Review: Swamp Thing
Directed by: Wes Craven
Category: Comic Book Adaptation
If you'll recall, I nearly lost my shit when, after years of searching, I finally scored one of my most sought after tapes - the Swamp Thing Embassy Clamshell release; the first ever VHS release of this film. What makes it so sought after is it's gorgeous black clamshell and cover design. Embassy's subsequent video release was unfortunately in the standard cardboard slipcase. But acquiring this Holy Grail tape got me to thinking that I hadn't actually seen this movie in decades...literally. Lucky for me, HuluPlus has it available for streaming, so I jumped on it the first moment I could.
One of the things I always took away from Swamp Thing as a kid when I saw it back in the day was that I always thought it was weird. I don't know how exactly, but I always had these specific images stuck in my head, and when I tried putting these images together I would always come away with something odd and dark. So I guess it's because of this that I never really made the effort to see it again. However, with the recent popularity of this film with a handful of releases on DVD in the last few years, with Shout! Factory even putting a blu ray of this out recently, I figured now is a good as time as any to jump on the bandwagon.
Here's one thing that still surprises me to this day. Wes Craven wrote and directed this before A Nightmare on Elm Street. I don't know why I just can't wrap my brain around that little fact. But, I'm glad I revisited this, because there were a few other things that surprised me as well. For one, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. While not a great film by any means, it possesses an unintentional campiness that I oh so love. That, coupled with the films stellar cast, make for an enjoyably cheesy 80's experience I was not expecting.
While the film tries to take the serious approach, it ultimately and unwittingly comes off as campy. Lucky for us, it works splendidly, thanks to a solid structure, some excellent performances, and a score that ramps the excitement level to 11. That brings me to an interesting point. As soon as the film began, and it's excellent score started blazing, I couldn't help but notice it sounded shockingly similar to the theme for Friday the 13th. Well that's because Friday the 13th's composer, Harry Manfredini, supplied the score for Swamp Thing, and if you closed your eyes, you'd swear you were listening to Friday the 13th. But in a surprising twist, it works effectively well. Had there been a less engaging score, I doubt the fun level would have been as high as it is.
Swamp Thing succeeds as well as it does for a number of reasons, largely Manfredini's incredibly fun score, but also with it's surprisingly stellar cast full of cult icons such as Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise and David Hess. The film's also slightly quirky, whether intentional or not, and while most of the film can be called dark, which it also is, it's campiness shines above, and I love it for that. I think that's why I found it weird back as a kid. I remember not being able to figure out what kind of movie it was supposed to be. I mean, I knew it was based on a comic book, yet he's not a superhero. But revisiting it 33 years later and it's clear that this film is deeply flawed, but it's because of these flaws that it succeeds. Had it played out as intended by everyone involved, I think it's safe to say that Swamp Thing would have gone down as another "failed" live action comic book adaptation. Writer/Director Wes Craven might not have been at the top of his game, which he would clearly rectify and demonstrate just 2 years later with the horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, igniting a new horror icon and franchise for the hungry masses, but with Swamp Thing, his inability to choose a specific genre or tone gives it that little bit of spice that makes it stick out of the crowd.
Depending on your taste and point of view, one of the things that works against Swamp Thing or for it, is the sub-par makeup work. While the Swamp Thing makeup and costume design is vastly superior in Jim Wynorski's campy (on purpose) sequel, the suit here is painfully, dreadfully and obviously a wetsuit embellished with random swamp greenery. And the bad makeup doesn't stop there. The other creature that makes it's appearance in the final act of the film looks like it was bought at a costume shop. So in short, the makeup work is pretty bad, but for me, it only adds to it's unintentional cheesiness and charm.
I had a blast revisiting this cult classic. All of the things that keep this from being a great comic book adaptation are the things that I love about it, making it a helluva fun cheesy 80's experience. Despite it's issues, there are tons of things to love about this, and if you haven't seen Wes Craven's classic in a while, do yourself a favor and track this sucker down.