The Test of Time: Swamp Thing (1982)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise, and Dick Durock

You know, so many comic books get adapted today that only the biggest or most beloved characters snatch top tier directors. If it’s a smaller or lesser known work, either the thing will get lucky (James McTeigue for V for Vendetta) or unlucky (Lexi Alexander for Punisher: War Zone). Back in the day was no different. For a certain monster/horror movie, producer Michael E. Uslan (who produced all those fancy Dark Knight flicks), went with an up and coming horror director, a dude who understood terror and loss, someone who wasn’t afraid of letting things get all kinds of dark.

Under the examination: Swamp Thing.

Two years before Wes Craven would change the horror genre with Nightmare on Elm Street, he wanted to prove to Hollywood that he was more than just another scary director. It’s an understandable thing to do. Like any true artist, no one wants that label of only having one trick. John Carpenter switched gears several times with sporadic success as did Sam Raimi. By 1982, Craven had already made a name for himself with The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, but he wanted to show that he could handle action and could create shit for larger audiences. So along came the adaptation of the cult DC Comic hero. Only four years after Superman, this was the character that got to theaters before any others.

Are those vines or is Swamp Thing roided up?

THE STORY: Dr. Alec Holland and his sister Linda have been working away deep in the murky swamps in order to create a blend between science and nature, something that could survive in the harshest of environments. Government agent Alice Cable shows up to check on their progress when the evil, mysterious dude known as Arcane and his militant henchmen break in to steal their work and kill everyone in the process. Obviously, Holland somehow survives the attack and becomes a creation of his own work…something other than man. Cable also survives, but Arcane isn’t the type to quit. He wants her and the last of the information she kept from the destroyed lab. Only Holland can save her from the evil hands of Arcane before she ends up part of the swamp herself.

We're all still waiting for those Mission Impossible perfect masks. 


WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: What still works for Swamp Thing is that it plays like a live action comic book. Sure, there could have been more humor, and it could have been a little less…dull, but everyone involved seemed game for the project, and that's what really makes Swamp Thing worth watching. The great Ray Wise only sticks around for the first quarter of the film, but he's as dependable as ever, and at least we can see him in a good guy role for once, even though he works a little too close with his sister (it's creepy). Once Holland gets dead, the monster work is left to stuntman Dick Durock, who brings sympathy to the role even though he only mutters a few lines here and there. His costume kinda sucks, but we can still see pain in those lovely, murky eyes. 

The film world needs another Adrienne Barbeau...like now.

Actually, the two best things that really pop come from the legendary Adrienne Barbeau. Ok, that’s not fair as Louis Jourdan brings a great bad guy performance to the movie (obviously, he already played this role in Octopussy and in one of my favorite Columbo episodes). He had that suave, asshole way about him that made him the perfect evil doer. However, if you manage to come across the non-PG version, you’ll get to see some her best work (she takes a nice bath in the swamp). Ok, that’s not fair again. Actually, she’s quite good here, even though she falls for the beast a little too quickly considering they had no history together. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Part of the problem with watching Swamp Thing today is that Wes Craven played homage to movies that are now 60+ years old. Sure, most film fans know and understand the 1950’s B monster movie, but we’re so far removed that it ends up playing old fashioned and out of date, which is a shame. Also, I’m not sure what camera or film Craven chose, but everything looks foggy and dated while the colors seem saturated like they didn’t seal the damn camera properly. Maybe they did it to create a more swampish feel, but it looks in desperate need of a restoration (I didn’t have my hands on the Blu-Ray. If it’s better, please let me know below).

A real villain never loses his cigar.

I understand this is a low budget film (made for around $3 mil), but damn it plays like one. I particularly find Arcane’s henchmen annoying as they all dress like extras from some forgotten Chuck Norris film. They could have tried to be a little less generic there.

Worst of all, however, is man himself, Swamp Thing. The costume looks shitty and dull. When he moves, you can see the fabric bend and fold. I always thought he looked a little more swampy in the sequel, but maybe that’s just me. Craven should have went for the Jaws approach. Show him less. Or hell, pump some more fog into that swamp.

THE VERDICT: I think the name Swamp Thing is more legendary than the actual product. Despite a young Wes Craven’s name listed as director, he didn’t do himself any favors here, which probably explains why he went back to the horror well so quickly. If it wasn’t for Barbeau’s beauty and Jourdan’s sinister performance, Swamp Thing might be better off forgotten. And come on, Hollywood has even remade freakin’ Red Dawn at this point, but they haven’t remade a property that actually deserves another chance? Get with it, producer-type people. We’re waiting for something that can truly stand the Test of Time.




Somehow, I love to see monsters relaxing in a chair. 



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