddy Piper, known to John Carpenter enthusiasts for his body-slamming and bubblegum-chewing antics in They Live, Hell Comes to Frogtown is unashamedly a B-movie through and through with more guns and girls than you can shake a frog’s leg at. (Taken from Arrow's synopsis.)
As one of Arrow's dual format releases, Hell Comes to Frogtown includes both DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film in the pack. The film is also limited to just one thousand copies, which reflects anticipated demand. This review will focus mainly on the Blu-ray version, but I'll comment on the DVD where appropriate.
The accompanying booklet states that Lakeshore Entertainment, not Arrow, was responsible for this transfer of Hell Comes to Frogtown. Traditionally Arrow's in-house transfers have been better than their licensed ones, and truth be told this is no different. However, while it's certainly not a patch on the best looking titles released by the label over the past year or so, one has to look at these things in context. It's a minor miracle that the film even has a high-definition release, never mind one that pushes for top honours, so temper your expectations accordingly.
My only previous exposure to the film came in the form of movie posters in my local rental stores when I was a kid and an abortive viewing on Netflix. Why abortive? Well, the quality was so bad I just couldn't bring myself to watch it. Thankfully this release is a major step up in the picture stakes in both standard and high-definition formats. Even so, the 1.78:1 (1080/24p AVC) image has its share of problems, with numerous unsightly film artefacts evident throughout and some problematic noise, particularly in the darker areas of the screen. I also noticed some motion trails/smearing at various intervals, which are in the master rather than being a by-product of my display technology (I've checked). However, when at its best the image is actually quite pleasing, with some surprising detail and strong, natural colour rendition. Scenes that exhibit overt softness do so because of problems inherent to the original photography, rather than any transfer deficiencies. The encode itself looks to be very solid, with no obvious compression issues (even in scenes with lots of smoke etc.) or digital nastiness. I have a feeling that the anomalies I mentioned earlier are baked into whatever master Arrow was given to work with, and the end result is better than I expected. Of course when scoring I had to weigh the quality against the label's other releases and the Blu-ray market as a whole, hence the rather average mark, but fans should be over the moon.
The accompanying DVD looks surprisingly good for a standard-definition release, giving the Blu-ray a fair run for its money, but ultimate it lacks the fine detail and colour accuracy of the latter presentation.
The Blu-ray includes a solitary audio option in the form of LPCM 2.0 Stereo. There's really not too much to say here, as the track is exactly what you'd expect given the age and budget of the source material. Immersion is limited by its very nature, but at least everything is clear and free from distortion. I did have to crank things up a little louder than usual for an LPCM track, but thankfully there are no problems with relative levels between effects, music and dialogue, the latter of which is always intelligible. As you might expect, dynamic range is somewhat limited, but that doesn't come as any great surprise. It's a perfectly serviceable effort that does justice to the film's limited sound design and probably represents a fair approximation of the original aural experience.
The DVD version of the film includes a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo option. Neither version includes subtitles, apparently for financial reasons.
Although not as comprehensive as many of their other releases, Arrow has still managed to assemble a fair collection of bonus material for Hell Comes to Frogtown. The commentary track from the US disc isn't included, but we do get a number of new interviews with cast and crew, including star Roddy Piper. While there's actually less than an hour of material included the fact that any extras are included has to be seen as a bonus for this sort of release.
- Grappling with Green Gargantuans: A twenty-two minute featurette in which Rowdy Roddy Piper reminisces about his involvement with the film in his own inimitable style.
- Creature Feature Creator: Effects artist Steve Wang talks to us about his weird and wonderful amphibian creations.
- Amphibian Armageddon: Actor Brian Frank remembers his role as the mutant leader, Commander Toty.
- Extended Scene: A sub-VHS quality, 4:3 ratio presentation of a slightly extended take.
- Original Trailer
- Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Jeff Zornow: As is usual with Arrow releases, you have a choice between new and original theatrical artwork.
- Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Calum Waddell: Arrow's customary booklet provides greater insight into the film.
- DVD Copy: I'm not sure if this is really an extra, but it undoubtedly adds value to the overall package.
Hell Comes to Frogtown is a fantastic title for a film, but unfortunately in this case the title is the stand-out element. I enjoy a 'so bad it's good' film as much as the next guy, but Frogtown didn't really float my boat. Roddy Piper is likeable enough, if not quite as accomplished as in later work such as They Live, while the supporting cast of beauties make for decent enough eye-candy. I even got a kick out the frog make-up, which is surprisingly advanced given the film's meagre SFX budget. However, there's no getting around the fact that it's badly acted, hokey and, well, a little bit sinister. When you think about it, Piper's character is a government employee tasked with sexually assaulting the helpless female survivors of the nuclear apocalypse. There's a particularly uncomfortable scene in which a hysterical girl is drugged so that she'll be easier to 'mate with', which is a little date-rapey for my liking (that she is later shown to have enjoyed the encounter is even more dubious).
My feelings towards the film aside, the disc is almost sure to be a fan-pleaser. Arrow obviously realises that this isn't going to appeal to a terribly wide audience, what with the limited pressing and all, so they have sensibly concentrated on the things that matter. I sincerely doubt that Frogtown fans will have ever seen the film looking or sounding as good as it does here, and while the extras aren't comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination, there's still more content than graces some major studio releases... I'm not sure I'd recommend this as a blind-buy, but if you're a fan it's probably a good idea to pick up a copy before they sell out.
Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 3rd February 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo
Extras: Interviews, Extended Scene, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Donald G. Jackson and R.J. Kizer
Cast: Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, Cec Verrell, William Smith, Brian Frank
Genre: Action and Sci-Fi
Length: 83 minutes
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