Retro Review: ‘Swamp Thing’
For being a character who has always been an under the radar cult favorite, Swamp Thing has had an endless supply of talented and creative people telling stories in the pages of the comics. Throughout his history you will see names like: Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Brian K. Vaughn, Kelly Jones, Scott Snyder and numerous others. The best stories, have used Swamp Thing as a lens to look at deep topics like; humanity, nature, and spirituality. S I will tell you right away that if you look to the 1982 film adaptation Swamp Thing looking for the depth and intricacies of the source material you will be very sad. But what you will find instead should make you very happy, because Swamp Thing turns out to be a fun creature feature courtesy of horror legend Wes Craven.
In bringing Swamp Thing to life Craven makes no attempt to hide a Rooger Corman-esque B-movie flair. Cult favorite actor Ray Wise, plays Alec Holland, a scientist stationed in the swamp under the watchful eye of his love interest Alice Cable. He discovers being isolated in the marshy wilderness may not be as safe as he thought, as rival scientist Anton Arcane and his thugs attack the lab. Holland is doused with chemicals and left for dead. The chemical cocktail mixed with the vegetation of the swamps transforms his physiology and he becomes the creature, Swamp Thing. Peacefully, he tries to commune and live within his new domain, but Arcane is not finished with him yet. In acting as defender of his swampy home, he develops a Beauty and the Beast-type relationship with Alice Cable, played by 80’s genre icon Adrienne Barbeau.
I am grateful this flick was made when it was, today it is not hard to envision a director just slapping some CGI creation onscreen which would lack the humanity Swamp Thing needs. While Ray Wise receives top billing in Swamp Thing, it is stuntman Dick Durock who does the heavy lifting bringing our vegetative hero to life. Durock surprisingly brings a more soulful interpretation to the character than many would have expected. I must admit seeing Wise playing a wholesome good guy clashes with the career he went on to establish playing darker characters in projects like Twin Peaks and RoboCop. Given the tone of the flick, the acting as a whole skews towards the campier side but it is all in good fun and works well.
While not often brought up in his filmography, Swamp Thing proved to be an important part in the career of Wes Craven. Before this, he was working on darker low budget fare like the Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left. This monster movie gave him an opportunity to change-up his style. The vibe he brings to this movie is definitely that of an old school monster movie, in fact the climax of this movie features Arcane turning into a creature himself to battle Swamp Thing. This proves to be an interesting spin on the Swamp Thing mythos and it is actually a lot of fun. The pace of the flick tends to slow down at times, but given his budgetary restraints, I can not fault Craven for simply trying to pad time out rather than spend the budget on more set pieces.
While it did not change the game in comic book movies, Swamp Thing has built up a nice cult following. It was successful enough to not only spawn a sequel but a television series as well, all with Dick Durock once again putting on the green suit. Strangely enough this makes Swamp Thing one of the most adapted heroes in DC Comics cannon with more film and TV appearances than many of their more popular characters. Swmp Thing is very much a cheesy B-movie, but those are the kinds of flicks which will always be entertaining no matter when you watch them.