Reviewed by Michael Ferraro
After creating some of the most memorable genre pictures of the late 70s (The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes), director Wes Craven turned his attention to a DC comic staple – Swamp Thing. It certainly seems a stretch as far as his established talents go, but it is understandable why someone would want to take a step in a different direction. Regardless of his choice, Swamp Thing might be the campiest film of 1982.
Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) works deep in the heart of the Florida Everglades (or Louisiana depending on which plot description you read) on a formula that allows plants to grow in any condition. Should he succeed with this formula, Holland will have created something that could end world hunger. But, as the old saying goes, we simply cannot have nice things. Inventing something that would potentially end world hunger would be a devastating blow to evil corporations everywhere trying to make a profit from the weak.
Despite the obvious coup, Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) is a government agent sent to investigate just what Holland is getting into. Right after her arrival, he makes a major leap forward in his research. Only Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan), an evil scientist yearning for profits, uses a paramilitary group to infiltrate the lab and steal Holland’s work. During a firefight, some chemicals explode all over Holland, causing him to burst into flames, and flee into the swamp.
You can guess what happens next.
Holland transforms into the Swamp Thing – a pile of odd swamp materials who can take bullets, lift heavy things with ease, and scare anyone he comes across due to his horrid features.
Arcane, on the other hand, is actually excited about Holland’s unexpected transformation. So he tries to get in on the action too, thus, turning himself into another mutant creature. Only his creature isn’t as well executed as Holland’s, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to take on the Swamp Thing.
I remember seeing this film in the mid-80s when I was just a kid. I remember being pretty excited about it, but then again, exciting a 5-year-old isn’t the toughest challenge. Having not seen this film since then, I was pretty surprised at how it hasn’t aged as well as Craven’s other work.
Still, this is a film that was made when superhero films weren’t coming out every other month, so it was a bit refreshing for it’s time. Could you trace the film’s pace to future superhero movies (Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk feel oddly familiar) but perhaps that is the fault of the generic formula for superhero creation. Now, Swamp Thing feels like just another staple holding together the cheesiness of the 1980s.
Commentary – Director Wes Craven gives a sort of interview commentary (moderated by Sean Clark of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds), where he discusses how he became interested in the property to studio interference, and everything else in between. His answers are often short but Clark does a solid job of keeping the conversation moving.
William Munns, the film’s makeup effects artist, provides another interesting track, focused mainly on the film’s effects and limitations due to the constrained budget.
Interviews – The disc contains several interview segments – actress Adrienne Barbeau, actor Reggie Batts, and Swamp Thing creator Len Wein. Barbeau talks about her love of the script, how her then-husband John Carpenter talked up Craven’s skill, and the production troubles the filmmakers encountered once the film entered production. She also discusses the troublesome breast scene that has all but disappeared (you can find it in the long out of print MGM original DVD release).
The interview with Wein would definitely appeal to comic fans, as he discusses the amount of respect it takes to adapt a comic character. He is even pretty open about his feelings towards the two films of the Swamp Thing franchise, how DC might be back on the right track, and the yet-to-be-produced reboot of Thing producer Joel Silver was working on.