The vault’s fascination with superheroes continues. We inducted some high profile superheroes last week, but not all heroes are created equal. Today we’re dredging the mire in search of a more obscure defender.
Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) has a crazy idea to create a plant with an animal’s instincts that will allow it to thrive in the harshest of conditions. It must not be too crazy since the government has hidden him and his sister Linda (Nannette Brown) deep in the swamp to conduct their experiments. Also lurking in the muck is a team of militants working for the evil Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) who believes Holland’s work is the key to immortality. Shortly after replacement government employee Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) arrives, the Hollands make an astounding breakthrough. Arcane and his crew quickly move in to steal the formula, but a laboratory accident leaves Holland for dead and Alice on the run with the last notebook of vital research. With Arcane’s men hot on her heels, Alice finds a protector in the massive and monstrous Swamp Thing (Dick Durock).
Thirty years since its release and I’ve finally gotten around to seeing the infamous Swamp Thing. Well, I’ve seen a version of it. The US release is rated PG, but considering what I saw features a naked Adrienne Barbeau bathing in the swamp for absolutely no reason and, because the titles are all in French, it’s a safe bet I saw the international version. There’s only two minutes difference between them, so let your penchant for female nudity be the deciding factor between them.
If you’re question is whether to bother seeing Swamp Thing at all, that’s a much tougher call. Written and directed by horror guru Wes Craven, he intended the film to showcase his skills in the action genre. Experiencing it thirty years past its prime, it’s hard not to view it as much more than a cheesy concept taking itself too seriously.
From a distance Swamp Thing looks impressive, however closeups reveal buckling in the suit which belie this. It’s not the fault of prosthetic creator Bill Munns; as I’ve read he designed both the Swamp Thing and Arcane Monster suits to fit men of statures different than those hired for the roles and, with limited time for refits, he did what he could. Based on Craven’s use of several shots multiple times and other discrepancies, I’m guessing the suits weren’t the only issues that troubled production.
The story’s plot is crammed into the first twenty minutes and, if you aren’t paying attention, things will make absolutely no sense. Alec and Alice have too little time to let their romantic spark ignite and the influx of side characters make it confusing as to their purpose (which, by the way, is to die). It’s easy to follow that Ferret and Bruno are the big bad thugs because that’s what actors David Hess and Nicholas Worth are best known for. I absolutely love Ray Wise as Alec and Adrienne Barbeau plays Alice as one tough dame, but the unforgettable performance comes from Reggie Batts as Jude who dishes out the smart aleck dialogue while on the lam with Alice.
Am I glad I’ve seen Swamp Thing? Yes, but I can’t say that I’d revisit it often, or even rarely. It has its moments, Swamp Thing seizing and ramming the militants with their own boat is a highlight, but the film is too murky to shine.