The year 1982 was not exactly a banner year for comic book movies, with the only true successes in recent memory being Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980). It was also something of a time of limbo and moment of truth for writer/ director Wes Craven. He was ten years beyond his directorial debut (the “Video Nasty” known as The Last House on the Left) and was just starting to catch Hollywood’s eye with The Hills have Eyes (1977) and Deadly Blessing (1981). He was still two years away from making the film that would put him on the map, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Thus, the erstwhile Master of Horror and DC Comics would come together for their next film, to adapt something of a Horror Superhero Icon for the big screen.
The “comic book” basis of this film was played down in the marketing, even though Craven (as writer and director) did take most of his inspiration from the gridded page and the film was (logically for the time) billed as much more of a sci-fi/horror movie than the crossover it might have been. For fans of Swam Thing’s graphic adventures, it’s easy to point out that this film is not quite the book. It is, however, a good bit of action packed, if occasionally cheesy and dated, fun.
The film itself looks great in its full 1080p high definition, which brings out all of the rich colors of the Louisiana Swamps the title character lives in (though the movie was filmed in the wetlands of South Carolina). The story, much like the comic, is about Doctor Alec Holland (Ray Wise) whose experiments in botany lead to his “death” and resurrection as the Swamp Thing of the title (portrayed, post-change, by Dick Durock). Sex symbol Adrienne Barbeau plays Alice Cable (a combination of the comics’ characters Abby Arcane and Matthew Cable), here a government agent and potential love interest of Holland’s who runs afoul of the evil machinations of Holland’s enemy Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan) and his band of cronies led by B-Movie actor (and former Elvis Presley songwriter, not kidding) David Hess.
As much fun as this film can be (and it often is), it’s equally often difficult to ignore that Swamp Thing ultimately is, at core, a rubber-suit monster movie. Later incarnations of the character, such as the incarnation from 1989’s sequel The Return of the Swamp Thing and the 1990 Swamp Thing TV show that followed (in both cases the role was reprised by Durock) there was a much more vegetative and “swampy” appearance to the costume. Here it looks fine for the era and budget, but still undeniably rubbery.
Luckily, the surprisingly sincere performance of Durock (primarily a stuntman who claims to have had “no acting experience whatsoever” prior to this dramatic role) takes the viewer out of the rubber and into the character himself. This isn’t to say that Swamp Thing isn’t a B-Creature Feature, just that it transcends most movies of its kind by being surprisingly character driven (that is until the character in question faces off again with more rubber monsters in the swamps).
The bonus features on the discs (the set does contain both DVD and Blu Ray with identical content) constitute some of the best and most thorough Shout! Factory has produced lately. In addition to two separate commentaries by Craven (with HorrorHound magazine’s Sean Clark) and Makeup Effects Artist William Munns (with DVD Producer Michael Felsher), the release also includes a photo gallery (though no promotional art gallery as was popular in Anchor Bay releases), the theatrical trailer and three in-depth interviews. The first of these is with star Adrienne Barbeau and discusses her evolution from TV star into unlikely horror icon as well as her nude scene.
Note, this is the 91 minute theatrical cut, not the 93 minute European cut that was accidentally released as PG a decade ago. The second interview catches up with Reggie Batts, the love-him-or-hate-him kid sidekick of the film, now all grown up. The third is with comic book writer Len Wien, who created Swamp Thing with horror artist extraordinaire Bernie Wrightson. Wrightson would go on to illustrate Barbeau’s image in the adaptation of Stephen King’s Creepshow (in addition to much more King and comics work) while Wein is best known for co-creating Marvel’s Wolverine.
Taking into account that this film doesn’t include the brilliant and popular Alan Moore revisions of the character (which took place after this film’s release, but are explored in the Wein interview) and that the film itself is much more creature feature than big budget comics adaptation, Swamp Thing is still great fun and is even inventive and original in parts. This Blu Ray and DVD package are about as thorough as possible with picture and sound quality, as well as bonus features. Recommended for fans of the film and television series as well as fans of the comic.