Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Swamp Thing (USA, 1982)


(Spoilers) Way back in July 1971, in issue #92 of House of Secrets, DC Comics' less popular of two supernatural publications (the other being House of Mystery), writer Len Wein and artist Berni Wrightson had an eight-page story of theirs published featuring a swamp-dwelling monstrosity. The reader reaction to the story was unexpectedly positive, so positive, in fact, that DC Comics decided that the two of them should develop a regular character based on the idea.
Thus the following year saw the premiere issue of Swamp Thing, one of the more individual and interesting horror-heroes that populated the comic book racks of the period, others being DC's The Demon and Marvel's Werewolf, Dracula and (directly in response to the DC publication) Man-Thing — the première issue of the last which, coincidentally enough, featured the first appearance of Steve Gerber's equally individualistic Howard the Duck.
The original Swamp Thing was a surprisingly depressing and Gothic series of exceptional quality, a quality that got tarnished but was not completely lost once Wrightson departed the series after its tenth issue. Still, like so many of DC's more original characters, Swamp Thing did slowly slide down in quality, especially after the departure of Wein and of Wrightson's successor, the Christian illustrator Nestor Redondo (4 May 1928—30 September 1995). In the end, following a variety of mundane writers and artists and stories, the publication was given the kiss of death — comic artist Alfredo Alcala (23 August 1925—8 April 2000), the artist almost every DC publication was given when thought to be beyond help — and then cancelled. Since then, the series has been revived and has regained substantial popularity, but even Alan Moore's version, as excellent and close as it was to the moody quality of the early 70s, failed to have the evocative individuality of the first version.
The movie starts out staying relatively close in telling the creature's original story. Deep in the swamps, Dr Alec Holland (Ray Wise, perhaps best remembered as Laura's father and murderer in Twin Peaks [1990 / intro]) is involved in the creation of some secret formula. Craven, by changing Holland's assistant to his sister, allows the introduction of Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau), a government agent sent down to check up on how Holland's project is going. Of course, the Holland and Cable get all romantic, but before things can get down and dirty, Arcane (Louis Jordon) shows up with his private army, led by Ferret (Last House On The Left's [1972 / trailer] David Hess, disgustingly repulsive as ever) to steal Holland's formula and notes. A few explosions and some cheap fireworks later, the Swamp Thing (Dick Durock, who went on to repeat the roll both in the sequel [Jim Wynorski's The Return of the Swamp Thing (1989 / trailer)] and the television series [1990-1993]) is born when Holland, doused with a container of his secret mixture, takes a fiery leap into the swamp and, rather than dying, mutates into some sort of half-man half-plant.
Though everyone else at the site is killed, Cable manages to escape with one of Holland's notebooks, so a good percent of the film is spent watching her run around in a wet shirt and designer boots, constantly being caught and then escaping from Arcane and his henchmen, the Swamp Thing always turning up at some opportune moment to help. At first Cable is as scared of the creature as she is of Arcane's men, but once she realises that the Swamp Thing is actually Holland, they get all chummy again, which allows Craven to include a yummy, minute-long full frontal topless nude scene of Barbeau cleaning herself under the safety of the creature's watchful eye. (This scene alone probably made the film the hit it was, seeing that every teenage boy in 70s and early-80s America had dreamed of Barbeau's breasts since they first bounced [clothed] across the TV screen on the sitcom Maude [1972-78].)
Of course the two eventually get taken prisoner and, in short, Arcane decides to drink the formula himself and mutates into a monster who, after following the escaped Swamp Thing and Cable, gets killed in the end like all bad guys do everywhere but in real life. 
Crane, her dress and hair once again miraculously both clean and dry, obviously in love and oblivious to the fact that the Swamp Thing is rather thing-less, pleads that he should stay with her, but instead, the saddened Swamp Thing shambles off into the backwaters, on his way to the sequel — a sequel we have to see, but know that somehow Arcane reappears in, alive and kicking.
Needless to say, Wes Craven's film adaptation of the cult character fails miserably in coming close to the one created by Wein & Wrightson. Despite this, however, Craven's Swamp Thing is a fun film in its own way — one just shouldn't see it expecting a film presentation of all that which made the original comic book character so good. Craven himself claims an affinity to the film that belays the problems he faced making it, including technical problems brought on by location filming and a budget that was severely lacking. Indeed, while the problems faced on location aren't noticeable in the final product, one has to overlook some truly horrendous special effects, especially in regard to the birth of the last monster, an actor in suit of obviously synthetic fur with a plastic mask ripping his way out of what looks to be a paper-maché egg. Also, as good as Louis Jordon is at playing an evilly corrupt version of his stereotyped suave, rich and cultured European — basically a run through of the part he was to play again the following year in Octopussy (1983 / trailer) — his version of Dr. Anton Arcane is simply blasé in comparison to that of the crippled and wizen character in the original comic series.
Odd is also the fact that Barbeau's costumes regularly manage to not only miraculously clean themselves from scene to scene, but also dry out as well. Other revisions in the original story line, like that of changing Dr. Alec Holland's wife to his sister, are easier to bear....
In general, Swamp Thing should be viewed for what it is: a flawed film, but a painless way to spend a few hours, especially if one doesn't have too many expectations. Made a year after Craven's under-appreciated Deadly Blessings (trailer) and two years before his classic A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984 / trailer), the US cut of Swamp Thing is the first PG film Craven ever made. It is definitely a pre-teen or young-teen film, meant for young boys either beginning or going through puberty, and should be seen as such if it is meant to be enjoyed. (Oddly enough, we've read that the film is also remarkably popular amongst females of all ages, something we can only put down as probably due to both its romantic aspects and the relatively strong — if not continually improperly dressed — female lead.)

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...