Call Evil by Its Proper Name

I have always been fascinated with the concept that faith and belief are the precursor to deities rather than, as is usually assumed, the other way around.  The theory is that faith is what brings the gods into existence and what gives them power in a literal sense.  Humanity looks to the gods for guidance and salvation but all the while the gods require our devotion as sustenance.  This is somehow satisfying.  I once wrote a very naïve short story in which all the gods from Greek and Roman mythology had either died out as belief in them faltered or had, out of necessity, taken on new roles as the gods of modern religion.  This idea that the gods need us, possibly more than we need them, is not uncommon.  Terry Pratchett, who often toyed with the notion of belief in his Discworld books, wrote a novel titled Small Gods in which the Great God Om is reduced to a powerless, bad-tempered tortoise when his true followers number but a single devotee.  While I have often philosophized on this theory that belief is power, it failed to occur to me that, if it applied to God, it would stand to reason that it must also apply to Satan.  This is a basic premise behind the 1990 film Mr. Frost.

Jeff Goldblum plays the titular character, who we find living alone in a palatial estate somewhere in Great Britain.  Two car thieves break into his garage to steal an Aston Martin sports car (one which Mr. Frost admits he never drives as he couldn’t find time to take the driver’s test).  The would-be burglars are scared off when they discover a body in the car.  This leads to Inspector Felix Detweiler (Alan Bates) paying Mr. Frost a visit.

Mr Frost - Alan Bates
Alan Bates sports the worst toupée I have ever seen. I thought this was a quirk of the character. Looking at photos of Bates throughout his career, I can only conclude it was his own quirk.

I will warn you that the early scene in which Inspector Detweiler interviews Mr. Frost at his home is, by far, the most enjoyable in the film.  Mr. Frost is peculiar (he cooks Baked Alaska only to throw it away) but not lacking in charm.  This, of course, makes him a perfect role for Goldblum who uses his own quirky charisma to full effect.  After casually filling in a hole in his yard with a shovel, Frost invites Detweiler in for coffee and “good conversation”.  When Detweiler finally gets around to the reason for his visit, Frost not only admits that there was a body in the car but explains that it was that same body he had just finished burying.

Mr Frost - Mr Frost at home
“What, do you think I’m kidding?”

Inspector Detweiler leaves the house rather shaken but returns soon after with a warrant.  With the willing help of Mr. Frost, the police are able to recover twenty four bodies of men, women, and children from the grounds.  Frost not only murdered his victims but tortured and mutilated them all while filming the acts on a VHS tape as a trophy.  He cheerfully hands this tape over to Detweiler.

The movie jumps forward two years.  During this time, Frost has been moved all over Europe from one psychiatric institution to the next in an attempt to learn the root of his psychosis.  This has been hindered by two facts.  First, Mr. Frost’s identity is a complete mystery.  There is no record of who he is or where he came from.  No one even knows his first name.  Second, Frost decided to stop speaking shortly after his arrest and thus has not said a word in two years.  Enter Dr. Sarah Day (Kathy Baker), a senior staff member at Mr. Frost’s latest residence, the St. Clare Sanitarium (described as “somewhere in Europe”).

Mr Frost - Dr Sarah Day
We are first introduced to Dr. Day as she is being chastised for smiling victoriously after making a bullseye at a target range. The conversation, in a very different context, will be repeated with Day doing the scolding at Mr. Frost.

For reasons known only to him, Frost decides he now will start talking but only to Dr. Day.  During these interviews, Mr. Frost reveals himself to be a parlour trick enthusiast and, by the way, the devil himself.  As Frost explains, he is here to “set some things right”.  He claims that science and the analytical mind has undone centuries of his work.  It used to be that people feared him and yet were also willing to sell their souls to him for power.  Now humanity has rationalized away their spirits.  Evil occurs every day, but man has claimed responsibility.  Mankind believes in nothing and has lost its enthusiasm and passion for life.  Interestingly, Mr. Frost introduces the philosophical idea that both good and evil are necessary components of life when he protests that humanity needs him.

Mr Frost - The Game
“It used to be simple. Good on one hand, Evil on the other. There was a struggle. We had a game…and, yes we made it up.” – A wonderful little speech.

Frost’s goal is to convince Dr. Day of his true nature.  If he can get her, a very logical-minded doctor and scientist, to accept that he really is the devil, then he is re-establishing faith in his existence.  Of course, the faith of one person is not sufficient.  In his words, he “must reveal to the world [her] impotence in the presence of the age-old power of the wild side.”  To accomplish that, he needs Dr. Day, his psychiatrist to so fear what he is capable of that she murders him.  How that will cause a global acceptance in the devil is not really clear bur Mr. Frost indicates that that single act would negate an entire era of progress.

Mr Frost - In the Asylum
Mr. Frost in an almost sympathetic moment.

Of course anyone with a logical mind would immediately see the flaw in Frost’s plan.  If Dr. Day truly believes he is the devil, why would she ever conclude that murdering his human form was the answer?  By his own admission, killing him, rather than stopping him, will make him immeasurably more powerful.  If she comes to accept everything Frost has told her, she should fight against his wishes not give in to them.  This conclusion, however, does not seem to occur to either Mr. Frost or Dr. Day.

Mr Frost - Goldblum
Or perhaps Mr. Frost knows more than he lets on.

The plot is sidetracked by the development of a relationship between Dr. Day and Inspector Detweiler (who apparently has been following Mr. Frost all over Europe with no clear purpose in mind).  The connection between Day and Detweiler is awkward, hesitant, completely out of the blue and, besides keeping Detweiler in the picture, does not serve a purpose.  This distraction notwithstanding, the remainder of the movie is devoted mostly to the odd occurrences, some positive but mostly negative, that begin to surround the sanitarium and Dr. Day’s life.  These mysterious events are attributed to coincidence, bad luck, random acts, and human nature.  Of course, we the viewers know Mr. Frost is responsible.  This film does not play the ‘is he or is he not’ game.  We are always meant to understand that Frost is everything he proclaims to be.

Mr Frost - Sarah's Brother Walks
The strangest of Frost’s feats is to give Dr. Day’s brother, Rowland the ability to walk again. But as Frost says, “We’ve often seen good come from evil and evil come from good.” By the way, the actor playing Rowland is…well, he’s not great.

The premise of Mr. Frost is interesting and certainly suited to my tastes, but the execution of that premise is flawed.  Large portions of the movie involve static discussions between two characters.  While this provides a good platform for showcasing Goldblum’s unique acting style, the inclusion of some action scenes would have helped keep things moving.  I also found the story somewhat disjointed with several plot holes and characters that acted irrationally.  That said, upon a second viewing I realized there were some subtle events and remarks from characters that could allow for a different interpretation and thus resolve some of the failings I perceived in the plot.  The greatest sin the film commits, however, is to attempt to explain away any remaining plot weaknesses with the trope that the devil, like God, “works in mysterious ways”.  Ultimately, the film is worth a watch and I was entertained but the production relies too heavily on Goldblum to carry the film.

Mr Frost - crosses in eyes
A simple but effective shot.

Mr. Frost (1990) Directed by Philippe Setbon; Written by Derry Hall, Louise Vincent, Philippe Setbon & Brad Lynch; Starring Jeff Goldblum, Kathy Baker, Alan Bates, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Daniel Gélin, François Négret, & Maxime Leroux; Not available for sale anywhere really but you can find it on a certain video-sharing website.

This is my contribution to The Jeff Goldblum Blogathon – 2019.  Please check out some of the other contributors to the blogathon by clicking on the image below.  My thanks to Emma K Wall Explains it All and RealWeegieMidget Reviews for including me in the fun.

The Jeff Goldblum Blogathon

27 thoughts on “Call Evil by Its Proper Name

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  1. This looks perfect riffable material, perfect timing for the weekend too. Thanks for bringing this odd movie to the blogathon, nice to see Goldblum in such a quirky film. from Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews

    1. Thanks for checking out the article and thanks for allowing me to contribute to the blogathon. As I said I think the movie is worth checking out and Goldblum as the devil is fun. Just don’t expect too much.

    1. Thanks, Emma! I thought the poster was pretty effective and I love the ‘proper name’ tagline that I used as the title of my article. Thanks again to you and Gill for hosting the blogathon.

  2. I haven’t seen Mr Frost, hadn’t even heard of it till now, still I enjoyed your review and like Emma I love the poster. Jeff Goldblum as the devil, with the long hair is so early 90’s. Its Satan’s Mullet!

    1. It’s a pretty obscure film. I had not heard of it until I was looking for a film for the blogathon and the topic intrigued me. Goldblum’s hairstyle changes throughout the film. At the beginning it is short. When he arrives at the sanitarium he has grown it out to the mullet. Later he pulls it back into various ponytails. Beats me if there was any significance to the choices. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I didn’t “get” the film. I thought it was a half-baked quasi-thriller. But your excellent review clarifies many things. You give me reasons to re-watch it. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Eric. If you do happen to re-watch, consider the possibility that Inspector Detweiler and later Dr. Day are not necessarily what they seem. I don’t know if it entirely works but it gives quite a different spin on events.

    1. I didn’t realize she was in The Right Stuff. Did her and Goldblum share any scenes? Its funny to think they might have been in a movie together but not met until seven years later.

  4. Great review! I didn’t know that Jeff Goldblum’s played the devil.
    The film was all right. That scene in the lift – amazing!
    By the way:
    What is Mr. Frost saying at 35:18? About whom or what doctor Day is forgetting?
    I would be very grateful for your help.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Selma. I didn’t know anything about this movie until I stumbled across it while looking for a film for the Jeff Goldblum Blogathon.

      As for what Mr. Frost is referring to at 35:18, this is my best take on it. Frost has already been shown to like parlour tricks (pulling the nail clippers from the inspector’s ear, melting her ring with his hand). He seems to get a kick out of showing off his powers in these trivial ways. This is just another example of him performing a trick. Dr. Day has just said he would be the only person to have spontaneously generated. He is showing off that he somehow knows there is a case in one of the psychotherapy books on her shelf about someone who did (or at least thought they did) spontaneously generate. What he seems to actually say is, “No, you’re forgetting Floyce Pearlmutter.” Since he enjoys showing off, he is disappointed that Dr. Day doesn’t go look it up in the book he mentions and thus prove him right.

      Incidentally, Floyce Pearlmutter is an unusual enough name that I thought it might be a reference to a real world incident. But, if it is, the internet was not willing to share.

      1. Thanks for your exhaustive answer, Michael.
        Check out “Hideaway” (1995) too. This is another horror film with Jeff.
        Best regards.

  5. Let me give you an answer to the biggest problem you have with the story.

    “Of course anyone with a logical mind would immediately see the flaw in Frost’s plan. If Dr. Day truly believes he is the devil, why would she ever conclude that murdering his human form was the answer? By his own admission, killing him, rather than stopping him, will make him immeasurably more powerful. If she comes to accept everything Frost has told her, she should fight against his wishes not give in to them. This conclusion, however, does not seem to occur to either Mr. Frost or Dr. Day.”

    Mr. Frost works his anti-miracles to demonstrate his power, but also to ensnare Dr. Day into doing his bidding. Mr. Frost proves to us that he can bring the absolute worst out of people. Christopher, Dr. Day’s patient, acts on his anger towards his father by killing him, then going on an antisocial killing spree. Dr. Day’s colleague gets drunk and confronts her so jealously that she had to smash him over the head with a vase. The institute’s top psychiatrist, Dr. Reynhardt is pushed by his insecurities into a near act of suicide.

    These things show Dr. Day what Mr. Frost can and will do. The two important examples are Christopher and Reynhardt.

    Mr. Frost shows Dr. Day how she can be hurt. A patient that she cares about deeply was turned into a monster, and rather than being released from that, the boy dies tragically.

    The other is her boss, Reynhardt. She pleads with Mr. Frost to spare him, and Frost lets Reynhardt step away from the ledge. Now Dr. Day knows that Frost can do incredible damage to people, and that he can also show mercy. She knows that he is to be feared, but that Mr. Frost will not necessarily harm people if it works against his own interests.

    The real pivot for her is her brother, who is now able to walk. That is clearly Mr. Frost’s doing. And that’s why she kills Frost. She understands the price she will pay if she does not. What do you think Mr. Frost would do to her brother if Dr. Day were to fail Mr. Frost? Would Mr. Frost allow Roland to keep his ability to walk? Of course not. And not only would Mr. Frost re-cripple the young man, Frost would undoubtedly magnify Roland’s bitterness and anger to absurd levels. Roland, Dr. Day’s beloved brother, would be tormented and crushed, just like all the others.

    She has two options. Resist Frost, and watch her brother suffer, or kill Frost to protect him. Whether you like the movie or not, Mr. Frost’s plan makes perfect sense.

    1. Hi, Matthew. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You certainly make some valid observations and ones, I admit, I had not considered before. But I feel like your conclusion hinges on two points that I have difficulty accepting within the confines of the story.

      First, you are taking Mr. Frost’s actions as threats to Dr. Day and those she cares about. Although the acts themselves pose a harm (or the potential for harm), they are not intended as threats to Dr. Day. That is merely how Frost works. He is very upfront with his intent and never gives any indication that he is specifically threatening Dr. Day. He is performing those acts to convince Dr. Day. The nature of the acts is incidental. He doesn’t show mercy for Reynhardt. As you said, he does what is in his best interest. Sparing Reynhardt offers a way of proving his power to Dr. Day. If it didn’t, he wouldn’t do it. Similarly, Frost does not seem vindictive unless it is a means to an end. Assuming he will make Roland suffer if Day does not do his bidding seems unjustified.

      More importantly, Dr. Day is dealing with the devil. The devil who has proven his powers in her eyes and stated that he will be infinitely more powerful once she kills him. His power is dependent on belief and her act will re-establish that belief. Having been convinced of these facts, why would Dr. Day reach the conclusion that ‘killing’ him will protect her or those she cares about? A world in which the devil has regained ultimate power does not sound like a safe one for anybody. If you fear the weaker, human incarnation of the devil, why would you think the stronger, supernatural one is preferable. It is not as if Frost made a deal with her to protect her from what is coming. Admittedly we, as the viewers, are not privy to Dr. Day’s conclusions so she may be taking a very self-absorbed and short-term assessment of the situation. That does not, however, seem to match Dr. Day’s character and regardless my point was that someone who did follow the plan to its ultimate conclusion would spot the flaws.

    1. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately?) Goldblum does not even try to adopt a fake accent. Since his character is an enigma that has no history or background his accent not fitting the surroundings fits fine into the story. Thanks, as always, for dropping by, Rebecca.

  6. Hmmm….
    I enjoy Jeff goldblum, but somehow I totally missed this film. It sounds interesting and a little tedious, but I will have to give it a shot. If anything else, I’ll enjoy Alan Bates horrible wig! Lol

    1. You likely missed it because it has completely dropped off the radar. It doesn’t seem to exist on any home media or streaming services. Even the link I provided in the article is no longer valid. If you do find it, let me know.

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