You just never know with cavemen. There’s the friendly sort…like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble; scootin’ around in their little foot-powered cars, using a baby wooly mammoth to vacuum the floor. Then there’s the sexy sort, like Raquel Welch in One MIllion Years B.C. But every now and then we run into some nasty old stone ager who just seems to want to make life miserable for everybody. That’s what happens when a troglodyte is found in 20th century England…in 1970’s Trog.
The film opens with three college students exploring a deep, but extremely well-lit, cave. Inside, they find a small underground lake which seems to flow into a hidden chamber of the cave. Two of the students decide to take a dive and see where the water flows to. Unfortunately, only one makes it out, for on the other side he is attacked by the aforementioned ape-man. Of course, the incident is reported to the police, as well as a local anthropologist, Dr. Brockton (Joan Crawford). The next thing we know, there’s news media flooding the small village, staking out the cave to get a glimpse of the caveman. They don’t have to wait too long, for when a camera crew ventures inside, the creature chases them out and makes itself known to the world.
Thanks to a tranquilizer, Dr. Brockton is able to capture the creature, which she dubs “Trog,” and takes him to her laboratory for further studies. Some in the community are not at all thrilled with this, however, including a local developer, Sam Murdock (Michael Gough) and a rival of Brockton’s, Dr. Selbourne (Jack May). They think the creature is dangerous, though Brockton insists that Trog can be controlled. Her argument is not helped when Trog violently kills a dog whose only crime was stealing one Trog’s toys. Still, she sets out to perform a procedure that will help enable Trog to actually speak.
Meanwhile, the local government holds a hearing about Trog and determines that the creature will have to be destroyed if it manages to escape again. This causes Murdock and Selbourne to hatch a plot to release the creature, insuring its destruction. However, when Murdock opens the cage, he finds out just how dangerous Trog really is. From there, the Trog goes on a rampage throughout the town which includes attacking a butcher and hanging him on a meat hook, as well as terrorizing a playground and kidnapping a child.
It’ s hard to say if Trog is a film that ever could’ve actually provided a good amount of excitement or horror. The film is 45 years old and, suffice it to say, it has not aged well. I mean let’s just get it out there from the beginning…the Trog makeup effect is an awfully big hurdle to get past and a big factor in why the film doesn’t work. Essentially, the ape head of Trog looks a lot like the creatures from the “Dawn of Man” section of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey…but with without the same level of articulation. Sure there’s some good detail with it, but by today’s standards I could probably buy something that looks better in the Halloween aisle at the local Walgreens. The bigger problem is not so much the look of the ape mask, but the fact that the makeup effect pretty much ends there. From the shoulders down, Trog is just a regular person. Actually, he’s downright smooth-skinned, not to mention the fact that his skin tone doesn’t at all match the grayish skin color of the mask. It looks half finished. I guess more than anything, these makeup effects just draw attention to the fact that Trog is just a guy in a mask, and that becomes really distracting.
Having said all that about the titular monkey man, it should be said that the creature isn’t even the strangest member of the cast. That honor goes to Miss Crawford. I gotta give her some effort for trying but her role is just plain goofy. This was Crawford’s final feature film appearance and, sadly, it not a good send off for the classic film star. On the other hand we have Michael Gough, and this film is right up his alley. As silly as this film is, Gough understands what kind of film he’s in and what’s expected of him. He’s one of the few bright spots in this prehistoric mess.
The film does end up having some nice energy once Trog goes on his rampage. The scene with the butcher gives the film a fun little turn toward something a bit more gruesome. The playground scene also gave me a bit of a smile, though maybe not for the right reasons. Remember the scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds where the kids are running the crows…that’s pretty much what we get here but instead of a flock of birds they’re being chased by a monkey man.
If viewed in the right context, Trog can provide a fair degree of B-monster-movie fun. Many viewers, though, will likely struggle to get past lame makeup effects and poor acting. This caveman probably should’ve stayed extinct.