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March 14, 2011
 

Movie Mondays: Swamp Thing

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Written by: AHudson
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Title: Swamp Thing
Director: Wes Craven
Writer:
Wes Craven (created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson)
Distributed By: Avco Embassy Pictures
Starring:
Ray Wise, Adrienne Barbeau, Louis Jourdan, Dick Durock
Release Date:
February 19th, 1982
MPAA:
PG

Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) is working on a chemical breakthrough in the swamps of Louisiana along with his sister Dr. Linda Holland (Nannette Brown). Government operative Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) overlooks the project while she finds herself falling for Dr. Holland. As the project comes close to completion, they find its properties have the ability to grow plants and change our world for the better. But evil scientist Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan) and his mercenaries Ferret (David Hess) and Bruno (Nicholas Worth) have different ideas with how the formula should be used. In an attempt to steal the formula, Anton Arcane and his thugs kill Dr. Linda Holland and everyone associated with the project. Dr. Alec Holland gets caught in a lab explosion and becomes…Swamp Thing. Now he must stop Anton Arcane from using the formula and protect Alice Cable.

Sometimes you’ll have a film that stays faithful to the comic but still ends up straying away when it comes to the theme and styling. Swamp Thing is a prime example. It’s somewhat faithful to the comic’s origin, since the origin was fairly simple to begin with (scientist gets double crossed, caught in chemical explosion, becomes monster). But as far as the styling and theme goes, it’s different than Len Wein’s dark pulpish comic; and if you’re looking for Alan Moore’s incredible Vertigo run, you can forget it.

In case you're too stupid to figure out the plot later on.

Instead, the film sticks to a sixties and seventies style camp. And by camp, I don’t mean silly or necessarily stupid camp, I mean more B-film camp. Even though Swamp Thing is made by horror master Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, The Hills Have Eyes), don’t expect a dark, splatter fest campy horror. After all, this got a PG rating; although it has some blood and even some tit shots (eighties PG after all). Still, most of the action comprises of Swamp Thing throwing baddies ten feet in the air while shouting “UUUAAARRRRGGGHHH!”

Don't mess with the Swamp Thing.

Or else….

And speaking of camp, the production itself pays tribute to camp (or was forced with a lower budget, you decide). The music is a strange kind of mix of violins and cellos. Kind of like the soundtracks from the fifties through seventies science videos you had to watch in high school biology. And while Swamp Thing’s costume didn’t have the zipper in the back, you could definitely see the pant creases. He looked like an old man covered in algae. And don’t even get me started on Dr. Anton Arcane’s (Louis Jourdan) monster transformation, as well as the goofy yellow syrup they used for his blood.

Captions cannot describe this picture.

Fortunately, Craven had the sense to write dialog that was somewhat natural and realistic. And he also had the sense to hire actors that could, well…act. Sure they were bad stock characters who were clich√©s. But Dick Durock played a sympathetic Swamp Thing, Adrienne Barbeau did a solid job as always, and Louis Jourdan played a villain that you wish would die a horrible death.

Anton Arcane has a big mansion, has an elite group of mercenaries, and always has beautiful women by his side. Guess what side of the force he's on.

Rated PG.

The story isn’t too bad either. It’s simple in the sense that you’ll know what happens next, regardless if you read the comics or have previously seen the film. But it serves its purpose and has a few complexities to it, even if there are a few “oh you idiot!” moments.

However, there are two major flaws that keep me from giving it major praise. First of all, it’s a slow film at times. Not the kind of slow like in The Godfather or Cool Hand Luke, where it’s enjoyable and develops character/story. This one is simply where the film struggles to sludge on through at various points.

Movie Rule #163: Female scientists are always cute and nerdy. Guess I should've majored in Chemistry.

The second flaw and no doubt the biggest one, is the lack of any really strong suits. If it had just one, its flaws could easily be forgiven. Take the film Batman (1966) for instance. Campy, slow at certain spots, and a few minor flaws? Yes, absolutely. But it’s the 60s’ Batman and it has Adam West, which completely makes up for any flaws. With Swamp Thing, however, there’s nothing that made me say “wow, that was great.” There were a few solid spots that came close to that (such as the few almost ET moments), but nothing surpassed being simply good.

And you thought your day at work was rough.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible film at all. I’m sure there will be a few of you who will watch it and enjoy it (or add “this is an amazing film, I don’t know what you’re talking about” in the comment section). The film did take the good from Swamp Thing and camp films, it just didn’t leave the bad stuff that came from the films. It’s certainly not a blemish on Wes Craven’s career and it’s definitely not his worst pic. However, I’m certainly not lamenting over the fact that Wes Craven hasn’t tried to make any lighter films afterwards (with the exception of Music of the Heart).

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Andrew Hudson
ahudson@comicattack.net
@Hudsonian

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