Swamp Thing (1982)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Bernie Wrightson, Len Wein, Wes Craven
Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, David Hess, Dick Durock, Louis Jourdan, Nannette Brown, Nicholas Worth, Ray Wise
SWAMP THING (1982)
Directed by Wes Craven
On Dual Format from 88 Films
Scientists Alec and Linda Holland are deep in the swamps of Louisiana, working on a plant/animal cell formula that will provide plants with the properties to survive in the harshest of environments. Whilst Alec hopes to solve world hunger using his formula, rival Arcane hopes to use it for his own malevolent means. When Arcane sends his troops into the swamp to retrieve Holland’s research, the Holland siblings attempt to flee with their research but neither get very far. With Linda succumbing to a gunshot wound and Alec’s smouldering body in the swamp after being set alight from his explosive experiments, all that’s left is for Arcane to piece together the research from the Holland diaries and duplicate the formula. What he doesn’t realise is that a government agent by the name of Alice Cable, who was sent to work with and oversee the Hollands, has the final diary which contains the working formula. Eager to wipe out every witness and to retrieve the all-important research, Arcane’s men pursue Cable but it seems as though she has a guardian angel lurking in the swamp who’ll do everything it can to protect her.
Loosely adapted from DC Comics’ creation of the same name, SWAMP THING was horror maestro Wes Craven’s foray into the mainstream. What better way to target the mass population than with a comic book movie, something which audiences were lapping up at the time with Christopher Reeve’s Superman film franchise – another DC Comics adaptation. After shooting such grotesque horrors such as The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, Wes Craven’s output became much more accessible in Swamp Thing, sitting somewhere between The Incredible Hulk TV series and the gritty horrors that Craven was known for making. Starring The Last House on the Left actor David Hess in yet another wicked role as Arcane’s head soldier Ferret, the film retains Craven’s brand of filmmaking, complete with blood and nudity, whilst still appealing to the comic book crowd.
The ever charismatic Ray Wise, who you may know as Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks, lays on the charm as botanist Alec Holland, whist John Carpenter regular Adrienne Barbeau stars as government agent Alice Cable who’s sent to replace her predecessor who was fatally wounded by an alligator out in the swamps. A play on the comic book’s character of Matthew Cable, who’s sent to guard the Louisiana lab, Alice becomes the object of Alec’s affection and our leading lady who manages to balance being both determined protagonist and damsel in distress. Barbeau convinces in her role as a woman in what is seen as a man’s line of work, something which is muttered to her more than once by other characters protecting the laboratory. She seems to have the fire in her heart to throw herself into danger if she believes it’s the right thing to do and can handle herself easily if not outnumbered. Although her introduction to Alec is a couple of hours at most, she seem to have made quite the impression on him as we see him steal a kiss at the first opportunity of celebration – not that she refuses him, however. This simmering sexual chemistry between the two plays well into the next chapter in which Alec’s life is turned upside down and he becomes the titular creature who must protect Cable and his research at all costs.
When faced with the Swamp Thing character, I didn’t really know what to expect. What we’re presented with is something more human than beast, with Dick Durock taking over the reigns from Ray Wise to portray the towering green figure. Caked in a layer of swamp mud, he’s not as muscle-bound nor moss-laden as his comic counterpart depicts. In many ways, the costume appears to be the weakest part of the film as the performances, plot and set design are simply superb. Other creatures in the film also lack visual oomph and, whilst I respect the effort put into the visual creations, it feels as though the creature effects department may have ended up with the smallest budget to work with.
Though it may have bombed with audiences at the time of release, SWAMP THING has plenty to write home about with some memorable scenes that won’t fade from memory in a hurry. Bruno’s transformation during the dinner scene, gas station owner Jude’s rib-tickling perception to everything around him and Ferret’s confrontation with Swamp Thing, are just a few of the highlights from the film. It’s brilliant to see Craven’s take on something so accessible and fantastical yet firmly leave his gritty stamp all over the film to leave it unmistakably his. The North Carolina swamps ooze just as much character as Barbeau does as the Ripley-esque heroine, making for a thrilling slice of action-fantasy thriller that never truly gives up.
The film looks amazing in 88 Films Blu-ray release, showcasing the full uncut and uncensored European cut of the film. The disc is bundled with extras including reversible artwork, an A3 foldout poster of the artwork, limited edition slipcase, booklet featuring rare photos from the film and a host of extras on the disc itself. Aside from commentary with director Wes Craven, there’s a fascinating 20 minute video interview with production designer Robb Wilson King who talks about finding the location for the shoot, building the lab and working with the various actors in the movie as well as recruiting crew from the local area. There’s also an interview with film critic and author Kim Newman, who discusses Craven’s change of direction with Swamp Thing, whilst a trailer of the movie completes the list of special features. The release also features the film on DVD in standard definition.