Case Number 19349: Small Claims Court


Shout! Factory // 1993 // 510 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // July 25th, 2010

The Charge

Do not bring your evil here.

The Case

For a year or so during my childhood in the early '80s, I was obsessed with Swamp Thing comics, devouring Alan Moore's esoteric run at the character in The Saga of the Swamp Thing, while also snapping up old issues of the original Swamp Thing, written by Len Wein and drawn by Bernie Wrightson. It was mostly Wrightson's creepy and energetic artwork that attracted me to the character. Wein's stories were fairly ridiculous and his dialogue overwrought and repetitive, but the books afforded Wrightson the opportunity to draw some beautifully gothic imagery: a gang of pitchfork-wielding villagers converging on the Swamp Thing like a scene out of a Universal monster movie; or the sinewy Swamp Thing grappling with a gangly pair of mutant un-men; or even Swamp Thing perched on the ledge of a Gotham City skyscraper as Batman glides toward him in the distance, cape billowing. Visually, it was cool stuff. And a gothic horror comic was a breath of fresh air among all the superhero books. The Wein/Wrightson version of Swamp Thing was once a man named Alec Holland (Moore's version has a completely different origin). A scientist working on a secret formula designed to transform deserts into lush forests, Holland's lab was sabotaged by a mystery man who wanted to steal his secrets. Holland's wife was killed in the explosion, but Holland survived, stumbling out into the Louisiana swamp, severely burned. Through the magic of comic book science, his bio-chemical formula transformed him into the Swamp Thing, a hulking beast made entirely of plant material. Much weirdness and self-pity followed.

Swamp Thing: The Series is essentially a television spin-off of Wes Craven's 1982 B-movie. It has only a passing similarity to either of the comic books. As in Craven's film, it maintains the Alec Holland origin story and even features one of the more memorable villains from the Wein/Wrightson comic, Anton Arcane (though he's been transformed from a gnarled old man who dabbles in the black arts and wants to capture the Swamp Thing in order to discover the secret of immortality, into a young British dude with the craziest pompadour mullet this side of the Leningrad Cowboys). What the show lacks is the Southern gothic tone of the comics, the weird mix of pitiful monsters and monstrously immoral people. Instead, it is low-budget dreck featuring Arcane (Mark Lindsay Chapman, Beethoven's 4th) and a bevy of forgettable human characters maneuvering through chintzy television intrigue and poorly choreographed action while the Swamp Thing (Dick Durock, who played the creature in Craven's Swamp Thing and its sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing ) peers through the swampy foliage and dispenses the occasional piece of eco-friendly wisdom. Despite my fond memories of the comic books, there's just no getting around the fact that Swamp Thing: The Series is a turd. It has slight value as an unintentional comedy, but little else -- the performances are often hilariously over-the-top, as is the mix of scenes shot on location in a real swamp and in incredibly hokey sets.

For reasons unknown, the series' second season consisted of nine episodes, while its third sprawled out across 50. As such, this third DVD volume contains the second half of the show's third (and final) season. It drops you into the middle of the intrigue and drama as the set's first episode, "The Lesser of Two Evils," finds Arcane having been defeated and humiliated in some way by an even more evil scientist played by Tyne Daily (Cagney and Lacey), who chews scenery like a madwoman throughout the episode (she even employs some sort of Eastern European accent...or something). The episode's biting irony is that the Swamp Thing finds himself defending his arch-nemesis because...well, Arcane is the lesser of two evils. As someone who hadn't seen any of the episodes leading up to this mid-season kickoff, I was worried that the show was built on a Lost-like labyrinthine multi-season story arc that would be impossible to decipher without starting at the beginning. As it turns out, all narrative complexity was dispensed with by the time the end credits rolled on "The Lesser of Two Evils," and the remainder of the season played out as a series of tidy 23-minute adventures (with occasional references to earlier seasons that flew over my head, but didn't leave me confused). Color me underwhelmed.

Shout! Factory's DVD presentation of Swamp Thing: The Series is acceptable for a show dating back to the early '90s, but only barely. The image is often murky. Interlace artifacts are problematic enough that the Swamp Thing's craggy, mossy form often swims in digital noise. Audio, too, is flat and lifeless. The presentation is Dolby Digital stereo.

There are no extras.

The set's 24 episodes are spread evenly across four discs.

Disc One:
* "Lesser of Two Evils"
* "Revelations"
* "Future Tension"
* "Hide in the Night"
* "Pay Day"
* "The Return of LaRoche"

Disc Two:
* "Rites of Passage"
* "Never Alone"
* "A Most Bitter Pill"
* "The Curse"
* "Judgment Day"
* "Eye of the Storm"

Disc Three:
* "Vendetta"
* "The Burning Times"
* "The Specter of Death"
* "Cross-Fired"
* "Patient Zero"
* "In the Beginning"

Disc Four:
* "Brotherly Love"
* "Yo Ho Ho"
* "Heart of Stone"
* "Romancing Arcane"
* "Heart of the Mantis"
* "That's a Wrap"

Maybe someday we'll see a big-budget feature that does justice to Swamp Thing as envisioned by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson -- a gothic action-horror movie dripping with pathos and peopled with twisted mutants and depraved human beings. So far the live-action runs at the character -- including Swamp Thing: The Series -- haven't come close to capturing the spirit, tone, and general creepiness of the books. Run far and run fast from these DVDs.

The Verdict

The muck-encrusted mockery of a man is innocent, but this television series about him is as guilty as Anton Arcane's black soul.

Review content copyright © 2010 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile
Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 510 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb