Amphibians haven’t the most prolific history in cinema. There was a croakingly bad (sorry) but equally quite enjoyable horror swamp roam called Frogs, which headlined a seventies serious Sam Elliott attempting to defend a family (aptly named, the Crockett’s) from a spread of malevolent pond dwellers. But apart from this brief foray into slimy froggy madness toads have been pretty quiet on the filmic waterfront.
That was until veteran Aussie documentarian Mark Lewis decided to release his 1988 doc Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, which looked into the botched 1930s attempt to introduce Hawaiian sugar-cane fed toads as counter pests in Oz.
Now Lewis is back with Cane Toads: The Conquest, the 23 years in the making follow up doco-horror that has just been released in Australia and looks at the subsequent environmental ramifications of the titular unstoppable critters – who have spread over the Australian state of Queensland, the deserts of the Northern Territory and, as is soon predicted, New South Wales.
What’s more the film marks Australia’s first foray into 3-D – in a nice mirror of that other nature obsessed veteran documentarian Werner Herzog with his 3D friendly Cave of Forgotten Dreams. But if you think Lewis paints these amphibians as relentless aggressors think again. Lewis is an utmost champion of the creepy critter, painting them as ‘frog-out-of-water’ victims that had no choice but to explore their new environment with a relentless desire for exploration and survival.
“One of the interviewees in the film told me that these toads have such an incentive to travel that they worn their fingers and thumbs off their feet. I’ve never found an answer to what that drive is” said Lewis in an interview with FILMINK magazine.
The doc isn’t devoid of a seethingly good funny bone either, including the hilarious fact that dogs can get hooked on the hallucingenic effects of toad licking! A further testament to the hilarity of Cane Toads was the report that even Herzog himself had the urge to congratulate fellow filmmaker Lewis on a thoroughly good romp that made him leap out of his seat with laughter; an emotion you normally wouldn’t associate with the German pioneer of Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man.
Though already a huge talking point at both Sundance and Cannes (where it was subsequently pegged ‘Avatoad’) Cane Toads has yet to secure a UK distributor. Here’s hoping it hops its way into UK cinemas soon.