Swamp Thing (1982)

SUMMARY: Wes Craven brings the DC Comics character to life with a fast-paced, cheesy, vastly entertaining movie that features nice scenery, Louis Jourdan, and Adrienne Barbeau. Let the good times roll.

Note from the author: This is a slightly expanded version of a review I did on my blog, which you can visit right here.

Swamp Thing (1982)

Swamp Thing is one of my favorite Wes Craven films, and also one of my favorite comic book/superhero movies, as long as I’m being honest. I always ran to the television whenever it would pop up on KTLA, usually at around four in the afternoon on a Saturday between the seventh or eighth showing of Invasion U.S.A and the umpteenth showing of The Delta Force.

Swamp Thing (1982)

Created in 1971 by Len Wein and drawn by Bernie Wrightson, the character has had a few comic book runs (with Alan Moore contributing a popular revision to the character that the films and TV shows don’t use), as well as two movies, a live-action TV series, and an animated one.

Swamp Thing (1982)

Based on the DC Comic, the movie is a bit of an oddity in the Wes Craven filmography, standing with Music from the Heart as one of the few films he’s done that’s not a horror film. Let’s take a closer look at why this cheesy bit of silliness is so damned entertaining.

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Random thoughts:

One thing I really enjoy about Craven’s direction is how he subtly gives the film the feeling of a live action comic book using wipe cuts. Contrast that with the hugely disappointing 2003 Hulk movie where Ang Lee went overboard with the idea, making something that just looked goofy. I know which of the two films I’d throw on in a heartbeat!

I also dig how Craven immerses the viewer in the swamp from the very start. It’s a very atmospheric way to start a comic book movie.

Swamp Thing (1982)

A philosophical thought: the world would be a much better place if all government agents looked like Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau). Not sure why the hell she got dressed up in a nice (for the early ‘80s, anyway) business suit and high heels to go off into the swamp, but there you go.

Swamp Thing (1982)

The score by Friday the 13th composer Harry Manfredini is also pretty enjoyable.

There have been lots of intimidating names for villainous henchmen: Darth Vader, Darth Maul, and I’m sure there’s at least one film out there where the bad guy has a henchman named Goodkiller. This one? We get David Hess from Craven’s The Last House on the Left as a guy named “Ferret”. Well, can’t win em’ all.

Swamp Thing (1982)

Actually, to be fair, he’s not that bad as a henchman, but when you’re putting him up against a really huge plant guy, it loses a little something.

Ray Wise is quite likable as Alec Holland, our soon to be looking a little green around the gills hero.

Swamp Thing (1982)

This is one of the few times in a comic book movie where I don’t mind the origin story taking up a good portion of the film (about the first 25 minutes or so here). While heroes like Batman and Superman are well-known to the point where a five minute sequence at the start is fine, Swamp Thing is a little more obscure, so you do sort of need to get the full tour.

Louis Jourdan as Dr. Arcane is one of my favorite ‘80s villains. Jourdan is a really good, classy French actor who found himself, as so many European actors tend to, playing villain parts in American action movies. He’d team up the next year with Steven Berkoff (another guy I enjoy) for the James Bond thriller Octopussy, and here, he’s just wonderfully slimy.

Swamp Thing (1982)

In addition to being stunningly beautiful, Barbeau also gets to kick a decent amount of butt in the first third of this film. Granted, not as much in the rest of the film, but still!

I love the fire gag that ensues when Alec gets doused with his growth formula and explodes in flames. I hope the stunt guy who did that was paid really, really, really, really well.

Swamp Thing (1982)

The Swamp Thing suit that Bill Munns designed is pretty damn good, though it was quite difficult to maintain during shooting, and I can’t imagine stuntman Dick Durock had a good time in it. Still, it works pretty well, and is a very good depiction of the character. It’s obviously a guy in a suit, but that just adds to the charm.

Swamp Thing (1982)

Another thing Durock does well is acting the part of Holland, now transformed. He’s actually quite good in the more quiet dramatic scenes with Cable, and later when confronted by Arcane.

Reggie Batts pulls off a miracle and delivers a comic relief kid sidekick who’s not only not obnoxious, but actually pretty damn funny. He just has a deadpan delivery that works way better than it has any right to. Damn shame the sequel didn’t have that.

Swamp Thing (1982)

Craven does pretty well with the action scenes. Nothing overly spectacular, but they’re decent enough.

Swamp Thing (1982)

Ah, the days before PG-13, when you could have a henchman, like Ferret for instance, get his head gruesomely crushed after hacking Swamp Thing’s arm off with a machete and still score a PG rating!

You could also get away with seeing Adrienne Barbeau’s breasts and still score that rating. God, I love the ‘80s!

Being that this is an early ‘80s monster movie, there are some really good transformation effects. At the end, Arcane is impressively (in a cheesy, low budget way) turned into… something.

Swamp Thing (1982)

I don’t know what it’s supposed to be, but since the serum Holland was doused with makes a person more of what they already are (in the first third, he tells Cable he feels like a tree sometimes), I’m going with what would happen if a wild boar screwed an alligator.

What works:

Pretty much everything I mentioned above. The acting, camera work, music, and script are all pretty damn solid, and for a low budget movie, it looks pretty damn great. There’s a very good reason I love this film as much as I do: it’s just plain fun.

Swamp Thing (1982)

What doesn’t work:

In all fairness, some of the effects work hasn’t dated all that well. The creature suits are not that believable anymore (the Arcane monster looks very cheesy nowadays), but even then, it adds to the charm of the whole enterprise.

Conclusions:

Swamp Thing is quite simply the best damn movie about a swamp creature fighting a sort of fake-looking wild boar/gator hybrid that used to be a French guy while Adrienne Barbeau and her cleavage watch anxiously. I don’t think I can give a better recommendation than that, really.

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

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  • Jeff Bradford

    Ah, yes. That brings me back. I still remember many of the Swamp Thing creature fights from this wondrous movie from when I was in 1st grade, and still discovering the wonders of the film industry. Good review

    • edharris1178

      Thanks. I’d even say the second movie is worth a look just for the sheer cheese factor.

  • Thomas Stockel

    God, I love this movie. I had no idea Wes Craven was behind it.

  • $36060516

    On the subject of rare comic relief kid sidekicks who don’t annoy, I’d suggest the David Twohy / Charlie Sheen movie “The Arrival” that had another good one.

    Barbeau’s breasts weren’t very visible in the PG version of the movie, according to memory. I went and checked on IMDB and found this statement on the subject from the visual effects guy Geoffrey Rayle who worked on the movie:

    “I worked on Swamp Thing as an on-set Effects Technician (fog, fire, bullet-hits) and was present at the filming of both ‘nude’ scenes that were shot for the film. I had to do ‘light fog’ floating in front of Adrienne in her bathing scene (it was a closed set at Magnolia Gardens in Charleston, SC; only Wes, the DP, the 1st AD, myself, and another Effects Assist. were present). Two versions were shot — one for U.S. audiences {Adrienne (in close-up) on her knees underwater with the surface of the water ‘above’ her breasts}; and one for the overseas release {with Adrienne (in close-up) standing up and the surface of the water ‘below’ her breasts}. (A side-angle, distant shot of ‘partial-nudity’ was also filmed that appears in both versions.) I was called in from the swamp a week later to supply ‘light cigarette haze’ in the interior of the Aiken House (Arcane’s Mansion) for the so-called ‘orgy’ scene. (Neither of these two nude scenes were in the original shooting script –I still have my copy of the script.) When I arrived at the Aiken House (another closed set), I asked Wes why we were filming an ‘orgy’ scene. He said that United Artists was handling the overseas release of the film, and since the film would get an adult certificate in Europe and South America for the violence (and kids would not be admitted), the UA execs needed something ‘adult’ to spice it up a bit. (By the way, the girls in the ‘orgy’ scene were all local Charleston-area strippers hired at the last minute to do the scene. The commando “extras” had not expected to be doing a scene with nude girls, so they got an extra ‘thrill’.)”
    “MGM made the goof a couple of years ago when they grabbed the Europeon negative (UA logo instead of Avco-Embassy logo) to release on DVD. I knew when I saw the UA logo exactly what had happened and chapter-stopped down to where I knew the nude scenes would be, and sure enough, there they were. It was amazing to me that it took MGM nearly a full year to realize their mistake and recall the remaining DVDs and then later reissue the original PG version.
    By the way, the PG version is how it was originally released in theatres in the U.S. and on home VHS video (which does contain the very-brief, nude, side-long-shot from-a-distance of Adrienne).
    I never thought I would see the European version in this country. Glad MGM made the mistake!”

    “Realistically, however, the film works better without the nude footage, as it seems out-of-place in the atmosphere and style of this particular picture. (And, as I said earlier, neither of the two scenes were in the original shooting script anyway.)”

    • edharris1178

      Interesting, cool find.

    • Cristiona

      Yeah, the nudity rules for PG seemed to be a little weird. I remember being stunned when I saw Logan’s Run had some (brief) (mild) nudity in it. I think as long as it was brief and non-sexual, it was okay? Then again, you’d also think that brief shots like this and Logan’s Run would have just been moved up to PG-13 instead of banished to R entirely. Freaking MPAA.
      Oh, and nice write-up, Ed.

      • CBob

        Well, technically there are no rules. People infer them sometimes based on what movies get what ratings, but this is inaccurate. MPAA sets its ratings based on viewings by volunteer committees that’re supposed to represent a statistical cross section of general US community standards at the time of release (but don’t, cause the committees are way too small and non-random). Basically they get a gaggle of cherry picked volunteers to watch the movie and recommend a rating based on their own impressions/reasons. What kind of nudity, violence, language, etc will result in what rating is a case-by-case thing, and changes constantly according to the whim and composition of the committees. There are also some general trends over time: MPAA ratings in the 70s and 80s were more relaxed about nudity, but that shifted to a more conservative stance during the 90s.

        It’s actually something of an problem for filmmakers, as they can’t reliably design their movie for a particular rating.

      • $36060516

        “Logan’s Run” and “Swamp Thing” both came out before the “PG-13” rating was invented.

        • Cristiona

          Yes. I know.

          • $36060516

            Then why did you write “you’d also think that brief shots like this and Logan’s Run would have just been moved up to PG-13 instead of banished to R entirely.” How could they have been moved up to PG-13 if PG-13 didn’t exist?

  • Sand Ripper

    Adrienne Barboobs.

  • Torgeaux

    Ah yes, Swamp Thang! Filmed in my home town of Charleston, SC. The dining scene in the movie was filmed in the Aiken-Rhett mansion, a historic home near the Charleston museum. For years afterwards you could get the tour guides really upset by asking after their description of the dining room if this was where they filmed Swamp Thing. They’d puff up like bullfrogs! Hilarious.

    • edharris1178

      Very cool.

  • Social Crime Radio

    Didn’t this have Cretins Clearwater Revival doing one of their songs over images from the comic books in the opening credits? Doesn’t get cooler than that.

  • Social Crime Radio

    Man bear pig!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!