The F*cking Black Sheep: The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989)

DIRECTED BY JIM WYNORSKI

Say now, how many of you happened to catch the premiere episode of DC’s new Swamp Thing series? I personally know of nobody who has signed up for the DC Universe streamer, but oh well. If any of ya’ll have thoughts on the pilot episode, split a vein and spill some mother*cking blood on the matter below! After-all, our boy Derek Mears looks mad and menacing as the man-turned muck monster!

Not to bury the lead, but in rather symmetrical way, we’re about to cast some much needed love towards a supremely slept on movie. Remember, two weeks ago we did the same of Jim Wynorski’s CHOPPING MALL, and now, it’s high time we stick up for the movie Wynorski made just three years later. Of course, we’re referring to THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING, a markedly lighter, deliciously cheesier, and deliberately campier PG-13 family film that take the titular DC comic hero in a wildly different direction than Wes Craven led the character in 1982. Far more comedic than horrific, Wynorski rightly reinstates a breezy comic book tableau to a property that was gravely devoid in Craven’s vision. Not that it eclipses Craven’s version, it’s just that the result is an eminently entertaining piece of B-movie schlock that calls for far greater audience embracement. As THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING turns 30 years old, we plan to do our part by detailing precisely why the film is F*cking Black Sheep!

The opening pre-credit salvo of THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING is too good to ignore. The first thing one ought to notice is the role reprisal of Dick Durock, who continues to play mutated scientist Alec Holland and his superior alter-ego, Swamp Thing. Fantastic decision BY Wynorski to carry Durock over from the first film to its sequel, as it provides a tie-in interest and sense of continuity that keeps fans of the first flick well engaged. Oddly, much to Wynorski and Durock’s surprise, his voice was overdubbed by a random unknown actor, which they didn’t learn until the films premiere (yes, this bad boy did get released in theaters in 1989, and actually earned a thumbs up from Ebert while his pal Siskel gave it thumbs down).

Anyway, what also leaps out from the opening sequence is the first battle of the film, which takes place between Swamp Thing and his ancillary nemesis, Leechman (Christopher Doyle), a mutated human-animal monstrosity that resembles the f*cked up lovechild between the Elephant Man and a goddamn Xenomorph drone. I absolutely love this monster design, as it’s a truly ghastly sight to lay eyes on and quite unnerving when his gnarly façade nears the frame in close up. Of course, Swampy is no Calvin Klein model himself, but rather resembles a steamy cross between the Incredible Hulk and the Toxic Avenger, with the Troma sensibility a good descriptor for how Wynorski handles the material all the way through. He keeps the tone light and cheeky, always honoring the PG-13 rated comic book sense of humor kitschy violence along the way. He’s playing to the simple idyllic imagery of 50s sci-fi B-movies and the corny FX therein. Anyhow, Swampy beats the ever-loving piss out of Leechman, forcing him to crawl back into the swamp to think about his odious actions.

After the tone-setting first brawl, one cannot refute the kickass credit sequence in which old-school DC comic-book artwork panels are superimposed over the screen, set to Credence Clearwater Revival’s perfectly pitched “Born on the Bayou” shredder. Honestly, if this credit sequence doesn’t pump you up, check the doctor, your ass might be dead already. Shite rocks, we’re telling ya! So does Swampy’s second clash with Leechman, which not only escalates the fisticuff with the use of pole-swords, but again hilariously results in Leechman catching fire and slithering its way back to the swamp, where it explodes to smithereens and is never seen again. I will say I was a bit sad to never see Leechman return, and while Swampy’s nemesis switches from here on out, greater mention of Leechman could have been made to close his storyline a bit clearer. Or at least another showdown would have sufficed!

From here, the story turns to the evil Dr. Anton Arcane, played by the well-cast Louis Jourdan as an oily rich asshole with zero scruples. After he may or may not have killed his wife, Anton shacks up with the gorgeous Dr. Lana Zurrell (Sarah Douglas, returning to the DC Universe after playing Ursa in SUPERMAN), as well as invites his stepdaughter Abby (Heather Locklear) to collect her mother’s prized ring. When Dr. Zurrell learns Dr. Arcane is using her for his own personal gain, she concocts a counterattack. Meanwhile, after Swampy stomps the dog-shit out a pair of rapey redneck hayseeds in yet another tactile hand-to-hand scuffle, he takes a romantic interest in Abby. She reciprocates, and soon the two are head over heels in love with one another as they fight to evade Dr. Arcane’s evil plot to destroy Swampy and use his genetic material to continue splicing human and animal DNA.

We’d be remiss not to mention three of the most hysterical comic relieving aspects of the movie. There’s a subplot between two kids, the 10-year-old Darryl (Daniel Taylor) and 12-year-old Omar (RonReaco Lee), who continue to find themselves in the situational comedy of being in the wrong place at the right time. Not only do these kids hilariously bust each other’s balls at every turn as they stumble around the swamp, but their encounters with Leechman and Swampy are extremely funny as well. Imagine a young Zack Galifianakis and Chris Rock flame-roasting each other while constantly hiding in the woods from mega-mutant-monsters. Shite’s pure comedic gold, and fully reinforces THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING as a family-driven piece of harmless entertainment meant for everyone to enjoy.

Another drolly humorous character in the film is that of Gunn (Joey Sagal), Arcane’s idiotic muscle. This clown not only spouts wise throughout the film, but there’s a scene between he and Abby in which they compare their bodily scars and trade the stories behind them as if the scene from JAWS. Better yet, anyone who’s seen Kevin Smith’s CHASING AMY will think Smith stole this scene right from SWAMPY part 2. Gunn has all the silliest lines, including calling his girlfriend Miss Poinsettia (Monique Gabrielle) the sexist name “Points” in reference to her breasts. Of course, Gunn too gets his just desserts in the end, as does Dr. Arcane in a riotous laboratory showdown finale. Shite’s glorious!

Look, no one is confusing THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING with a great movie. However, we do believe Wynorski when he says the chintzy aesthetic of the film is indeed intentional. I mean, $4 million in 1989 is not that low of a budget, especially for Wynorski, so it’s hard to call the charming ineptitude of the film an accident. That said, the film only amassed a paltry $192,000 or so at the domestic box-office, which is perhaps the most exculpatory evidence that the film is a F*cking Black Sheep. The bottom line is this: THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING is fast, fun, hilarious, violent, and a damn good time. Let’s hope the new DC series follows suit!

GET THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING ON BLU-RAY HERE

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

5379 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.