Hello, welcome to Rental Floss, a new, regular column in which I trawl through the dregs of the Netflix catalogue, probe the miserably rated and attend to the films that cultural consensus has neglected in search for the good in films generally considered the opposite.

The films I will be writing about have to meet a certain criteria: they must be a) available on Netflix UK so they're easily accessible to you lovely people, as you are all welcome to join in with me, b) rated 3.0 or lower on Netflix and c) rotten on Rotten Tomatoes with 50% or less.

  • Name: Hell Comes To Frogtown
  • Director: Donald G. Jackson and R.J Kizer
  • Running Time: 88 mins
  • Starring: Rowdy Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, Cec Verrell, William Smith, Rory Calhoun
  • Tagline: "A new breed of enemy has taken over the world... Sam Hell has come to take it back"
  • Rating: Rotten Tomatoes - 40% / Netflix - 3.0/5

Tommy Wiseau has stated often that his infamous cult film The Room (2003) was originally envisioned as a play. His mysterious background was in the theatre you see. However, when he realised how many people actually go to the theatre, he decided against it. Although he maintains that he'll bring it to Broadway one day. So then he decided that The Room was going to be a novel. Wiseau claims to have written over 500 pages, but the one offer he got from a publisher requested that it be shortened. It remains unpublished. Although he maintains that he'll have it printed one day. Finally, he turned to filmmaking. The result? The "Citizen Kane of bad movies" - a film that is commonly considered among the worst, ever. So illustrious and fabled is The Room's awfulness that, ten years after its release, it still garners enough interest to sell out monthly screenings worldwide. In those ten years, however, The Room has steadily built up a large cult fanbase. There's an affectionate, transnational cluster of people who genuinely enjoy the film outside the irony often saved for films that conventional consensus has condemned as 'bad'.

That's pertinent because a crucial component of this column is attempting to understand why some films find an audience over others. Looking beyond the binary delineations of 'good' and 'bad', we want to know why people latch on to one film and reject another. So, why is it that The Room is notorious when seemingly no one has seen Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988). That's no exaggeration, Frogtown has fewer than 2,000 ratings on IMDB and just over 35,000 on Netflix. To put that in some context, another well documented flop Howard the Duck (1986) has over 24,000 on IMDB and nearly 900,000 on Netflix. In terms of craft and artistry The Room and Hell Comes to Frogtown are similarly lacking and quite enjoyable in their own peculiar ways, but the former has a large cult following whereas the latter doesn't. Why? It's a fascinating question, because I think it delves into the fundamentals of our relationship with cult cinema.

You see, on paper, Hell Comes to Frogtown seems like it was destined for cult canonisation from its inception. For starters, it stars WWF icon Rowdy Roddy Piper, who would later find success for coming up with the line "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum," in John Carpenter's They Live (1988). Already you'd expect a legion of teenage boys to be on board, and indeed this film was probably made for that demographic. For fans of B-Movies, there was good pedigree in director Donald G. Jackson, dubbed the Ed Wood of the video age, and distributor New World Pictures, which was founded by Roger Corman. Then we factor in the premise, which is gloriously silly.

The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world, a nuclear war has ravaged civilisation and the fallout has left most survivors sterile. Humans are dying out and women greatly outnumber men. Additionally, frogs have mutated into sentient, humanoid beings and have been ghettoised by humans. So, things aren't all that dandy. However, infamous drifter Sam Hell, played by Piper, is one of the few fertile men around and has left a string of pregnancies behind him. He's kind of famous for it. So famous, in fact, that he's abducted and blackmailed by the acting government, Med-Tech, into rescuing a group of fertile women who have been captured and taken to Frogtown. After that, they must put their shared fertility to good use and save humanity. Because you could get away with that sort of thing in the 80s, I guess to guarantee compliance, Hell is fitted with a fixed jockstrap that can electrocute him if he steps out of line and explodes if he takes it off. Seriously. Don't worry, by the way, it's not a porn film even though that summary does suggest otherwise. It may have started out that way though, I can neither confirm nor deny that.

On the level that we usually enjoy schlocky B-Movies, Hell Comes to Frogtown sounds so invitingly daft that I initially found it quite amazing that it's not revered in the same way as The Room, Plan 9 From Outer Space 9 (1959) or Battlefield Earth (2000). Sure, it's an indulgent male power fantasy aimed at fourteen year olds, but it sounds like the perfect recipe for cult success, right? Well, therein lies the problem: there's no such thing as a recipe for cult success. Cult films cannot not be created by filmmakers or producers or studios. They're created by an audience, an audience that latches onto a film and, for whatever reason, cherishes it dearly. So while Frogtown is somewhat entertaining and surprisingly well designed in terms of world building and visual effects, the reason why an audience hasn't latched on to it is patently obvious from the opening shot.

As the camera panned towards what looked like a very cheap looking Statue of Liberty standing tall upon a mountain of rubble, I was settling in for a modestly made camp B-Movie; and in many ways, Hell Comes to Frogtown is just that. However, a hand reached out and grabbed the statue. Turns out it was just a cheap souvenir amongst a pile of debris. This moment was jarring for me because it's at once a reference to the debt the film owes to Planet of the Apes (1968), which is fine, but more importantly a gag about cheap genre films, the sort of film you'd imagine Frogtown being filed next to. This is merely the first in a few flashes of archness dotted throughout the film, and to me they suggested that the film was self-aware and had pretensions to be more. It's hard to tell if it's trying to be a pastiche of 80s genre indulgence or not. So when you see, for instance, a crash mat when someone falls to their death, it's hard to tell whether it's a genuine mistake or if the scene was flippantly designed that way.

That tonal vagueness is a death warrant, because our relationships with these trashy films are predicated on an innate, visceral feeling of compassion. The reason I mentioned The Room in the opening paragraph was to illustrate that Tommy Wiseau fought to get that film made. Oh, but he didn't just go through different mediums to get it out there, no, he also raised the budget, learned how to direct and dealt with distribution and promotion himself. The enthusiasm he had for the project is inescapably palpable and the film utterly sincere. While we can laugh at the folly of his endeavour and call the film the delusional workings of a madman, that gusto and sincerity is something we can all identify with. It's like he's saying "Hey, I made this film and I really like it. I hope you do too," - and it's the same for a lot of these infamously 'bad' cult films.

The fans of these films don't just like them, they treasure them more than any immaculate Hollywood production because they have a charm and an unpretentious nature we can all appreciate. These fans are enraptured, and I outright refuse to believe that the reaction is founded on mean-spirited irony. Sure, we can laugh at these films, but to be that captivated by a film - to see The Room multiple times in a cinema - it has to speak to you on some level. I believe these films speak to their audiences because, if cinema and art in general must reflect some sort of reality, these films reflect the joy we can find in perceived failure. They offer a weird sort of catharsis as some of the dumbest, most embarrassing things we've done are born out of our sincerest thoughts, and that's being shown to us on screen. We can recognise that, laugh and, more importantly, relate to it.

Where Hell Comes to Frogtown is concerned, I found it hard to connect to on that level. Because of those arch moments, it's very hard to discern what it's trying to be, let alone fall in love with. Is it silly for the sake of being silly, or do the filmmakers think that the film is a genuinely a good idea? I can't tell and that's the problem. That's why it has been forgotten. Furthermore, the rampant misogyny was hard to look past, and one scene, in which Sam is thanked for impregnating a woman by essentially date-raping her, was particularly upsetting for me. If you can, you'll find a B-Movie that's just about alright. Piper is a decent leading man, it's gleefully dumb in bursts and never outstays its welcome. It'll do. Is that sufficient though? I don't think so. Look, there may be a mutant frog person wearing a fez, but that's not enough, it's got to come from the heart, man. I don't think Hell Comes to Frogtown is.