Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Film Review: SWAMP THING (1982, Wes Craven)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Starring Ray Wise (Leland Palmer on TWIN PEAKS), Adrienne Barbeau (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), Louis Jordan (LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, GIGI), Dick Durock (RAW DEAL, ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN). Music by Harry Manfredi (FRIDAY THE 13TH, HOUSE).
Tag-line: "Science transformed him into a monster. Love changed him even more!"
Best one-liner: "Sorry, Bruno. It's every man for himself; God against all." (Is that a reference to Werner Herzog's ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER, AKA EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF AND GOD AGAINST ALL, starring the mysterious Bruno S.? Probably not.)

Probably one of the weaker 80's Wes Craven's ridiculously cornball, but Craven is no dummy, and it's surely intentional: he remains true to the comic book style- the colors seem bright, but a little ugly- you can almost see the dot gain on the uncoated subpar cheap comic paper stock.

Authentic? Maybe. But entirely watchable? Not quite.

What complicates my opinion on this film is the fact that I saw it as a child and it conjured gnawing horrors and fantastical fears in my young brain. Also, I will admit to having worn SWAMP THING pajamas circa 1988-1992. But to this day, in my mind's eye, I can see what I saw as a child, the memory itself as mist-entrenched as the bayou locale. What, however, I once thought was a majestically terrifying epic battle between two mythically transformed men has turned into a dude in a rubber pig costume swinging a giant sword at a dude in a rubber tree costume.

Evidently some of the veneer has rubbed off in the intervening twenty-odd years.

Regardless, there are still things to like here, like the remarkably over-the-top transitions and wipes; Ray "Leland Palmer" Wise's incredible pathos (the man just oozes it, no matter what he's doing);

and Adrienne Barbeau as the poor man's Sigourney Weaver playing some kind of scientist or government official, which is, of course, no kind of stretch whatsoever. Consequently, when she makes some science-laden remark, you're not really buying it; but when she decides to skinny dip/bathe herself in the slimy, gunk-covered swamp water, you can (sort of) understand, so I guess it's a fair trade.

And keep your eyes peeled for the Swamp Thing's healing powers (a mind-boggling visual which I shan't reveal here)- the special effect is quite breathtaking.

-Sean Gill

2009 Halloween Countdown

31. PROM NIGHT (1980, Paul Lynch)
30. PHENOMENA (1985, Dario Argento)
29. HOUSE OF WAX (1953, André de Toth)
28. SILENT RAGE (1982, Michael Miller)
27. BASKET CASE (1982, Frank Henenlotter)
26. THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983, Douglas McKeown)
25. PELTS (2006, Dario Argento)
24. ANGEL HEART (1987, Alan Parker)
23. KILLER WORKOUT (1986, David A. Prior)
22. FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991, Rachel Talalay)
21. THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971, Robert Fuest)
20. FRANKENHOOKER (1990, Frank Henenlotter)
19. HELLRAISER (1987, Clive Barker)
18. GEEK MAGGOT BINGO (1983, Nick Zedd)
17. ALLIGATOR (1980, Lewis Teague)
16. LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (1971, Lucio Fulci)
15. THE CARD PLAYER (2004, Dario Argento)
14. SPASMO (1974, Umberto Lenzi)
13. C.H.U.D. (1984, Douglas Cheek)
12. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982, Steve Miner)
11. SWAMP THING (1982, Wes Craven)


Anonymous said...

Posting here in the archives, as I was compelled to check if you had talked about this one before after reading that new post about the Debra Hill/Adrienne Barbeau/William Friedkin Showtime curiosity. I also had watched Swamp Thing as a kid and remembered it as being all heavy and dark, and being really awed by the whole arm regeneration thing, only to likewise discover years later how goofy a picture it is. It's kinda amazing really, when you think that Craven probably could've done anything he wanted at the time, and he chose to make a bafflingly, lovingly campy tribute such as this. When his lesser efforts (looking at you, Scream series) start to make me forget how cool Craven is, it's movies like Swamp Thing that remind me. You're right, of course, that it's not the easiest movie to watch and definitely drags here and there, and its weirdness goes a bit too far at times, but I just have to admire it for simply existing! And Roger Ebert was right about the "It only hurts when I laugh" line, which remains one of the funniest things I've ever heard, and somehow really tugs on the old heartstrings at the same time! Bless Craven, Barbeau, the bad guy from Last House On The Left and all the other players who saw fit to make this wonderfully flawed gem; long live Swamp Thing!

Sean Gill said...


I, too, admire SWAMP THING for simply existing, though I preferred the way it played out to my young mind. Also, I had the Swamp Thing action figure, which, if I recall correctly, glowed in the dark and swung some tree branch weapon that also glowed in the dark. I appreciate that.

Daniel Wallin said...

Speaking of Ebert, he had a better time with the other Wes Craven / David Hess effort.

Sean Gill said...


That's an interesting read– I kind of appreciate how Ebert's reactions to extreme violence are so subjective. You sometimes get the idea that certain movies he abhors (DEATH WISH 3, PINK FLAMINGOS, THE BEYOND) he might have even loved, had he been in a different mood when he saw them. That the man who hated I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE with such vehemence could sing the praises of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT speaks to the endless intricacy of the viewing palate.