Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) is a government worker sent to replace a scientist who was killed on a top-secret bioengineering project taking place in swamps located in the South. Scientist Alec Holland (Ray Wise) has a new plant-based concoction that also serves as an explosive, naturally. Enter evil doctor Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan), who wants to use this explosive liquid for evil stuff and such. Arcane sends his henchmen to this swamp-based center to burn it to the ground and leave no trace of the experiments that took place. Holland tries to escape with the concoction, but he slips, and it engulfs him in flames. His swan dive into the swamps is what turns him into Swamp Thing, while Cable is able to secure Holland’s last notebook detailing the concoction. Arcane wants to destroy them both and get on with making evil stuff with the concoction like any other evil doctor would.
Pre-NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET Wes Craven is a mixed bag. He had two lukewarm TV movies in the can, along with two exploitative classics and… DEADLY BLESSING. SWAMP THING doesn’t reach DEADLY BLESSING levels of cringe, but it definitely feels like a Saturday-morning TV movie, as it was only made for $2.5 million.
SWAMP THING wasn’t a passion project for Wes Craven. He admits in the book The Man and His Nightmares that he started to think he would never work again and latched on to the first thing he could. It was not a fun shoot either, with the swamps in South Carolina populated with poisonous snakes and alligators, botanic acid that ate through the Swamp Thing costume, and cast and crew members passing out from heat exhaustion.
Craven’s usual commentary on dysfunctional families and society gets replaced with his need to show the film industry that he can do action sequences. Reading that Craven wanted to show off his ability to do stunts is comical after watching SWAMP THING, because Mr. Thing does nothing besides throw various henchmen, followed by reaction shots of them landing on the ground. He’s basically the bouncer of the swamps. He doesn’t exactly try to be a superhero for anyone as much as he just wants tranquility.
The character of Jude (Reggie Batts), a kid who Cable meets at a gas station, is the film’s saving grace. Every line of his is delivered in the perfect amount of deadpan that killed me every time. Jude: the saving grace of SWAMP THING. Barbeau is everything she needs to be without (thankfully) falling into a tired damsel-in-distress caricature (unlike Heather Locklear in THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING).
The self-seriousness of it all is what restricts me from caring about it much. It tries to turn Swamp Thing into a tragic-hero situation, where you feel empathy for him, but it doesn’t work. A film centered on a man in a green rubber suit should be played for all the laughs you can… which is where THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING comes into play.
SWAMP THING wasn’t a theatrical success by any means, but it made a big enough splash on home video to warrant a sequel seven years later. Mostly known for directing CHOPPING MALL, Jim Wynorski took over directorial duties for the sequel, toned down the seriousness of it and turned Swamp Thing into the lovable, campy character he should be.
Abigail Arcane (Heather Locklear in a Razzie-winning performance) goes to visit her stepfather, Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan), after the death of her mother. Somehow Anton is resurrected after the first film and is using the plant connotation to stop people from aging and to create a legion of swamp humanoids called Un-Men. Arcane is still so evil that even he tries to experiment on his step-daughter, until joke-slinging Swamp Thing (Dick Durock) decides to save the day.
At no point does THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING try to take itself seriously and I had a blast because of this. MVD Entertainment just dropped a new Blu-ray for RETURN, and it looks way better than a film involving Swamp Thing driving a Jeep and Locklear dropping buckshots into henchmen should look.
Swamp Thing is still slinging bad guys around with glee as he tries his damndest to save Abigail and, of course, a romance begins. Why would Abigail fall in love with Swamp Thing? Because she’s an avid gardener and a vegetarian, of course! Our brave warrior from the first film, Jude, doesn’t return, and his absence is greatly felt. We do get two young boys who struggle to deliver their lines — yet I still loved it.
Unless you’re a Wes Craven completist, SWAMP THING should remain in the bogs. However, THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING is a hell of a ride if you know what you’re getting into: a woman falling in love with a grotesque man in a green rubber suit.
Tags: Ace Mask, Adrienne Barbeau, Benjamin Melniker, Bernie Wrightson, Chuck Cirino, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Daniel Emery Taylor, David Hess, Dick Durock, Harry Manfredini, Heather Locklear, Jim Wynorski, Joey Sagal, Len Wein, Louis Jourdan, Michael E. Uslan, Monique Gabrielle, Neil Cuthbert, Ray Wise, RonReaco Lee, Sarah Douglas, Swamp Thing, Wes Craven