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Swamp Thing (1982)

 Rating: **1/2 out of 4

“Much beauty in the swamp, if you only look.” – Swamp Thing.

Cast: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise, David Hess, and Nicholas Worth.

Writer: Wes Craven

Director: Wes Craven

Swamp Thing is a movie brimming with ‘almost’s and ‘could have’s. It’s almost good. Hell, I’d so far as to say it’s almost great. It easily could have been if the producers had slapped more money towards the budget or had more faith in the source material or even their writer/director Wes Craven. What Swamp Thing ends up being, though, is a monster movie without the budget to present a convincing monster suit; a summer blockbuster that underwhelms; and a comic book movie that tries to stand on its own but is caught up in the era’s presentation of how a comic book movie should be done. But like Swamp Thing says, “Much beauty in the swamp, if you only look.”

Based on a DC comic book, and on the heels of Richard Donner’s masterpiece Superman, Swamp Thing follows a scientist who gets caught in an explosion of his own chemical concoction that transforms him into a living, walking swamp…thing. It sounds super cheesy, and it admittedly (and charmingly) is, but what excels with the film is that is done in such a style as to harken back to an era of science-gone-amok monster movies and embraces the cheese wholeheartedly. The film also does this interesting thing where the Swamp Thing works under the same rules that typical movie monsters (like the mummy, Jason, Michael Meyers) work under. Swamp Thing is always moving relatively slow, yet heroically catches the bad guys. He jumps out at gun toting villains from just outside of frame and takes them down. Craven made a brilliant move by having Swamp Thing be a reverse horror film. Instead of the bad guys having all these nonsensical powers that only work within the framework of the editing, it is the hero who does this. It is really quite fun.

The whole screenplay is really rather solid. The characters are well defined and there is some really great beats with humor. Unfortunately the film’s funny character is so poorly performed by Reggie Batts in the most wooden acting put to celluloid that it is easy to overlook some of the great lines his character has. The Action beats are there and work adequately, but the film is really front loaded with action and fizzles to a climactic battle that looks like two ToHo monster rejects gently shaking each other in a swamp.

On the film’s commentary, Craven explains that this is due by and large from the “Completion Bondsmen” who wanted the film to wrap fast and under budget. They would come in and hack scenes and force Craven’s hand so that the film ultimately did not reflect what his mind’s eye saw. This is readily apparent when one watches the movie. It had so much potential, but the low budget really kills the atmosphere of the film and destroys the climax.

It is kind of a shame that this film wasn’t made in recent years with today’s serious approach to the comic book source material. I think that even with the same script, made today this film would be a solid comic book film. As it is, the movie is passable. It ranks as a forgettable chapter in Craven’s catalog of features, but I still say there is a charm to it, if one only looks.

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-October, 2015

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