THE YEAR: 1982
THE DIRECTOR: Wes Craven
THE WRITER: Wes Craven
THE CAST: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Dick Durock, Ray Wise
Comic book movies were still far off from being a big thing, mostly due to limits in the special effects needed to give many superheroes their fantastic powers. Horror, however, was a booming business and DC Comics had been publishing a dark man-versus-nature tale that had piqued the interest of one of the genre’s top directors. Despite issues along the way, the movie has stayed a cult favorite.
So let’s wrap a vine around the rewind button and see what happened…
Adapted from the DC Comic Vertigo title by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, Swamp Thing Writer/Director Wes Craven was set to take on his biggest project to date. However, once into production Craven’s budget was apparently cut multiple times, leaving him to scramble to rewrite large chunks of the script to compensate.
The reduced budget is readily noticeable in a few respects. Villain Anton Arcane is normally surrounded by a gang of mutant monsters, The Un-Men. In the film we get a single pig-nosed midget, outside of Arcane’s transformation itself. What is left is a blend of generic 80’s action movie military types, one of whom looks uncomfortably like Rambo.
Another painfully obvious issue is in the look of the eponymous hero. Swamp Thing is a living plant, covered in moss and vines, and this was established even before Alan Moore’s amorphous take on the character later the same year. The movie version is, well, a solid green rubber suit. Nothing about it feels like a plant, save small patches of moss here and there. The “vines” are clearly just part of the molded body suit, all of which fold at the joints.
This did, however, lead the film-makers to expand and rely on some quite impressive practical stunt work in lieu of effects heavy monsters and powers, and the film delivers on its action segments in a big way. This was outside of Wes Craven’s comfort zone and a big part of the reason he wanted to take on the project in this first place. It is worth noting that the late Dick Durock, who has played Swamp Thing in all of his live action incarnations, was quite the legendary stunt man, and the movie definitely benefited from having an actor being able to take on all his own fight and stunt work.
The marketing was a bit odd, as well. It seemed as if the team behind the promotion of the movie weren’t sure what kind of movie they were marketing. The voice-over would lead you to believe that the movie was a cheesy, tongue-in-cheek throwback to old monster movies, and, while there are some nods to that genre, Swamp Thing is quite somber most of the time. However ridiculous the premise may be, it is treated with gravity in the film.
But with the confused marketing and the ever-decreasing budget, despite it not being the film that Wes Craven had intended to make, the film ended up not only a small success but a cult favorite to this day. That’s an odd spot for a film-maker. Of course, shortly after Swamp Thing, Craven went on to create a little thing called A Nightmare on Elm Street, which became an outright cultural phenomenon in the horror world.
Swamp Thing had a resurgence in the comics, diving into its most famous story arc under writer Alan Moore. It also spawned an odd sequel (that we’ll see next week), a live-action television series that lasted three seasons totaling seventy-two episodes, and an animated series that, despite only running for five episodes, resulted in a very successful toy line.
What if Wes Craven didn’t have his budget reduced and was able to have realized his original vision for Swamp Thing? Would, even with the limited special effects of the time, we have seen more of Swamp Thing’s powers? Would we have seen more of the comic’s gruesome Un-Men? Would Adrienne Barbeau have had better hair?
THE BIG QUESTION:
There has been talk, on and off, of a new Swamp Thing movie. Would you rather see a fully-realized CGI Swamp Thing or something attempted with more practical effects again?
Let us know in the comments below!
Fans of the comic will probably be mixed on their reviews, but I do think Swamp Thing is worth a watch. It is a unique movie in its tone. While it does a feel a bit like it doesn’t know what it is, it does manage to have a little something for everyone, and it’s got a certain dark charm about it.