Today’s Movie of the Moment is Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing (1982), an average action flick based on the DC/Vertigo graphic novels.
Swamp Thing begins with a superfluous overlay:
Not long ago, in the unexplored reaches of an unmapped swamp, the creative genius of one man collided with another’s evil dream, and a monster was born. Too powerful to be destroyed, too intelligent to be captured, this being still pursues its savage dream.
Thus begins Craven’s comic-like film, much in the same fashion as George A. Romero’s Creepshow (1982), released later that year. The swipes, curtains, slashes, and other odd transitions work to the film’s credit by asserting that nobody is taking the concept seriously. It’s best that they didn’t. There is some drama inherent in Swamp Thing’s story line, but in 1982, the technology was not ready for a serious effort at the story. This is one of the few films I’d love to see remade, revamped or re-whatevered.
The film isn’t about Swamp Thing/Connors per se, but rather about Adrienne Barbeau’s character, Alice Cable. The story begins, follows, and ends with her. Cable often functions as the damsel in distress, but just as often she is an active force, a trait not seen even today in most comic book adaptations.
One of the early scenes gives us an example of this. As Arcane’s henchmen attack the compound, Cable tackles a mercenary, beats him down with some intense punches to the face, grabs his assault rifle, and proceeds to kill a few more baddies with it. This is in 1982, and without a “girl learns to believe in herself and fight” montage or anything. It’s almost impossible not to yell “you go girl!” while watching it. A couple other scenes stand out in this regard.
Perhaps it’s the cynic in me, but something tells me Craven wasn’t just trying to find a clever way to stick it to the man, here. After the brutal rape scene in Last House on the Left (1972), Craven could have been trying to atone for his earlier misogynistic sins. Not that I blame him (for atoning, that is), but Cable is constantly saved from the mercenaries and Arcane, so I wouldn’t call this film “feminist”, but her intelligence, aliveness, and aggressiveness are fun to watch. I wish there had been more of it.
Something else damaging this theory is footage contained in the alternate European cut of the movie, released by accident in the U.S. on DVD in 2000. Scenes cut from the U.S. version include a strange scene with Barbeau in which she bathes(?) in the swamp. After almost a year on the market, the manufacturer recalled the DVD and released the U.S. version in 2005. The European cut of Swamp Thing is a rare DVD collectors look for, even if the differences are negligible.
Swamp Thing is mediocre. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating is 62% and its IMDB rating is about 5.1, right in the middle of each spectrum. It neither impresses nor disappoints. Arcane’s character is flat, everyone seems content to let the action sequences take center stage, and the dialog does not make many efforts to wade into seriousness. Most lines are equate to reading “zap, boom, pow!”
There’s just so little to flesh out, here. This was before Spidey, before the modern genre of superhero films that has spoiled us with so many decent adaptations, before any diversion from the original source materials could create an instant backlash from fanboys. Fans simply had to make do with what they were given and this was it. The Swamp Thing series is well-known as a horror comic, yet despite Craven at the helm, this film could not be considered part of that genre.
Is it worth your time? That depends on how important your time is. If you’re a research biologist looking for a way to combine the DNA of a plant and an animal, I’d say get back to work. If you’re a film geek between semesters, you might want to check this out, if only for Barbeau’s interesting performance.