Like all other adaptations and even Sci-Fi’s (or SyFy’s, depending on its shooting date) similarly botched Man-Thing, Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing (1982) either didn’t get its source material or, more likely, never wanted it in the first place. The movie plays out the origin more or less faithfully but halts all similarity from that point. The grossly inaccurate misuse of Swamp Thing as a stand-in for Frankenstein’s Monster could have been forgiven if not for the utterly generic monster abilities he received. A lack of creativity killed this one right out of the gate.
Save a single moment of life-saving via his own Green Mile powers, Swamp Thing hurls men and machines around the swamp, lumbers about and carries around Adrienne Barbeau, as anyone around Adrienne Barbeau is wont to do. His abilities consist of being strong enough to crush a man’s skull, deflect (absorb?) bullets and immunity to ramming attacks via truck or boat. His immunity to blades equals that of any other grass, though, unfortunately. By the time the movie even gets around to revealing that Alec Holland still lives inside Swamp Thing’s rubbery exterior he’s wasted most of it battling may-as-well-be-faceless goons in vintage 1980s camouflage gear. One guy even sports the red Rambo headband, as if more note of the era was needed.
Holland’s nemesis, Anton Arcane, helps the movie little with his murky motivations and vaguely fleshed goals. He believes Holland’s formula to grow plants more efficiently holds his key to power somehow, though combined with his application of the formula once in his possession, his plan makes about as much sense as the “Underpants Gnomes” scheme on South Park. He feeds it to one of his goons, turning him into a pus covered midget. Holland explains that this is his inner nature being reflected, or some such drivel, luring the vain Arcane to believe it will make him powerful the way it did Holland. Keep in mind that he takes this advice from a sentient compost heap, and that becoming this also is something to which he aspires. Holland also became Swamp Thing by being blasted in his lab by an explosion, set aflame and dumped in a swamp. For a scientific genius, Arcane takes very little notice of his experiment’s test controls. What this amounts to is Swamp Frankenstein vs. Swamp Wolfman, as Arcane’ inner nature manifests as a werewolf burst from a cocoon. At this point, why not? And he has a sword. I should mention that. Grand battle behind him, Holland rides off into the swamp, leaving Barbeau behind to make sense of it all, telling her to “tell their story.”
Obvious cheapness aside, (the suit’s rubber actually wrinkles at times) there’s an air of just not giving a fuck around Swamp Thing. I got the sense that as Arcane, Louis Jourdan was just doing what he does, an old hand just giving his typical performance. Ray Wise isn’t bad as Holland for his rather brief time in the film. Barbeau carries most of the film but she spends it running from and being caught by the same goons in a less than one mile radius. The plot just runs in circles like that until Swamp Thing allows himself to be captured, presumably just to get the shit over with. The movie has been called, or retracted as, campy, but that’s not even remotely accurate. This is just a shitty movie. Basically it’s The Toxic Avenger without a sense of humor. 2 stars, for the bathing Adrienne Barbeau
The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) is true to its claim of campiness, which it embraces whole heartedly. Outside of a quick recap of the first, Return dives right into establishing its primary goal: thing-on-woman relations, with Arcane’s innocent stepdaughter Abby introduced as said woman. Heather Locklear wastes no scenery as Abby either; she chews it right down to the marrow, or roots in this case (I know, I couldn’t help it). Returning also are Dick Durock who would manage to ride out quite a number of appearances as the title character, more than I think anyone could have imagined, and do a fair job if it at that, and Louis Jourdan as the now not-a-werewolf Arcane. His casting was one of the few things from the first that ain’t broke, so why fix it?
Made a long seven years after its predecessor flopped, you’d supposed the producers and studio wouldn’t have much hope or care for the follow up. When you notice they replaced an apparently unmotivated Wes Craven with the generally incapable Jim Wynorski (Deathstalker 2, Chopping Mall) you’d have to believe this is true. Maybe that lack of faith led to the freedom that allowed this to be better than the original. You can call it “horror-camp” if you like but all semblance of horror has been tossed out in Return. If anything it’s a meet-cute rom-com with the man made of sticks, mud and sargassum. His suit has improved noticeably, though.
Arcane, having learned from his staff of paint-ballers playing commando in the first film, has a staff of scientists, including one bumbler and the great Sarah Douglas. His chances improved thousands of percents just by hiring Ursa. He also creates his own Monster Squad of genetically manipulated messes. They aren’t much more effective than his goons but at least they look more like something Swamp Thing could have a little trouble defeating. He really doesn’t, but that’s hardly the point.
One thing that isn’t improved from the originally is the use of child actors. It made little sense in the first one but at least Jude wasn’t used as a comedy act, unlike the two kids from Return. One is fat and Southern, as if one or the other was too subtle. This movie cuts out most of the hemming and hawing on SW’s part, too, getting right into his romance with Abby. It’s handled with the proper silliness, including all of the jokes about Abby’s vegetarian convictions that you could possibly stand. All in all, Return is fun and harmless, a go-for-broke, camp take on a franchise that could hardly sink any lower if it had tried. 2 ½ stars
I also recently revisited the pilot to the USA series, Swamp Thing (1990), again starring Durock. I had fond memories of this from the era and, as usual, looking back tarnishes even the fondest of them. The opening scene is as jarring as I remember, with Swamp Thing meting out justice by turning a would-be-murderer into a tree, albeit a tree with eyes and teeth which can moan low. The series would follow his constant thwarting of Arcane’s plots with occasional sidebar adventures. Rather like the Highlander television series of the time, Swamp Thing had much more flexibility in establishing itself, allowing characters to build over time and plots to slow burn more frequently. If anything, though, this pace is too slow and the action drags for it. It was a fairly cheap looking show, but this was the USA network circa 1990-1993 or so. You can’t ask or expect much. Plus, it was a place to find post-Remote Control Kari Wuhrer, so it had that. As a series it was fairly lackluster, though it had its moments. 2 ½ stars
Allegedly, according to co-creator Len Wein, a new script is all ready to go (http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/rorschachsrants/news/?a=20982). Hopefully this one will take the nature of the character into account a little more.