Monday, 13 April 2009

Wes Craven's Swamp Thing

Wes Craven has had more than his fair share of hits and misses over his long career as a director. As well as bona fida classics like Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street, there have been failures like Shocker and most notoriously The Hills Have Eyes sequel. Swamp Thing, from 1982 is neither a classic nor a failure, but part of a stratum of Craven films, that include Deadly Blessing, The Serpent & the Rainbow and The People Under the Stairs that are interesting enough to warrant a viewing or two.

Swamp Thing began life an unlikely comic superhero in the early 70's, a scientific fusion of plant and man, out to revenge the murder of his wife by arch nemesis Dr. Anton Arcane. After a series of dark, low-key independently produced exploitation films, Swamp Thing's transition from page to screen was to be Craven's big break out into mainstream fantasy cinema. For the film, the comic was condensed into some 90min, and sees the creation of Swamp Thing, a fledgling romance between Swamp Thing and a female scientist, and a showdown with Anton Arcane who in the film’s last act is himself turned into a monster. For all its weaknesses - and there are many, Swamp Thing is fast paced and hugely enjoyable fantasy romp. The Swamp Thing creature admittedly is a little phony (no Rick Baker wonders here, and the less said about Anton Arcane's warthog man-beast the better) but its hard not to get swept up in the excitement of Craven's direction, as Swamp Thing dispatches heavies and takes bullet hits with wild abandon. One scene has Swamp Thing lose one his arm by a machete chop only for it to later grow back with the help of a little photosynthesis. Craven also acknowledges his source material with some comic book style dissolves and wipes.

The film has a great cast - Ray Wise (famous for Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks), Nicholas Worth (of Don't Answer the Phone fame) and star of the show, the ever fantastic Adrienne Barbeau, who makes for a tough resourceful and sexy heroine. She also contributes a memorable topless bathing scene (but more about that in a minute). Craven is also reunited with Last House on the Left arch villain, David Hess. In fact, watching the film as part of Craven's body of work reveals some interesting parallels - the sequences in the wooded swamps of South Carolina recall Last House on the Left, and there's a spectacular stunt where someone is set alight - a similar scene would turn up in A Nightmare on Elm Street. That Craven took on a film shot around swampland is itself interesting. In 1980, Craven was set to direct a film called Marimba, a brutal action film set in the jungles of South America. The film never came to fruition but the script was reworked and eventually went before the cameras some years later under the title of Cut & Run, directed by Ruggero Deodata. Like Swamp Thing, Cut & Run features lots of scenes of actors jumping in and out of murky waters (mostly by Hills Have Eyes star and poster child Michael Berryman)

Swamp Thing is available as a barebones DVD courtesy of MGM. In the US the first pressing of the DVD was mistakenly given a PG rating, and was later pulled from distribution due to Adrienne Barbeau's aforementioned topless scene, and some nudity in a sequence where Anton Arcane's army of hired goons are entertained by some prostitutes. The presentation is fine, if a little soft but that was probably how the film was shot anyway. A sequel followed in 1989 and is best avoided...


  1. Funnily enough Wes, we agree on many points. I guess my major complaints all come back to the script - if it had a bit more work done to it, it could work quite well. I guess I just didn't find the direction all that appealing, but points should be given for keeping to the comic book aesthetic. I won't go on too much here, as I know it was yonks ago when you watched it!

  2. I really enjoy this movie - it's not exactly what it seemed to be back when it first came to home video (I skipped the theatrical run) - but it's still a fun watch. Thankfully, a friend gave me a copy of that MGM disc - so I have the nudity intact version. I also greatly enjoy the campier sequel from director Jim Wynorski - but I imagine that more humorous tone didn't sit well with you. Really though it is a fun sequel and if you've not seen it since it was first out another watch might change your mind at least a little.

  3. No, I haven't seen the sequel but I must say Wes Craven's film really sits on the edge for me - push it a little in any direction I must not have dug it... I'll definitely look out for the sequel, it's the kind of thing that would turn up on TV here in the dead of night...