There’s something deeply reassuring about Cody Jarrett’s “Frog-g-g!” In this era of super-realistic special effects and multi-million dollar horror, it’s living proof that there may still be a place for drive-in style monster flicks where small towns are punished for the evils of industrial polluters, where gratuitous nudity is paid its due respect, and where crusading scientists face off against skeptical good-ol’-boy sheriffs, vile industrialists and hostile local-yokels who simply cannot face the clear and rational evidence that the monster(s) are coming!

Without a doubt the most terrifying frog-attack movie ever made, the recently completed “Frog-g-g!” nevertheless doesn’t try very hard to be scary — after all, how frightened can today’s audiences be of an oversexed amphibian who looks like an actor in a frog costume?

But that’s more than okay. Blending the aesthetics of Roger Corman/Samuel Z. Arkoff 60’s and 70’s monster flicks with a touch of Russ Meyer flair, Cody Jarrett’s opus is quite openly for the Joe Bob Briggs that lives inside us all. Containing at least seven naked breasts, lots of politically incorrect humor (dealing with everything from the sexual prowess of mutant frogs to the hormone levels of nuns), and some pretty stunning recreations of the look of classic exploitation films, “Fro-g-g-g!” happily brings drive-in filmmaking smack into the age of the DVD and the nano-mega-multiplex.

Played in earnest, but with its tongue stuck firmly in its cheek (and elsewhere — there are a couple of guy-pleasing lesbian love scenes on tap), “Frog-g-g!” is the story of beautiful EPA scientist Dr. Barbara Michaels (Kristi Russell). Michaels is sent to a small California town to investigate toxic waste dumping in a local lake. Soon, she and her earthy bartender girlfriend, Trixie (Ariadne Shaffer), are uncovering fairly massive skullduggery at the local chemical plant.

Hindered by the obnoxious, tyrannical factory boss Huntley Grimes (Michael McConnohie) and reluctantly helped by a crusty but good-hearted good ol’ boy sheriff (scene-stealing Rob Brink), the twosome uncover a mysterious illness and something even more frightening…a man-sized killer frog who’s chromosomal structure drives him to non-consensual coitus with human women.

Top of the World, Ma!

The man behind the frog is musician-actor turned all-around filmmaker Cody Jarrett. Jarrett first came to L.A. from Florida to appear in the 1990 Andrew Dice Clay vehicle “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane,” and stayed to work on his acting and front the seventies revival band Teen Machine. Jarrett stuck to it, finding work on big-time film sets as a photo-double and stand-in for Johnny Depp and several other of today’s skinniest male film stars. It wasn’t long before he caught the directing bug.

Jarrett completed a screenplay and an elaborate trailer for “Surfbroads,” but the pastiche of sixties tough-girl movies went into the indie version of turn-around. Soon, the budding auteur turned to another of his favorite sub-genres for inspiration — the spate of ecological horror films produced by “King of the B’s” Roger Corman and, in particular, the 1980 cult classic “Humanoids from the Deep.”

At least, that’s what I thought. Jarrett — who takes his name from the psychotic gangster played by Jimmy Cagney in “White Heat” — says his film began with an almost Thoreauvian encounter with nature.

“I’d seen this lake that was completely filled with tadpoles — I mean teeming, more tadpoles than water. I thought the entire property would be overrun by frogs within weeks, and…wait… what if just one of those frogs had some kind of genetic defect.”

At first, Jarrett envisioned the film as a more or less straightforward comedy-thriller, but the power of the B-movie was strong. “Partway into it, I had an epiphany: I was writing a 1970’s drive-in movie…and it was definitely within the scope of producing independently, the way they would’ve done it thirty years ago.”

Jarrett knew that the road wasn’t going to be easy, and he was more than wiling to make some pretty draconian personal sacrifices — ultimately including selling his 1962 Thunderbird to defray the costs of post production. And, apparently it was that commitment and enthusiasm that helped Jarrett to attract the help he needed to make his tadpole of an idea grow into the fully-grown “Frog-g-g!”

“A lot of these people are used to working on the typical 100-million-dollar light romantic comedy or CGI -driven action/adventure. I said to them, ‘We’re doing a no-budget 1970’s exploitation film about a monster frog attacking a small town. And there’s no special effects — just a guy in a frog suit….’”

Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, the pitch tapped a nerve. Jarrett got plenty of help from enthusiastic insiders who wanted a chance to return to their movie roots. One of them was casting director Donna Tina Charles, who had worked with Justin Lin on his breakthrough project, “Better Luck Tomorrow.”

On this vastly different sort of indie film, Charles, who also appears as a worried mother, helped to assemble a strong cast of likable unknowns. Just as important, at least from a marketing standpoint, the production was able to attract two “knowns” for brief cameo roles, James Duval (“Gone in Sixty Seconds”, “Nowhere”) and the great Mary Woronov (“Eating Raoul,” “Rock and Roll High School”) — who shows up just in time for the film’s unforgettable, all-too logical, conclusion.


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