Dr. Alec Holland, hidden away in the depths of a murky swamp, is trying to create a new species - a combination of animal and plant capable of adapting and thriving in the harshest conditions. Unfortunately he becomes subject of his own creation and is transformed . . . Arcane, desperate for the formula attempts to capture the Swamp Thing. An explosive chase ensues that ultimately ends with a confrontation between Holland and a changed Arcane . . .
Louis Jourdan ... Dr. Anton Arcane
Adrienne Barbeau ... Alice Cable
Ray Wise ... Doctor Alec Holland
David Hess ... Ferret
Nicholas Worth ... Bruno
Don Knight ... Harry 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 (as Mimi Meyer)
Karen Price ... Karen
Bill Erickson ... Young Agent
Dov Gottesfeld ... Commando
It's too bad about the last third of this movie, because it really works pretty well as a comic book movie before the bad guys start drinking the serum and transforming. It takes place in a swamp and throughout most of the movie looks exactly like some of those stupid, stupid exploitation films like Gator Bait and Day of the Woman, but it completely loses track of itself in the third act. The story concerns a scientist who has created a serum that allows stupendous plant growth, which he plans to use to help feed the world, "say by the year 2001 when there are 6 ½ billion people on the planet." Needless to say, his desire to do good with something so powerful is not going to fly in a Wes Craven film, so it's not long before a lot of trashy rednecks barge in heavily armed in full fatigues to take it away from him and deliver it to their evil boss.
The best parts of this movie are the scenes at the beginning that show the discovery of what the serum does. At first it looks like some kind of explosive liquid that looks exactly like the serum that Herbert West created in Re-Animator, but soon one scientist notices that the spots on the floorboards where it was flung to show its explosive properties have begun to grow branches. The interest level at this point in the movie is on a step uphill, so it's almost heartbreaking when the last half hour or so gets so bad.
The Swamp Thing himself never looks like anything but a man wearing a rubber suit, but I'm willing to accept that because he was a human being before being affected by the serum, so let's not pick the movie apart because of him. The Day the Earth Stood Still had a great explanation for why the alien that stepped off of the space ship was a well-dressed man, and this movie has a good reason for the humanoid appearance of it's monster, and I have to admit that the special effects were fairly well done for 1982.
I also really liked the character of Jude. He is a really easy kind of character to criticize because he is just some kid that pops up in the movie, running a roadside liquor store, of all things, and operates as some pretty goofy comic relief. But his character is well written, if not tremendously well acted. I've seen this kind of character done badly before, such as in Gator Bait, I Spit on Your Grave, and Wrong Turn.
There are times that the creature in this movie reminds me of King Kong (such as when he's saving the damsel in distress from harm and lavishing affection on her in the wilderness) and there are times when it reminds me of Frankenstein's monster (such as when it reaches for the flowers in the trees, either pleasantly astounded by their beauty or, lest we forget, noting the species of flower that they are since, of course, he is a scientist underneath all of that rubber. I mean plant life).
Where the movie really goes wrong is when it tries to show how the serum affects different people, like what they did (with much better affect) in The Mask years later. Evidently the serum does not make everyone big and strong, but only amplifies their essence. It magnifies what they already are, so if they are a big strong man with no inner strength, apparently they turn into pig-headed midgets in turtlenecks, whereas if they are a big bad guy (like the badly written and badly acted big bad boss man in this movie), they will turn into some kind of photosynthetic werewolf. Ugh.
But even worse, the movie switches from the swampy wilderness to a nightclub that makes absolutely no sense. Craven has already by this point inserted uncharacteristic and completely unnecessary nudity into the movie, but this place is the ridiculous combination of a high-class black tie restaurant and a trashy strip club. Half the patrons are wearing fancy clothes and half are dirty rednecks still wearing the fatigues that they were crawling around the swamp in. And then, of course, there's Alice Cable, there heroine, tied to a chair.
This movie describes the true nuts and bolts of human life as "a million messy miracles," and it believes in that statement in the design of its characters. The swamp thing is not a glorified superhero, he is a man that has been reduced to a plant-like creature, with some human properties and some plant properties, but without the full capabilities of either. This is not exactly what I have come to know and love from Wes Craven (although not quite as uncharacteristic as Music of the Heart, where did THAT come from), but for the most part this movie is able to stand on its own and is a fairly entertaining comic book movie from the early 80s.
And here's something interesting and a little disturbing – according to the credits at the end of the film, the sound effects were created by "Jay's Meat & Provision Co."
I don't know why I insist on re-watching this movie every few years. It's not going to get any better. In fact, I enjoy it less and less with each successive viewing. Once you've seen the laughable creature design, once you've seen Barbeau being captured, once you've seen Dr. Arcane's transformation, once you've seen Barbeau run through the swamp in a wet t-shirt, and once you've seen the final showdown (which happens to be one of the most ridiculous things ever caught on film), there's really no reason to watch it again. One viewing should be enough for any masochist.
The biggest problem with Swamp Thing is the plot – or should I say the lack of a plot. The whole "keep the formula from Dr. Arcane" idea is merely window dressing for what I see as the main theme running through the movie – the rescue of Barbeau. At least 90% of the movie's runtime is devoted to the Swamp Thing rescuing Barbeau from Arcane's men. And Barbeau's rescue is repeated over and over and over…. It's a bit like the bad, humid version of Groundhog Day.
So, why don't I rate it lower? There are a few set pieces that really work. The first 15 minutes or so (the period before Barbeau needs to be rescued) is nice. Also, the movie is beautifully shot. You can compare it with another of Craven's films, think of The Hills Have Eyes – only in reverse. Where that movie was shot in such a way that you could almost feel the dry, hot California desert, with Swamp Thing, you can all but feel the humid, dank swamp.
Written & directed by Wes Craven I was disappointed with Swamp Thing, at best it's watchable while at worst it's an embarrassing mess. The script is based on the DC Comic books by Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson, the film itself feels like a comic book featuring a mutated superhero with special powers, over-the-top character's, situations & a black & white good vs evil storyline as there's no middle ground here, either your good or your evil. I must admit that at least it moves along at a decent pace so it never became boring or dull & I quite liked the snappy one-liner comic book type dialogue, don't expect any mindless exposition apart from the absolute minimum. I found the story somewhat dull & repetitive while huge chunks of the original Swamp Thing comic mythology have been changed, Cable was apparently a male in the comics while Arcane was an ageing magician rather than mad French scientist. There really isn't much more to say about Swamp Thing, I have to say Barbeau makes for a good female lead & it has a nice comic book vibe running throughout it but apart from that there is very little here to shout about. On a basic level it's watchable but it's also one of Craven's poorest films.
Director Craven gives the film a nice colourful, overblown comic book feel & it has a nice style about it. Some of the editing wipes & techniques are pretty cool as well but that's hardly enough to save it. Now on to the special effects which are far from special, the swamp thing himself is just about passable but it's fairly obvious that it's just some bloke in a green rubber suit & don't be fooled by any lavish, over exaggerating artists drawing on the front of video/DVD sleeves. Then there's the Arcane monster at the end, this has to be one of the most pathetic looking creature I've ever seen, again it's a guy in a rubber suit with a dogs head that is so cheap the jaw never moves & it's eyes look like painted ping pong balls, this monster really is a sorry looking creation. There's no gore & the action scenes are bland & flat with most of them just consisting of people being thrown through the air in slow motion.
With a supposed budget of about $3,000,000 it's comes as a surprise that Swamp Thing has some terrible effects & isn't a grander spectacle. The score by Harry Manfredini sounds just like every other score he's ever composed. The swamp locations look OK while the acting really isn't up to much apart from Barbeau & French villain Louis Jordan who deserves better than this. David Hess from The Last House on the Left (1972) turns up but is predictably awful.
Swamp Thing is an OK film, it has that ecological message & it passes an hour and a half but I hoped for more plus the dull action scenes & the truly pathetic looking monster at the end means Swamp Thing is strictly average. If you haven't seen Swamp Thing yet then don't loose any sleep over it. Proved successful enough to produce a sequel The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) & a TV series Swamp Thing (1990 - 1993) which apparently ran for 73 episodes.