Are you ready for some good old-fashioned ‘80s cheese by way of a campy, kitschy B-movie horror flick? Well, you have come to the right column, my friend. Today, let’s talk ‘Swamp Thing.’
Directed by Wes Craven and written by Craven, Len Wein, and Bernie Wrightson – Wein and Wrightson originally created the character for DC Comics in 1971 – the film is a fun mixture of government baddies, thugs, scientific experiments gone awry, boobs, a large green moss-covered creature that likes to yell for no apparent reason, a wise-cracking kid, and more boobs. Yes, this film truly has it all.
A secret lab set back in the swamps of Louisiana is a hub for a new bio-engineering experiment. Dr. Alec Holland (played by a very animated Ray Wise) has been working on a super-secret compound that can mix non-plant life with plant life. The government sends one of their own people, Alice Cable (iconic ‘70s and ‘80s horror actress Adrienne Barbeau), to oversee the project’s final phases. Alec and Alice have sparks fly between them, but it is cut short when Dr. Anton Arcane arrives brandishing a gun like he’s never held one before. Arcane wants the formula for his own nefarious reasons, and a shootout ensues. Alec and his sister, who is his assistant, are killed, but Alec goes out in style: when the formula is thrown or jostled, it explodes. As he falls with the full beaker in his hands, there is a large explosion, in which he is exposed to the formula and catches on fire. He runs out of the lab and falls into the neighboring swamp, where he is presumed dead. Arcane and his group of goons capture Alice.
We are soon introduced to Swamp Thing: with his large, green, moss-covered body, he is literally a force of nature. In a display of said force, he roughs up the goons and carries Alice to the shore after she is shot in the skirmish. Here he shows that he has the ability to restore life by giving off some kind of glowing energy from his hand. Alice lives, and it quickly becomes apparent that Swamp Thing is really a disfigured and transmogrified version of Alec.
As the story progresses, the viewer is introduced to a little comedy relief in the form of a young boy named Jude. He runs a convenience store in the middle of the swamp, and Alice stumbles upon him in her quest to escape Arcane; he quickly becomes Alice’s accomplice. Jude has this ability to coolly deliver one-liners and quips all while keeping a straight face in the middle of some chaotic situations. His character provides just the right amount of fresh-faced youth and comedy.
Arcane and his bad guys do manage to re-capture Alice, although she does put up one helluva fight. There is even an added scene showing Alice washing off in the swamp. Barbeau manages to steal the show with her beautiful body, but there’s nothing new there. The last part of the film seems to veer off into strange territory. There is an odd dinner party that resembles some kind of strip bar set in a funky ‘70s house. Once Arcane captures Swamp Thing, he decides to administer the serum to an unsuspecting goon, as well as eventually trying it himself.
All in all, Craven, known best for the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ series, gives us a fun take on the character and stays pretty true to the comic book version of Swamp Thing. With the explosive action scenes and a guy in a cool rubber man-plant suit, we are given much eye candy to crunch on. Oh, and Barbeau. Can’t forget her. The ability for the movie to retain its amusement thirty years later is impressive. The cast fits the bill, bringing Swamp Thing to life.
Considering this movie was based on a comic book, and there are no known serums that allow for men to turn into half man, half swamp creatures, we, of course, have to take the on-screen action with a grain of salt. The movie, however, follows the saga of the comic book fairly well. It’s an interesting premise with a man who is turned into a creature, but still has human thoughts and emotions, and even eventually a voice. Swamp Thing is still able to love, but his mutated form only allows for isolation. Protecting the swamp that he loves and is endeared to becomes his passion. Factor in his superhuman strength and ability to blend into the environment, therefore sneaking up on bad guys quite successfully, and it is a fun time!
Craven masterfully filmed this movie in the swamps, giving a feeling of authenticity. He is able to use locations to enhance the emotion and amp up the intensity in his films. It is beautiful scenery, both eerie and inviting. Swamp Thing’s outfit lacked a little, but for the year it was made, it could have been much worse. There was only one scene that was particularly cringe-worthy: the finale. Otherwise, it was a pretty solid production.
When it’s all said and done, I can recommend ‘Swamp Thing’ with a smile. It has a firm place in the cult classic logs. It’s one I revisit every few years, and even though movies are far different in quality now, the film can be appreciated for what it offers. Now if only they showed a Swamp Thing or two in that “reality” show, ‘Swamp People.’ It would do wonders for the ratings, I think.