A Boy and his Dog (LQ Jones, 1975) and Hell Comes to Frogtown (Donald G. Jackson and R.J. Kizer, 1988) have a couple of strange connecting threads: Both are post-apocalyptic films that deal with a man who must unwillingly give up his sperm. Well, yes, this could easily be explained by assuming that Hell Comes to Frogtown writer Randall Frakes had either seen A Boy and his Dog or read the novella by Harlan Ellison from which the movie was based. Well, okay, but the movies are so completely different in tone that if Frakes plagiarized Ellison or was “heavily influenced” by the story, he hid it well. No, it seems like the same kind of strange inspiration struck both Ellison and Frakes and they decided to go in completely different directions with the concept.
Although a prolific actor, LQ Jones only had two other directing credits besides A Boy and his Dog, one of which was an episode of The Incredible Hulk in 1980. He ended up writing the script for the film after Ellison abandoned the adaptation of his own work. For his part, Ellison hated the final lines of the movie, which were written by Jones. This comes after the “boy,” Vic (Don Johnson), has just killed and eaten (luckily all this happens offscreen) his love interest because he and his dog Blood (voiced by Tim McIntire) were, well, very hungry. I’ll admit: the line is pretty funny in a perverse way: “Well, I’d say she certainly had marvelous judgement, Albert, if not good taste.” Ellison called the line “a moronic, hateful chauvinist last line,” and that it is, but so is the rest of the movie. However, as with Hell Comes to Frogtown, it’s hard to tell whether the flick is sincere in its attitude toward women or a parody of such attitudes. In both cases, I tend to lean toward a satirical interpretation, but possibly only so that I feel a little more comfortable about watching the movies. Satire or not, there definitely is some unconscious misogyny at work that might really turn a 21st Century viewer off.
A fun side note about A Boy and his Dog: James Cagney was considering coming out of retirement to voice Blood. Now that would have been quite the memorable comeback.
Unlike A Boy and his Dog, Hell Comes to Frogtown wears its cult-film status on its sleeve, maybe a little too much, in fact. Co-director Donald G. Jackson, who also has a story credit, has directed movies with admittedly awesome titles like Rollergator and Guns of El Chupacabra. Writer Randall Frakes, who got his start co-writing and co-directing James Cameron’s first short film, has almost exclusively written cult / weirdo material. And let’s not forget that the film stars Roddy Piper, whose name almost screams low-budget camp. But, really, do you need anything more than the title to guess the kind of movie you’re about to see?
Hell comes to Frogtown takes place in a world where women control civilization, except for a small piece of land controlled by frog-human hybrids that were created as a result of nuclear fallout. Women have no rights in Frogtown. They’re basically slaves. Or they are slaves. The movie is a bit vague on that. But forget all that, because the movie’s mostly a story about Roddy Piper’s piece. See, early in the movie his dick gets put into this weird metal device that’ll explode and destroy the, uh, goods, if he doesn’t do exactly what the women who are in charge of him want. Roddy Piper is great in this role because it called for an actor that could play Roddy Piper. And Roddy Piper is an expert at playing Roddy Piper.
Piper Plays Sam Hell, a man who’s in a bit of trouble after he has sex with a general’s daughter. He’s about to get put away for a very long time when a woman interrupts Hell’s interrogation and says that they need Mr. Hell for their own purposes. See, they find out that the general’s daughter is pregnant, which is an extremely good thing in a world where most men are sterile. So they run some tests and find out that he has an incredibly high sperm count. So high, in fact, that he knocks up any woman he has sex with. (I know, I know, but just go with it.) “This man is carrying a loaded weapon,” a government agent says and, well, I told you this movie lacks subtlety.
So the women in charge fit Sam with a sort of, err, dick belt. It’s a metal codpiece thing that looks as though it would be pretty heavy to carry around. The belt is there as a sort of insurance policy to make sure he doesn’t get out of line. If he disobeys their orders, the belt will explode and he will literally get his dick blown off. Motivation enough for any man, I’d say. Well.
So Sam and two women, Spangle (Sandahl Bergman) and Patton (Eyde Byrde), go on a mission to rescue a harem of women from the evil Commander Toady (get it? yeah…). Spangle is a sort of scientist, I guess, and Patton is the muscle of the operation. Spangle has to keep Sam in a constant state of excitement, so the sperm count stays high, of course. But she’s not fertile, so she can’t have sex with him. So, yeah, part of her job is to be a literal cock tease. This movie is weird. But, don’t worry guys, Spangle gets her comeuppance when she has to pose as a slave so that she and Sam can pass through Frogtown unnoticed. She has to wear a collar and chains and is handcuffed. And when she’s captured and taken into Commander Toady’s harem, it’s up to Sam to rescue everyone, including Spangle.
So, okay, is this a parody of 80’s action movie tropes? It’s kind of hard not to give the movie the benefit of the doubt. This whole idea of a poor schmuck’s penis literally being controlled by women is done in such a comical way that it’s almost impossible to take the thing seriously and so it very much lends itself to a satirical interpretation. Not that this is a “feminist” movie in any way. All the women are beautiful in a leggy 80’s sort of way and writer Randall Frakes knew that male audiences would only accept Sam Hell as a submissive slave for so long. Ultimately, he had to be the hero. But you can’t take this stuff very seriously. And anyway, ultimately, it’s the people and toad creatures who force women to be slaves that are the villains. This means commander Toady, of course, but also the human general we met at the beginning of the movie, who exclaims dramatically at the end of the film: “This used to be a man’s world, Sam. Now there’s too many women. They have us by the short hairs!” Indeed.
Unfortunately for A Boy and His Dog, this kind of levity is nowhere to be found. There are funny parts, to be sure, but the dark tone dulls the comedy. In this post-apocalyptic world, humans have basically been reduced to being just another animal. So the “boy,” Vic, treats his dog Blood better than he will ever treat a woman. You see, Vic is a simple young man. He has two basic needs: Food and sex, and he has no moral trouble taking either by force. In fact, Blood’s primary function is to sniff out “females” for Vic to have sex with. And by sex, we mean rape, because there is no difference in this film. Yes, the hero of our very cynical story will literally try to rape a woman several times before this movie is over.
The first quarter of the movie basically consists of Vic stalking Quilla (Susanne Benton), following her to an underground bunker, and threatening to rape her. Lucky for her, they’re interrupted by gunfire because, what else, a bunch of marauders want Quilla for themselves. Well, okay, but Vic is able to fend off the thugs, only to have Quilla pretend to fall in love with him so that she can lure him to an underground civilization where they hook him up to a literal sperm sucking machine because all of the guys down there are, you guessed it, infertile. That machine they hook him up to, though, Jesus, it looks painful. But we can’t feel too sorry for Vic because, you know, he spent the first half of the movie trying to rape Quilla.
The whole second half of this movie is weird. For one thing, the underground civilization is filled with people who paint their faces like nightmarish clowns. For another, they call their little town Topeka, harkening back to the Kansas town before the war, in a weird idealization of small town values. Except these people don’t really know how small town values work, so they stage a crude representation thereof. Because of this, we get one of the most absurd, and sometimes quite funny, scenes in the movie. There’s an altar and a preacher and ten women in wedding dresses and ol’ Vic hooked up to his sperm pump. The preacher “marries” a woman to Vic and she steps up to get her prized vile of seamen. Yup. Marriage. Ain’t it grand?
Quilla, who has somehow developed feelings for Vic, despite the fact that he’s clearly a monster, is able to free him from this sperm-sucking gizmo. At first she wants to use Vic to take over the evil ruling class who are constantly sending people to work on “the farm” when they transgress one of Topeka’s many rigid laws. But when Vic refuses to do that, she kind of says fuck it and helps him escape anyway. And for her troubles, she gets roasted and eaten by Vic and his dog.
This is satire at its most brutal and its hard to see much humor in this dark comedy. What’s puzzling about the whole thing is the last line that Ellison had so much of a problem with: “Well, I’d say she certainly had marvelous judgement, Albert, if not good taste.” I haven’t read Ellison’s original novella, though I do have the collection in which it appears on my bookshelf somewhere, so I can’t really compare the tone of the movie to its source material, which is quite unfair, I know, but in the context of the movie, the final lines make complete sense. If the story was meant to be satirical and a comment on misogyny, then Ellison didn’t have much right to complain, because the line works as a darkly comic summation of the story. Honestly, I think he might have been a bit jealous and wished he had come up with thing. The line is callous because the characters are callous and the world they live in is callous. It’s actually quite perfect in a way.
Well, so much for all that, I guess. A Boy and his Dog is a better movie with a more developed story than Hell Comes to Frogtown, but Frogtown is so much more fun and doesn’t make you feel as though you’re wading through the Bog of Eternal Stench. It would be interesting to get a woman’s perspective on this whole thing. Would it even occur to a female writer or director to make a movie about a world where good sperm is hard to find? Probably this is a mad sort of male obsession. And however tongue-in-cheek these stories might or might not be, there’s an underlying sense that the male ego is quite a fragile thing.