|Director: Wes Craven|
|Screenplay: Wes Craven (based on the comic book by Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson)|
|Stars: Louis Jourdan (Arcane), Adrienne Barbeau (Alice Cable), Ray Wise (Dr. Alec Holland), David Hess (Ferret), Nicholas Worth (Bruno), Don Knight (Ritter), Al Ruban (Charlie), Dick Durock (Swamp Thing), Ben Bates (Arcane Monster), Nannette Brown (Dr. Linda Holland), Reggie Batts (Jude), Mimi Craven (Arcane’s Secretary)|
|MPAA Rating: PG|
|Year of Release: 1982|
|Country: U.S. |
As the comic book-to-cinematic rivalry between Marvel and DC for dominance of the multiplex continues, with both outfits continuing to develop extensive plans of interconnected movies and streaming series based on their superhero comics that that will stretch deep into the foreseeable future, it is difficult to imagine that just a few short decades ago—the early 1980s, to be precise—there had been only a handful of major films based on comic book characters. Outside of some serials in the ’40s and ’50s, DC could only lay claim to Batman (1966), a movie version of the campy television show; Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980); and … Swamp Thing. That’s right: From the expansive stable of characters established in DC comics since the 1930s, a scientist-turned-vengeful-but sensitive superhuman swamp-dweller was the third to be given the big screen treatment after Batman and the Man of Steel.
Of course, at the time, comic book adaptations were hardly the stuff of summer tentpole dominance, partially because the special effects needed to translate the impossible feats of superhuman action from page screen were still in development and far from perfection (the tagline for Richard Donner’s Superman was the almost desperately forceful “You will believe a man can fly”), which is perhaps why Swamp Thing, which originated as a comic book series by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson in 1972, seemed like a viable project. All it needed were prosthetic make-up effects, stuntmen, and some swampy locations, although, according to various histories of the project, even those requirements ultimately proved too much, as the studio slashed the budget numerous times—which makes it all the more surprising that Swamp Thing works as well as it does. Sure—it’s kind of hokey and a bit campy and has some narrative bumbling and pacing issues, but overall it is a genuinely fun diversion—a contemporary man-in-a-rubber-suit creature feature that also happens to boast a decent amount of heart.
The entire story takes place in—you guessed it—a swamp, which is home to a secret, government-funded research lab where handsome scientist wunderkind Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) is working on a formula that could lead to the kind of plant growth that would solve world hunger. Unfortunately, his work is sought by Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan), a nefarious, well-heeled supervillain who lives in an antebellum mansion, rides around in a limousine, and employs a leering army of camouflaged mercenaries led by Ferret (David Hess) to do his dirty work, which in this case involves raiding Dr. Holland’s lab, killing everyone, and burning the place to the ground. Dr. Holland is splashed by his own formula and set on fire, which results in his transformation into Swamp Thing (Dick Durock)—a hulking man-vegetable hybrid with superhuman strength and intelligence. Luckily, some of his research is salvaged by Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau), a tech guru recently dispatched to the swamp lab who immediately struck up a connection with Dr. Holland despite her generally sardonic nature.
The rest of the film follows Alice as she tries to smuggle Dr. Holland’s research out of the swamp while Ferret and his goons track her and Swamp Thing saves her … repeatedly. She is also assisted by a bespectacled local teen named Jude (Reggie Batts), who infuses the film with a wonderful sense of deadpan humor (“Don’t be afraid,” Alice frantically tells him at one point, to which he mumbles without missing a beat, “You better say that to somebody whose desk you ain’t hiding behind”). Alice is a determined heroine, and even though she regularly requires saving by Swamp Thing, she has a decided sense of agency that is enhanced by Barbeau’s tough screen persona. At the time, Barbeau was best known for her role as Carol Traynor on the groundbreaking sitcom Maude (1972–1978), although she was well on her way to becoming a fixture in horror and science fiction with prominent roles in then-husband John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) and Escape From New York (1982) and George A. Romero’s Creepshow (1982).
Despite being a fundamentally tough character, Alice has some moments of genuine tenderness with Swamp Thing, who imposing six-foot-six actor Dick Durock makes into substantially more than just a mossy green giant. Although covered head to toe in a green latex suit (Roger Ebert memorably described him as “looking like a bug-eyed spinach souffle”), Durock’s face is free to express a wide range of emotions, and his performance ably conveys the character’s dismay with his tragic new state. Louis Jourdan, on the other hand, is essentially one-note perfection as Arcane; he brings a nefarious sense of continental flair to Arcane’s villainy, and it’s not surprising that his next role was the villain in the James Bond movie Octopussy (1983).
Swamp Thing was the fourth feature film directed by Wes Craven, if you don’t count his pornographic film The Fireworks Woman (1975) and the made-for-television movie Summer of Fear (1978) (two years later he would fully establish himself with the slasher hit A Nightmare on Elm Street). He was already notorious for having helmed the low-budget shockers The Last House on the Left (1972), which also featured David Hess as a psychopathic killer, and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Swamp Thing offered him something of a change of pace, even though it also forced him to labor under a restricted budget. As Romero did in Creepshow, Craven plays up the film’s connection to comic book aesthetics with attention-grabbing wipes inspired by comic book panels and an intense color palette of heavy primary hues. There is a purposeful artificiality to the film that is catchy and fun, and when Swamp Things goes head-to-head with Arcane after he morphs into a grunting pig-creature after drinking the formula, it is a B-movie high of giddy ridiculousness. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore.
|Swamp Thing “MVD Rewind Collection” 4K UHD + Blu-ray|
|Audio||English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monauralSpanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monaural|
|Supplements||Audio Commentary with director Wes Craven moderated by Sean ClarkAudio Commentary with make-up effects artist William Munn moderated by Michael Felsher“Tales From the Swamp” interview with actress Adrienne Barbeau“Hey Jude” interview with with actor Reggie Batts“That Swamp Thing” interview with co-creator Len Wein“Swamp Screen: Designing DC’s Main Monster” featurette“From Krug to Comics: How the Mainstream Shaped a Radical Genre Voice” featurettePosters and lobby cardsPhotos from the filmWilliam Munns’s behind the scenes picturesBehind the scenes photos by Geoffrey RayleTheatrical trailer|
|Distributor||MVD Entertainment Group|
|Release Date||August 8, 2023|
|First of all, I have to give props to MVD for their ongoing “Rewind Collection,” which is clearly designed to tickle the nostalgia of people like myself who grew up in the era of videocassettes. While their previous releases have been designed to look like old VHS tapes, the package design for Swamp Thing, which is the first 4K title in the collection, is made to look like an old RCA SelectaVision disc. Brilliant.|
Given that it was a relatively low-budget affair, Swamp Thing is never going to look spectacular, but MVD’s new 4K UHD disc has it looking better than I’ve ever seen it. The image on the disc derives from a 2023 4K restoration that began with a 16-bit scan of the original camera negative. The 4K/Dolby Vision HDR image is clean and well defined, with generally good detail despite an overall soft appearance. There is definitely some noticeable grain throughout, although it is in keeping with the look of low-budget 1980s productions. Color is particularly notable, as the comic book-inspired primary hues really pop off the screen. It is also notable that MVD’s release contains both the original PG-rated theatrical version and the unrated international version (the only difference between the two versions is 30 seconds or so of nudity, which has, of course, become legendary due to its lack of accessibility on U.S. video releases). The DTS-HD Master Audio monaural soundtrack is a good enough presentation, with clear dialogue and sound effects. There isn’t much of a low end, and one wonders how it might have benefitted from a six-channel remix, especially with all the ambient swamp sounds.
In terms of supplements, MVD’s disc retains the impressive array that was included on Shout! Factory’s 2013 Blu-ray, starting with two enjoyable audio commentaries, one by writer/director Wes Craven (who is assisted from time to time by Sean Clark of the Horror’s Hallowed Grounds series) and one by makeup-effects artist William Munns, who also worked on The Beastmaster (1982) and Return of the Living Dead (1985). There are also video interviews with actress Adrienne Barbeau (17 min.); actor Reggie Batts (15 min.), who, despite stealing every scene he’s in, never acted in another movie; and Swamp Thing comic book co-creator Len Wein (13 min.). We also get the same stills galleries of production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, posters art and lobby cards, and an original theatrical trailer. New to MVD’s disc are two featurettes: “From Krug to Comics: How the Mainstream Shaped a Radical Genre Voice,” a 17-minute interview with film critic and genre specialist Kim Newman, who talks at length about Wes Craven’s career and then about how Swamp Thing made the leap from page to screen, and “Swamp Screen: Designing DC’s Main Monster,” a 20-minute interview with Robb Wilson King, who worked on the film as art director and set designer and shares a lot of great production stories about working in the swamp.
Copyright © 2023 James Kendrick
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