Thanks to Shout! Factory for giving me a chance to check out Swamp Thing in their new Blu-ray combo pack. I’ve never seen the film before, but I’ve been curious.
Scientist Alec Holland (a young Ray Wise, who will always now be the Devil to me) is working on experiments deep in the swamp (as filmed in Charleston, South Carolina). He is creating “a simple vegetable cell with an unmistakeable animal nucleus” since he aims to “develop a plant with an animal’s aggressive power for survival, a plant for the 21st century”. Alice Cable, a visiting government observer (Adrienne Barbeau), responds, “you want a tomato that can fetch a stick?”
Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan) covets possess the secret formula, so his goons invade the lab. Alec’s sister is killed, and Alec is set on fire, fleeing into the swamp. There, the formula reacts, turning him into the ambulatory vegetable Swamp Thing (played by Dick Durock). The character was originally created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson in House of Secrets in 1971.
Typical of a film from 1982, the pacing is remarkably slow compared to what we’re used to. It was written and directed by horror maven Wes Craven, though, which gives it more interest. Some of it seems silly, such as the way Arcane’s bad guys wear camouflage outfits with leaf hats, yet there’s still a sense of menace. You can tell that Swamp Thing’s costume is just a green jumpsuit with some vines on top, but if you’re willing to play along with imagination, the story and motivations work well.
Adrienne Barbeau and Dick Durock in Swamp Thing
The idea of a genius who thinks that his abilities give him the excuse to do whatever he wants, including killing people, is still a frightening one, and the sequences with Barbeau on the run from the creeps who’ve already tried to kill her I found suspenseful. Durock gives a surprisingly nuanced performance, and the scenery is neat.
Overall, I’m glad to have a copy of this for our “comic book movie” collection, because so many people have heard of it. I found it watchable, with enough of a story to keep me interested, and with good extras (see below) that shed new light. If nothing else, it was neat seeing Ray Wise play a hero.
Heck, Swampy is one of DC’s more successful media translations, after Batman and Superman, since he had two movies, a TV show, a cartoon, AND toys.
(Because some people care about these things, I will note that this is the US version of the film, which means that you only get side-boob nudity from Ms. Barbeau, not front, and there’s no orgy scene, whatever that was. The film doesn’t suffer at all from these omissions.)
All features appear on both the Blu-ray and DVD, which also comes in the combo pack.
“Tales From the Swamp” (17 minutes) consists of new reminiscences from Adrienne Barbeau about making the movie.
“Hey, Jude” (14 1/2 minutes) talks with Reggie Batts, who played the kid in the store. This was his only significant movie role, so it’s interesting to get his perspective on the experience.
“That Swamp Thing” (13 minutes) is “a look back with Len Wein, creator of Swamp Thing”. He talks about getting started writing comics and the origin of the character, as well as comparing the movie to the source material. He also has some smart observations on needing to write for the medium you’re working in.
The original theatrical trailer, plugging “Adrienne Barbeau and the Swamp Thing, an outrageous pair”. Makes it look like an interesting film.
Galleries of posters and lobby cards, film photos, and behind-the-scenes photos, both by William Munns (makeup effects artist, so these focus on the monster costumes) and Geoffrey Rayle (special effects assistant). They play at their own rate, or you can advance with the chapter buttons on your remote control.
There are two commentaries, one with writer/director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street), the other with Munns. I can tell I liked a movie if I’m willing to run a commentary right after I’ve seen the film (since it means I’m willing to watch it again), and I liked Craven’s, which starts by talking about the dangers of filming in a swamp in the summer. I haven’t had a chance to listen to Munns’ yet. (The publisher provided a review copy.)