THE YEAR: 1989
THE DIRECTOR: Jim Wynorski
THE WRITER: Neil Cuthbert, Grant Morris
THE CAST: Louis Jourdan, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Dick Durock
So, following a successful outing directed by a master of horror, where do you take your dark comic book franchise next? You hire a storied exploitation and porn director to make an over-the-top comedic movie! Obviously. But how does something with such a contrary tone end up being closer to the source material than its more serious predecessor?
Well, let’s branch out and hit the rewind button to take a look…
The Return of Swamp Thing is definitely a rare case. With the exception of A Nightmare on Elm Street (ironically whose original movie was also directed by Wes Craven), I struggle to think of a movie series that so radically changed its tone. Now, with Elm Street, its devolution into comedy was over the course of several movies, and it still maintained a fair amount of its horror edge. In this case, it was a hard left turn all at once.
This time around, rather than the highly educated and determined Cable, we have Heather Locklear playing Abby Arcane (essentially in name only), a ditsy blonde who likes plants more than those pesky men. Added to the mix are two rebellious bayou kids, eccentric mad scientists, wild rubber monsters, weekend warrior hunters, and a sexy female assassin in a low cut bodysuit for good measure.
Louis Jourdan reprises his villainous role as Dr. Anton Arcane from the original movie, which is odd in itself because the previous film had finished with him mutating into a wolf/warthog hybrid monster and ultimately dying as a result of his battle with Swamp Thing. It’s okay, though. He got better. But the cold, calculated performance we had seen before is replaced by a care-free comedic turn. In Jourdan’s defence, however, he plays the comedy very well and is definitely a standout here.
Also returning is veteran stuntman Dick Durock as our big green hero, although he has been dubbed over by another actor. Durock dons a much, much better suit this time around. First off, it’s much more bulky and muscular, making Swamp Thing much more intimidating. Secondly, it actually feels plant-like. It is covered in leaves, moss, vines, branches, you name it. Sadly, we still don’t see any of Swamp Thing’s powers this time around.
But that leads into the oddest twist in this: With the exception of the comedic tone, The Return of Swamp Thing is arguably a lot closer to the comic books than the original film was. We actually get to see a number of the Un-Men this time around. We get a version of Swamp Thing’s ongoing romantic interest in Abby Arcane (again, sort of). While the mood may have been lighter, the visuals were not. Unlike Wes Craven’s version – shot entirely in the daylight – this film is almost entirely night shots and, coupled with some bold colors, matches the palette of the comics much more.
The downside to that is, more accurately, it was closer to the comics at the time of the first film. Between then and the time that this movie was made, writer Alan Moore had his legendary run on the comic series, giving an even deeper and darker character-driven take on the title. It’s another reason that the choice to go so campy with The Return of Swamp Thing is so baffling.
The biggest thing to come out of this movie was actually the much improved Swamp Thing suit. This design was brought over to the television series, which came out shortly after this film. The series, however, found more of a middle ground between the darker first film and tongue-in-cheek second film. Otherwise, the film was a critical failure and didn’t fare well at the box office either.
What if Wes Craven had returned and directed something along the lines of Alan Moore’s storylines? If he was given reign to really dig into the core of Swamp Thing and Alec Holland, go a little further into the horror elements, it would likely have been a breath of fresh air in the slasher-ridden horror market.
THE BIG QUESTION:
How do you think Anton Arcane survived the first film?
Give us you best hypothesis in the comments below! The crazier the better!
The Return of Swamp Thing is a fun time. It may turn off some fans of the original, being such a polar opposite, but I think it would end up gaining even more with it’s cheese factor and much-improved effects. The camp value is high!