The film, Max Hell Frog Warrior has an interesting set of circumstance that set its creations into motion. Certainly, its evolution goes back to the cult film classic, Hell Come to Frogtown.
In brief, Frogtown is a geographic region of Los Angeles, California that skirts the Los Angeles River. It first gained this name when it was overrun with frogs in the 1930s. A friend of Donald G. Jackson’s, Sam Mann, lived in this area. As the story goes, one day the two men were driving around discussing movie ideas and Mann came up with the title, Hell Comes to Frogtown. As he had already starred in Jackson’s films, Roller Blade and Roller Blade Warriors, he was the obvious choice to perform the roll of Sam Hell, the lead character of the film.
Jackson initially planned to finance the movie with his credit cards as he had done with his film, Roller Blade. In the interim, however, he had become involved with New World Pictures. They liked the concept and they offered to finance it for him. The only problem was, he had to add a completely different cast than was his intention. His actor/friends were to be replaced by, “Name Actors.” Sam Mann, the actual inspiration for Sam Hell, was to be replaced by the then very famous wrestler, Rowdy Roddy Piper. Don asked Sam for his approval, which he gave.
Until his dying day, Donald G. Jackson regretted this decision. He was not only sorry that Mann had been replaced but the movie was eventually taken away from his creative control and it lost much of the visual landscaped he had hoped to create with it.
Approximately five years after Hell Comes to Frogtown was released; Don had formed a filmmaking alliance with Tanya York. She had a financier in place that was wiling to bankroll her first feature films as an executive producer. As she had a longstanding relationship with Don, the two moved forward and created Frogtown II. For Jackson, the only problem was, again, much of the creative control was taken away from him. Ultimately, he again, was left with a film that he did not like.
During this same period, just after the completion of Frogtown II, York wanted to finance another Jackson film. He offered up his Roller Blade series. The 1991/1992 outcome was the first and second Zen Films, The Roller Blade Seven and Return of the Roller Blade Seven, created by Donald G. Jackson and Scott Shaw.
After the completion of those two films, Shaw took the foundations for the Zen Filmmaking concept he had originated and went off on his own and immediately created, Samurai Vampire Bikers From Hell and several other films. Jackson also moved forward to create several script based feature films.
In 1995, Shaw was in Thailand. Jackson contacted him to reconnect and make another feature film. When Shaw returned, the two set about creating the next Jackson/Shaw Zen Film.
Initially, the team toyed with the idea of creating a humorous filmed based on Jackson and Mann’s, Hell Comes to Frogtown theme, titled, Road Toad. This film was to star Scott Shaw and co-star Julie Strain. The team eventually discarded this concept and then set about on the idea of, Hell Comes to Hog Town. This film was to be based on the intent of the film, Zachariah, the First Electric Western, which starred a young Don Johnson. This film would have Shaw ridding in, (with an electric guitar strapped over his shoulder), on his 1966, bright yellow, Harley Davidson, Electra-Glide. He would then battle the forces of evil that were controlled by an evil warlord known as, The Hog. Eventually, this storyline was also put to rest.
What emerged from this period of creative interaction was Jackson’s desire to do the story he had hoped to present with the original, Hell Comes to Frogtown — the story of a frog plague unleashed on the earth by an evil overseer who would eventually be destroyed by the antihero. Enter, Toad Warrior.
Toad Warrior went up in the winter of 1996. In association with Jackson as the Producer/Director, Shaw was to perform the lead role as well as Co-Produce and Co-Direct the film. The team of Jackson and Shaw brought on their friend and frequent collaborator, Joe Estevez, to play the bad guy. They also brought on Jill Kelly, who had initially appeared in the Roller Blade Seven and had since gone on to become a major force in the adult film industry. In addition, the team brought into the production: Selina Jayne and Roger Ellis — both of whom had appeared in the Roller Blade Seven and had gone on to co-star in Shaw’s, Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell and Samurai Johnny Frankenstein.
Jackson and Shaw filmed, Toad Warrior in the high desert of California and various other locations throughout Hollywood, Los Angeles, and at their production offices in North Hollywood. Quickly, the production began to express and represent all the aspects of the bizarre Zen Filmmaking minds of the Jackson/Shaw team.
When production was complete on Toad Warrior, the team quickly moved forward onto other filmmaking projects. The next on the production schedule was Shotgun Blvd., AKA, Armageddon Blvd., immediately followed by Ghost Taxi, AKA, Ride with Devil.
As the 1997 American Film Market was quickly approaching, the production team of Jackson/Shaw knew that they had to compete several projects. Shaw took on the role of editor for Armageddon Blvd. and Ride with the Devil, while they turned Toad Warrior over to a long time friend of Jackson — the editor of a number of his films, Christopher Blade.
The 1997 American Film Market premiered several Jackson/Shaw films. They included the one’s named above and a thirty minute, long-form trailer, of a film they had not yet completed, Guns of El Chupacabra.
Though the Jackson/Shaw team was happy to have Toad Warrior edited and available, it was never the film that they had hoped to make. Though the needed footage and scenes were all there, they were not constructed in a manner the filmmakers had hoped.
At the 1997 American Film Market buyers from Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines purchased the rights to release Toad Warrior theatrically and show it in movie theaters. Shaw attended the Tokyo premiere of the film. Jackson and Shaw held back on U.S. sales, however, as they wanted to reedit the movie.
The following few years proved to be a very busy time for the filmmaking team of Jackson/Shaw. Though they had hoped to get back to the film Toad Warrior and re-edited it, this never came to pass. Shaw did, however, condense the originally edited footage of the film into what the team called, a Zen Speed Film, and released it with the title, Max Hell in Frogtown.
By the early part of the twenty-first century, Jackson had become very ill from his battle with leukemia. He passed away in 2003. Soon after this, a distribution company somehow came upon a beta master of the film, Toad Warrior, and released it in a compilation DVD. Let alone the fact that Jackson/Shaw never wanted this version of the film released in the West, many of the titles and screen credits of this version were incorrect.
Due to copyright infringements, this DVD was eventually removed from the market. By this point in time, Shaw had already revamped the film and had released it as, Max Hell Frog Warrior.
As the unauthorized bootlegged version of the film had already been released, Shaw decided it was best to release an authorized version of Toad Warrior in order to help in countermanding any further unlawful distribution of the film’s unauthorized version. He did this in 2007.
As of 2012, Shaw still plans to go back into the original footage of the film, reedit it, and create the film that Jackson and he had initially hoped for.
In recent years, there has been an ongoing interest in the film. Similar to the Jackson/Shaw creation of, the Roller Blade Seven, Max Hell Frog Warrior has continued to draw interest from critics and cult movie aficionados. So much so, that the writers of the HBO television series, Newsroom, mentioned Max Hell in an episode of their show broadcast in August of 2012.
Growing from the minds of Sam Mann, Donald G. Jackson, and Scott Shaw, the Frogtown series shows no signs of being forgotten in the near future.
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