Judge Patrick Naugle was born on the bayou.
"This has all the thrills of watching grass grow."
Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise, Reaper) is a brilliant scientist working on a new formula for growing bigger, larger veggies in the backwoods of Louisiana. His life suddenly gets thrown into turmoil when a beautiful government researcher, Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau, Creepshow), tracks Holland down in the rural swamplands. While at the same time, a group of mercenaries, working for the vile Antone Arcane (Louis Jourdan, Octopussy), break his door down, douse Holland with his own formula, set him on fire, and leave the poor genius to die. Holland does not die and instead fuses with the local vegetation and becomes the mutant superhero Swamp Thing (late stuntman Dick Durock)! Now Swamp Thing must rescue Alice and save humanity from Arcane's plans of vegan world domination!
Wes Craven's name is synonymous with horror. Craven has been behind two of the most popular horror films of the last thirty years: A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. Along the way Craven has also directed a slew of other popular scary movies including The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, The People Under the Stairs, and The Serpent and the Rainbow. Most of Craven's films are unsettling and frightening visions of monsters, dreamscapes, and psychological thrills.
And then there's 1982's Swamp Thing.
Swamp Thing, an adaptation of the DC Comics character, is a movie that has no idea what it wants to be. Is it an action packed adventure? A broadly drawn comedy? A parody? A horror film? How about all of the above? There's a silly undercurrent running beneath Swamp Thing, and most of the time it feels as if Wes Craven doesn't know what to do with it. The screenplay (written by Craven) is pretty standard superhero stuff with the hero's origin story jammed in front, the bad guy's plan squeezed into the middle, and the final battle tacked on the end. Nothing here will surprise viewers, and due to a lack of budget almost everything on screen—save for the swamp location—looks cheaply constructed and executed.
A film like Swamp Thing rises and falls on the shoulders of its hero, and Swamp Thing's appearance is almost laughable in its terribleness. On the surface the idea of the creature—made up of gooey plant life and organic earth—is kind of cool. Then the camera gets in close and the whole facade slowly falls apart. The makeup effects work at a distance, but when seen close up the whole thing is sort of snicker inducing. It's clear that Swamp Thing is just a stuntman in a rubber suit, a rubber suit which bends and creases as Swamp Thing moves. Dick Durock plays Swamp Thing with imposing presence, but he just can't get around the cheapness of the monster suit.
The rest of the cast is all over the map. Louis Jourdan's villainous Arcane acts like he just walked out of a light French comedy. When the film calls for a menacing bad guy, it gives us a light, flirty Frenchman who weighs approximately three pounds. Afro-sporting Adrienne Barbeau carries herself with an air that she knows she's in a really cheap comic book B-movie. Barbeau is a staple of late '70s/early '80s cult classics (including John Carpenter's Escape from New York and The Fog) and her sex appeal has always worked in her favor. In Swamp Thing, Barbeau looks bored and wanders around the movie waiting for Swamp Thing to rescue her. Ray Wise makes a welcome cameo in the beginning of the film as the pre-accident hero, and his disappearance a quarter of the way through is sorely missed.
Swamp Thing culminates in one of the strangest final battles ever on screen, which features Swamp Thing, Adrienne Barbeau's breasts, a mutated midget in a white turtleneck, and a sword wielding beast man who looks like a cross between a pig, a wolf, and a shag carpet. The effects are so bad that it looks like a bunch of community college kids got together to film a fight scene between two monsters with costumes their mom made last Halloween. The whole thing is underscored by composer Harry Manfredini's chintzy music, which sounds directly stolen from the Friday the 13th series (which Manfredini also scored). The character of Swamp Thing worked a lot better in the funnier, hokier 1989 flick The Return of Swamp Thing. See that instead of this and thank me later.
Swamp Thing is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. Although this transfer is heads and shoulders above the previous DVD issue, overall this transfer is only good, not great. Clearly Swamp Thing was made on a relatively low budget and suffers from a soft, almost hazy look during much of the film. Colors are good although slightly muted and black levels are (mostly) solid and dark. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 in English. Not unlike the video transfer, this audio mix isn't anything to write home about. It's a front heavy track that lacks any true dynamic range. Dialogue, music, and effects are clearly heard and distinguishable. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
This DVD/Blu-ray combo disc set includes an interview with actress Adrienne Barbeau ("Tales from the Swamp"), actor Reggie Batts ("Hey Jude with Actor Reggie Batts"), and Swamp Thing creator Len Wein ("That Swamp Thing, a Look Back with Len Wein"); a commentary track with writer/director Wes Craven; a second audio track with effects artist William Munn; a photo gallery, and a theatrical trailer for the film.
It was cheap looking in 1982 and is even worse in 2013. Imagine how bad it will be in 2042?
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.