Review Date: September 3, 2005
Released by: MGM
Release date: 8/23/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Wes Craven has never been a man to be pigeonholed. After all, who would have thought that the man to bring us the Scream trilogy would answer back with the Meryl Streep drama, Music of the Heart
? From compact suspense thrillers like Red Eye
to Eddie Murphy vehicles like Vampire in Brooklyn
, Craven has always made an attempt to diversify himself away from the label of the man behind Freddy Krueger. Cravenís first real departure from horror was with 1982ís Swamp Thing
, which came after the gritty classics, The Last House on the Left
and The Hills Have Eyes
, as well as the underappreciated religious slasher, Deadly Blessing
. Aiming to break from the increasing seriousness of each subsequent film, Craven sought to go for kitsch over kills and camp over scares.
was a modest success when first released, but over the years it has developed a sizable following, in part or in whole to Adrienne Barbeauís pomp things. There was even more to rejoice when MGM released an uncut print of Cravenís film a few years ago, complete with added scenes of Barbeau nakedness. This print mistake has now been rectified, and Swamp Thing
is now being released once again, sans boobies. So without those global distractions, just how was does Cravenís film uh, hold up, today? Put on your rubbers and letís wade through this.
Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise
) is a man who likes to get lost in his workÖreal lost. In the deep depths of the swamps of South Carolina, he works away at developing a new form of plant life. He is looking for something to be able to weather the harsh weather conditions of today, and one that will be able to stand the global wear and tear of the upcoming 21st century. While he doesnít quite find the species yet, he does find a couple fine specimens in Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau
), a colleague who has come to help him in his studies. The pair...of scientists, quickly develop a thing for each other and as their love falls into place, so does Dr. Hollandís experiment.
Holland discovers that he has created a vegetable cell with an animal nucleus, which should allow it to grow with a speed and resilience unseen in the world. Before he is able to truly test his cell formula, a band of greedy rival scientists (lead by David Hess
) storm his research laboratory with aims to take the plant concoction. As they try to flee with the potion, they accidentally spill it upon Holland, sending him in a flurry of flames into the river. Presumed dead, they leave the doctor bloat while they kidnap Alice, set on uncovering the secret of Hollandís studies. But something lurks deep within the southern swamps, and it ainít the Ogopogo!
Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan
) explains his devious plan to the gang, giving Alice just enough information to keep the plot sustained when she escapes. She loses herself in the marsh, but luckily the swamp thing is there to protector her, using his powers to heal those around him. He ainít Jesus though, and he still pursues his vendetta against the man who caused him to mutate the way he has. With the help of a simpleton black boy (Reggie Batts
), swamp thing and the gang aim to stop injustice and keep the marsh free from the harsh.
From a time when bringing a comic to the screen was novel, and when the tree-hugging humanitarianism of the eighties was in full swing, Swamp Thing
seems like the perfect film for audiences of 1982. Not only that, but it contained Adrienne Barbeau, who after The Fog
, Escape From New York
, was giving Jamie Lee Curtis a run for her money as Scream Queen, as well as David Hess, making his return to Craven after his infamous portrayal of Krug Stillo in The Last House on the Left
10 years prior. Add in a pinch of Harry Manfredini fresh from scoring Friday the 13th
, and all signs point to success. Yet, despite all the credentials behind it, Swamp Thing
comes out surprisingly flat.
There are moments that work, from the atmospheric opening bog shots to the highly colorized lighting scheme of the first thirty minutes. The lighting in particular is evocative of the solid, vibrant coloring of early comic books, and lends the film a real comic style. But after the titular character finally comes to be, the movie stalls right when it should be taking off. The movie spends far too much time with dopey chase and fight scenes, where character actions and reactions are exaggerated to the point of high camp. The camp is intentional, meant to mimic early serials and the sensationalism of comic books, but in light of the far better pastiche of history with the at-the-time-recent Star Wars
, Swamp Thing
seems more derivative than inspired.
The similarities to Star Wars
run rich throughout, and hardly stop at campy presentation. Craven relies on the same editing effects as did Lucas, with hokey editing wipes and pans throughout. Having the swamp thing talk in broken English in the same manner as Yoda also doesnít help Craven in distinguishing his film from the Lucas crop. When the plot revelation that the potion can make ďyou more of what you areĒ finally surfaces, the film inevitably riffs on the Anakin/Vader duality by having the antagonist succumb to greed as he becomes a hideous mutation of his desires. It is one thing to be derivative of another film, but when you start to take from one of cinemaís most loved movies, you end up having some pretty big shoes to fill. Considering Craven, especially at this point in his career, didnít have the budget, creativity or style to match anything by Lucas, his Swamp Thing
looks all the more pedestrian by comparison.
Even compared to Deadly Blessing
, the cinematography and overall style of Swamp Thing
is a creative setback. Since Craven plays everything for high camp, there arenít any real performances or moments to latch onto either. At best the film is hokey, and at worst it is just boring. For a man like Craven who has proven his creativity fairly regularly throughout the years, Swamp Thing
is without a doubt one of his most minor works.
Craven does attempt to blend in his typical allusions to literature in Swamp Thing
, but even here they seem less inspired. The Jude character is an obvious riff on the slave Jim from Twainís Huck Finn, as he paddles down the river with an escaped Alice while Dr. Arcane partakes in a swindle in the same vein as that attempted by The King and The Duke in the original story. Alice seems to be yet another allusion by Craven to Alice in Wonderland
, first brought to our attention by her mentioning her being lost in a dreamy new place by saying that sheís ďnot in Kansas anymoreĒ, which in itself is another textual reference. Add in some quotes from Nietzsche, and you have another example of Craven having fun with his English degree, but to little avail. The plot is all so slight, and the execution even less serious, that any attempts at metaphor or allusion are completely hopeless.
Enthralled with trying to recreate high camp, Craven loses sight of what should be the best assets to his film. If you were thinking Adrienne Barbeau, then youíd be partially right, but more in the sense that her chemistry with the swamp thing should be the heart that sustains the film. Could you imagine a Tarzan without Jane, or a King Kong without Ann? In those films the love story is center, and itís the glue that keeps the whole thing interesting. Craven, although undoubtedly well read, seems poorly versed in the creature feature on film, and totally loses focus of his two main leads. There is too much time spent on hammy action than there is with the swamp thing and his lady, so much so that it becomes tough to ever sympathize with the beast. Craven has a great character with the swamp thing, but he never letís us share his pain. We observe the film without the thingís subjectivity, and eventually he disappears, along with the heart of the film, deep within the boggy mists of missed opportunity.
Another budget MGM release, another solid video transfer. Although the film lacks the visual style that would make up some of Cravenís better, latter films, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that graces Swamp Thing
is very nice looking. The colors are especially vibrant, with the plants of the swamp life coming through in vivid chlorophyll green. There is a little more grain than desirable, and there are a few specs here and there, but they are not enough to really distract. The image looks fairly sharp, but the big draw here are the colors. For a film over twenty years old, the vibrancy of this transfer is a real surprise. As per usual, a full screen version is included on the reverse. Donít watch it.
Harry Manfrediniís big string orchestra sounds a little shrill in mono, but horror fans should be used to that with Paramountís Friday the 13th
releases. The sound mix sounds flat, but there arenít any distracting distortions in the audio.
Since the only extra is a trailer every bit as cheesy as the rest of the film, Iíll just take the time to mention that the cut on this DVD is different than the previous MGM release. It runs a few minutes shorter, but basically the only excised material are a few more shots of Adrienne Barbeauís Barbeaus, as well as another scene featuring a few other woman taking off their tops. What remains on this disc is the true theatrical cut of the film, so no further cuts have been excised. Still, those who want the film for Barbeau, or those looking for a potential collectorís item, should start perusing through eBay to snag the unrated version of the film before prices get too high.
Wes Craven has had a lengthy and experimental career, but like some of his other departures from flat out horror, Swamp Thing
is pretty humdrum. Too much hokey action and kitsch and not enough antics, both in love and in action, with the titular hero make this a pretty droll experience. It does have its charms, and Adrienne Barbeau provides two of them. As for the video, another solid transfer by MGM, complemented with another mono mix by them as well. A trailer is the only extra included. The list price of $14.95 is pretty consumer friendly, but Iíd advise people away from it, considering it is one of Cravenís worst films, and an uncut version of it can be found online if you look hard enough. Swamp Thing
Movie - C-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - C+
Supplements - D
- Running time - 1 hour and 31 minutes
- Rated PG
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- English subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- French subtitles