When Kelly Morgan was 11 years old he had a terrifying encounter with Rana, a strange half man/half frog monster living in a lake. The creature killed his father and many other people before Kelly destroyed it. Now as a young man he returns to search for the monster’s hidden treasure, and to see if the legendary creature really was killed.
In his 1993 autobiography All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger, Lloyd Kaufman, the head honcho at Troma Entertainment, lists Croaked: Monster From Hell as one of the worst films Troma has ever made.
‘Is this a bold honest statement about the quality of one’s output?’ I hear you ask, before adding somewhat cynically, ‘Or the comments made by a man who knows how to sell his goods?’
Probably a bit both to be honest. After all, you don’t get where you are today without learning how to play the game and boy howdy, does Mr. Kaufman know how to play the game. But I digress, is Croaked really all that bad?
In a word: Yes. In three words: Yes it is.
Originally titled Rana: The Shadow of the Lake, this is the tale of Kelly Morgan, who returns to his homestead at Shadow Lake with his girlfriend in tow. In between bouts of nookie, Kelly tells his lady friend about the time an anthropomorphic frog with a penchant for spearing people terrorized and rocked his little world.
During Kelly’s extended flashback, we are introduced to the other inhabitants of Shadow Lake outside of Kelly and his family. These include a couple of lady shaped paleontologists studying a bone the young Kelly has found, a group of loggers looking for trouble, and Charlie the Hermit; a man so lonely he shares a bed with a goat. Admittedly, it could be just a platonic relationship between him and the goat, but it doesn’t look good.
Before the aforementioned Rana starts whipping ass and taking names, Croaked spends a large part of its time moving its pieces, keeping its cards to its chest and stoking the fires of exposition. Or to put it simply, people talk a lot. An awful lot. In fact, when we’re not dipping into another conversation between the swimsuit edition of Paleontologists Illustrated, or listening to the loggers share their nefarious plans, we’re treated to young Kelly skipping through the woods, hand feeding baby animals and just acting all ‘Golly gee, Mister.’
Admittedly, there are the incidents involving small groups of frogs harassing people and biting them, but these moments are rare and, oddly, seem to barely raise an eyebrow from anybody. It’s only when Charlie bites the bullet that everything truly goes to pot. For Charlie is the last in a long line of ‘frog men’ who take care of Rana, who lives at the bottom of Shadow Lake, keeping him docile with quantities of gold. With no one looking after him, Rana goes on an amphibious-tinged, somewhat tepid, rampage.
Croaked is directed by Bill Rebane, who is famous in some circles for gifting the world a VW Beetle dressed up as a giant spider in a creature feature, with the somewhat on the nose title of The Giant Spider Invasion. Released in the same year as Spider, Croaked fully encapsulates Rebane’s talent for doing things quickly and under budget. It seems fair to say that whoever was holding the coppers at Croaked wasn’t having any sleepless nights during production. Scenes appear to have been done in one take, with poor framing and muffled sound.
Whilst it struggles to be taken seriously even as a z-list flick, Croaked’s real failure comes from its inability to make fair use of what it has going for it. We’ve got a creepy forest and lake as our stage, a Lovecraftian tale as our script and some willing actors. Well, we’ve got some people who at least know which camera is pointing at them to some extent.
Whilst there is fun to be had as young Kelly loads up on explosives to take on the murderous Rana, any suspense regarding his survival is lost thought his future self regaling his success in the film’s bookends. That said, if the film had started at this pace, and kept it up, its numerous faults could be forgiven as a horror equivalent to The Room. By all accounts this should be a fun and frivolous massacred by Mother Nature genre of movie. Instead, even at an 86 minute running time, it feels like Croaked is charging through treacle towards a wholly unsurprising and unsatisfying ending. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I say does it, because some of you reading will still be tempted to dig Croaked up. So by warning you, I’ve effectively encouraged you to find it.
I understand now, Mr Kaufman. I understand.