Swamp Thing (1982)

Wes Craven

Adrienne Barbeau - Alice Cable
Dick Durock - Swamp Thing
Louis Jourdan - Anton Arcane
Ray Wise - Dr. Alec Holland
Nicholas Worth - Bruno
David Hess - Ferret
Reggie Ball - Jude

Genre - Science Fiction/Action/Fantasy/Comic Books

Running Time - 88 Minutes

Alec Holland (Ray Wise) is an isolated, yet personable scientist working in the swamps of South Carolina, trying to create a new form of plant life that would be able to weather any type of weather condition that will survive for future civilizations. He is joined by a beautiful government agent named Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau), who helps him develop this potential new species of plant and oversees the project. The two grow close really fast, sparring with each other as a way to display their attraction to one another.

Holland finally manages to create a vegetable cell that has the nucleus of an animal, allowing the cell to grow much faster than normal - as well as making it quite more resilient to the changing weather patterns. However, Holland is unable to test it as some goons march into his laboratory, wanting Holland's plant serum. After a violent struggle that kills Holland's sister [
who was also a scientist on the project], the goons accidentally spill the serum onto Holland. The chemicals don't react well on human DNA, as it sets Holland on fire. He jumps into the river, but never emerges, convincing the goons that he's dead. They realize that Alice has seen everything, so they begin chasing her away to keep her quiet. As all parties exit, Holland comes out of the river - not as a human, but as Swamp Thing (Dick Durock) - part plant and part man with superhuman strength.

Both Swamp Thing and Alice learn that a rival scientist named Anton Arcane (
Louis Jourdan) was the one behind the invasion, wanting the serum for himself to test it on live subjects. As Alice stuggles with Arcane and his men, she's lucky to have Swamp Thing protecting her. With the help of Alice and a local boy named Jude (Reggie Batts), Swamp Thing wants revenge on Arcane in order to save the swamp from his evil.


- Adrienne Barbeau's boobs. Even though Swamp Thing's make-up and outfit are..."impressive", Barbeau's naked breasts are the best special effects in SWAMP THING. Wowza. There were also topless ladies during some weird party scene at Arcade's mansion in the final act. This raises the score alone.

- The acting. While SWAMP THING doesn't hold up all that well these days, the acting is still quite good. Adrienne Barbeau was a bit miscast as Alice Cable, but she still made her performance credible enough. She comes across as tough, sexy, and quite intelligent - just how I like my ladies. Plus, she went topless. No complaints. Dick Durock, who would play Swamp Thing in pretty much every live-action version of the character [movies and television], is very good in the role. Even with the hilariously bad costume, he still managed to be sympathetic and very likeable. Plus I thought he handled the action scenes pretty well too. Louis Jourdan is awesome as Dr. Anton Arcane. He plays the over-the-top, James Bond-ish type villain, with malice and glee. You can't help but enjoy his performance. A young Ray Wise is solid as the human Alec Holland. He was very sympathetic and passionate in the role. I also thought he had cute chemistry with Barbeau. Reggie Ball is cool as Jude, the token kid in this kind of film. He had some funny one-liners and delivered them alright. We also get David Hess and Nicholas Worth as two of Arcane's main goons. Both men bring an exploitation vibe to this comic book film - Hess was in Wes Craven's first film, 1972's THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, while Worth was in 1980's DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE. Solid cast. I just wish the script was better for all of them.

- The photography. I do have issues with Wes Craven's direction on this film, but the cinematography for SWAMP THING is very nice. The swamp location looks both beautiful and dark at the same time. The colors look washed out at times and vibrant in others, creating a very surreal, dreamlike atmosphere. Even the interiors look great and really provide a ton of information about the characters who live and/or work there. It's a nice looking picture that probably makes the swamp more inviting than it actually is [no offense to anyone who lives near one].

- The vibe. Wes Craven gives SWAMP THING a very kooky, campy vibe that makes the film very charming and somewhat entertaining at parts. I know that the comic book version of Swamp Thing was a pretty serious affair, but having never read the comics, I can't truly make a comparison on the tone. What I can say that SWAMP THING is fun and kitschy, almost as if Craven was inspired by the monster movies and EC Comics of the 1950s. It's goofy, yet never insulting to the audience.

I like that SWAMP THING feels like an exploitation film, but without the exploitation really. Sure, it has David Hess and Nicholas Worth in it - two men who are exploitation film stars - which helps the vibe. Hess, especially, loves to chew the scenery in every scene he's in. But it has this low-budget feel and grainy picture quality that makes it look more like a 70s flick rather than an 80s one. We also have gratuitous nudity [can't go wrong with that] and a bit of a dirty feel to the whole thing. I'm honestly not sure who this film is made for - kids, comic book fans, Wes Craven fans, or all the above? But I like that it feels adult, yet silly enough for a younger audience to somewhat enjoy.

There's something really sincere and charming about SWAMP THING. It doesn't hide its flaws and seriously wants to entertain all audiences. I wish other aspects of the film could have been better, but at least it's heart is in the right place.

- The direction. I really hate putting Wes Craven in the negative section. I'm a big fan of his work, especially when it comes to horror. But if there was ever a Best-To-Worst list for Craven's directorial works, SWAMP THING would be near the bottom.

Wes Craven took this job to prove to studios that he was capable of making bigger budget films that he wasn't known for at the time. So in a lot of ways, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET would never exist without SWAMP THING. The problem is that Craven's heart doesn't really seem to be into making a quality film that will stand the test of time. SWAMP THING is just there visually for me, besides the cinematography.

Watching SWAMP THING leads one to believe that Craven was heavily inspired by STAR WARS in some way - especially when it came to the transitions used. If you've seen any STAR WARS film, you know what I'm talking about. Craven also likes to use slow motion a lot as well, which is fine I guess.

My real issue is the pacing - it's terrible. The first act has a ton of potential, but once Holland turns into Swamp Thing, the film visually falls apart. It becomes a chase film - over and over and over and over and over again. It never stops and becomes repetitive as hell. Things want to happen here to move the story forward, but Craven seems to focused in filming Adrienne Barbeau being chased and kidnapped by goons while Swamp Thing helps her every five to ten minutes. It's unintentionally funny the first couple of times this happens, but it really wains on you as it continues to occur.

Also, SWAMP THING needed a more energetic approach in its filmmaking. For a comic book adaptation about a man who is now a superhuman plant, it's not all that exciting to watch. There's not a lot of style here that gives off tension or suspense, instead being a point-and-shoot affair to get its story across. It's just a bland visual film that needed to be the opposite. Not Wes Craven's best by a longshot, but I'm sure even he knows that. This was a "paycheck" job rather than a "I want to do this" job.

- The film score. Another negative that I hate, since Harry Manfredini did the score for SWAMP THING. Manfredini is great at scoring genre flicks, especially his work on the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise. And that's the problem with SWAMP THING - it sounds EXACTLY like FRIDAY THE 13TH. I was expecting Jason Voorhees to come out of the swamp and start stabbing people with his machete. The score needed to be more original than it was. Instead, it just confused the hell out of me. It's still a cool score, regardless, but it just didn't work with this film for me.

- The weak story. Here is where SWAMP THING gets muddled up. Wes Craven adapted the screenplay from the comic books and it's not the worst script out there. But it doesn't do the film any favors, as any important themes or necessary character development is wasted on creating repetitive chase scenes and questionable actions by the characters in the film.

The biggest flaw with the narrative is the love story between Alec Holland and Alice Cable. I really hate the whole "insta-romance" deal that Hollywood really seems to love, especially when it comes to films like SWAMP THING. I guess studios figure that if two people happen to be in the same scene, they should be romantically attached for the rest of the film - even if the characters have only known each other for five minutes. While there is chemistry between the two characters, their "love" for each other isn't convincing because the two hardly spend any time together. Holland kisses Alice when he figures out the serum formula, but that's because he's celebrating his triumph and kisses the first woman he sees that isn't his sister. That doesn't mean the two are now attached to the hip. This really hurts the rest of the film because Alec [now Swamp Thing] is saving Alice because he cares about her. And she's willing to accept him once she's used to his new look. But there's no substance there and it just feels forced. Of course they have to get together - he's the hero and she's the damsel-in-distress. But that's as deep as it goes. It's funny that the sequel, THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING with Heather Locklear, has a more convincing love angle than this one does. Swamp Thing's motivations to help Alice, because he loves her, don't resonate well at all.

It doesn't help that the characters aren't developed well enough. Alec Holland comes across as charming, intelligent, and somewhat conceited at times. That's understandable as he's a genius and it would be expected for one to feel that way about himself. It's when he turns into Swamp Thing that it becomes a problem. While it's great that his human traits are now gone, due to his transformation, we're not exactly sure how Alec feels about himself as this monster. He yells and feels sad when he can't conduct experiments due to his superhuman strength crushing his beakers and test tubes. He feels isolated when he can't be with Alice...in that way. But other than that, I'm not sure how he feels about being Swamp Thing. It should have played out like Bruce Banner and his feelings about being The Incredible Hulk - feelings that are usually less than positive. We never know what Alec is thinking as he's this plant creature. Is he angry? Is he okay with it? Does he wish that his twig was a little bigger? There's no depth to this at all! If explored, this would have enhanced sympathy for Swamp Thing - as well as allowing the audience to really get to know him better. We root for him because we know he's the hero. But other than that, do we really care about this guy? Not really.

Same goes with everyone else. Alice is beautiful and tough, but we barely know nothing about her besides that and that she manages to wear wet T-shirts quite well. She does come across as intelligent and pro-active in terms of keeping Alec's book [with the serum formula equation] away from the villains - which makes her instantly likeable and someone we should root for. But she makes stupid decisions towards the end of the film [giving the book to Jude for whatever reason] and ends up being the kidnapped damsel-in-distress in the final act. And she's a government agent, but I have no idea what her speciality was. Was it mentioned in the film?

The villains are no better. Arcane is your typical villain who likes to say what he's planning rather than actually doing it because that would make too much sense. He doesn't really come across as really evil, but more smug than anything. He's your stereotypical power-hungry mad scientist who thinks he's God, while proving he's human when he does something stupid for the final act - like drinking the serum himself after seeing what it did to Swamp Thing and his goon, Bruno. What a genius. I won't go into his goofy Wolfman look/persona [the plant serum turns whoever takes it into an extension of their personality - a subplot tackled on for the final act that's never explored]. Pretty bad, yet pretty funny.

As for the goons, Ferrett and Bruno aren't deep but at least they have personalities. Ferrett acts as the leader and is a real creep. He's a lighter version of Krug, which is fitting since David Hess plays the character. Bruno is the slow one of the group and does whatever is asked of him. I found it pretty funny that he becomes more articulate when he transforms into a troll, but SWAMP THING isn't much on logic.

And with Jude, he's the one the kids are supposed to identify with. He's also very sarcastic and has a dry wit, which makes him instantly likeable rather than annoying. In fact, he's probably my favorite character in the entire film because he behaves like a normal person. He doesn't get much to do except be Alice's sidekick, but he's a welcome addition.

Also, Craven uses literary allusions in an attempt to enhance the narrative, but they get lost in what Craven is visually trying to tell. Alice Cable seems to be an allusion to Alice In Wonderland, as she's out of her element in the swamp. Jude seems to be a play on Jim from Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There are some Nietzsche quotes as well all over the film as well. Craven obviously knows his books, but they don't mean much when the film is just a repetitive chase flick.

It's sad that Wes Craven didn't write a stronger script. I'm sure much of it was studio interference, but it's as if he's not sure who to appease to - those who are paying him, or those who are paying to watch this film [a.k.a. the fans of the comic books or comic book fans in general]. Nothing resonates all that much on a storytelling level, making SWAMP THING pretty forgettable.

- Alice hates the swamp. She also hates the fog, dead boy bands, and marrying horror directors. Good luck with that eHarmony profile!

- It's hoped that Alec Holland's nitro experiment doesn't end with a bang. Judging by Monday nights from 1995 to 2001, the Nitro experiment usually ended in a whimper.

- Arcane peeled off a realistic looking mask to reveal his true face. I'd like to see what Joan Rivers looks underneath her mask. ...Oh.

- Swamp Thing leaped out of the water to grab the villains from their boat and into the swamp. Jason Voorhees saw this and though, "Bitch please! Been there, done that!"

- Alice can beat up soldiers, shoot weapons, jump over tires, and outrun jeeps. Why she wasn't an American Gladiator is beyond me?

- Ferret tried to get some of Alice, but she wanted none of it. I guess he'll still be alone even if he's the last man at THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

- Swamp Thing watched Alice bathe in the swamp. I think his stump turned into a branch at this point.

SWAMP THING is one of those films that was way more enjoyable as a child than it is as an adult. While I dig the vibe, the acting, and the beautiful photography, the narrative and boring direction really bring this film way down. Not enough style. Not enough substance. SWAMP THING is not one of Wes Craven's best films. Still, it's kind of fun to watch on a nostalgic level and the 90 minute runtime will go by pretty fast. Definitely a charming, mediocre film that's just "there".

2 Howls Outta 4


  1. I have a fondness for this movie - as you obviously do - though I can't disagree with any of your negatives. I do have to say that the wipes and transitions Craven uses were more likely inspired by the comic books he was somewhat trying to emulate rather than Star Wars, which was also comics influenced among the 1,000,006 other things Lucas threw into the mix. Durock gives a surprisingly strong performance considering he was mainly a stuntman - and let's give a shout out to Tony Cecere - one of the greatest "full burn" stuntmen in the business in the 80's - taking on the flames in this movie for Alec Holland's transformation - as well as the burn stunt in The Thing (1982)!

    Another solid review, Mr. Wolf!

    1. About the wipes and transitions, you're probably right as Lucas was inspired by comic books as well for STAR WARS. Still, I used that comparison because it explains what I'm trying to say on an easier, visual level. I'm sure more people have seen STAR WARS than opened a comic book page. But I don't disagree with you.

      And yes - Tony Cecere should get a shoutout. That was a great fire stunt. Those stunts people really deserve an award or something. It's sad that a lot of them don't get majorly recognized for what they do.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. For some reason this film seemed to go completely under the radar back in `82, a bit like "Megaforce".


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