Back in 1990, I can remember watching those Saturday morning cartoons of ours, and coming across an ad for 'Swamp Thing'. It was something I bypassed, and to this day, I have no idea if it was any good. I'm gonna guess probably not, since no one ever talks about it. But unbeknownst to me, there was also a live action series during this time, so for some reason, it was a real "thing" for some people. It even came back last year for the CW.
Well, to be fair, this is based on a DC comic series, so one has to figure it has its audience. To be honest though, I'd probably still have put this on the back burner if it weren't for this month's Wes Craven theme. 'Swamp Thing', from my perspective, seemed like someone threw together Frankenstein and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and in 1990, I was way too busy with my Ninja Turtles to give a damn. I never did bother with "Swamp Thing' until now, but I gotta say, I'm pretty glad I did. Here we have a 1982 comic book film that seems to be a pretty self-aware comedy, and it comes to us from horror legend, Wes Craven, whose previous two films are relatively brutal for their time.
To make a long and complicated story short, botanist, Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) is on a quest to wipe out world hunger, and is placed under the protection of special agent Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau). Another scientist named Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan) attempts a heist to steal Holland's research, which leads to an accident, turning Holland into the Swamp Thing - an odd blend of plant and human who defends Alice from Arcane and his henchmen, who remain constantly after his research.
Apparently, Craven had a desire here to prove to Hollywood that he could take on something bigger and better than his usual harrowing formula, and much more different. Some similarities can still be seen, as it still dabbles in some horror aspects, and uses its environment as a part of the characters - which was apparently criticized, but I tend to admire it. If you can make the setting as suspenseful as the characters in the setting, you've really got something. 'Last House on the Left' used the family home, 'The Hills Have Eyes' used the desert, and this obviously uses the swamp. Hell, even 'Nightmare on Elm Street' uses 1428 Elm Street.
So how is the film, as a whole? Well, it's bloody weird. This is one of those films that you watch and you don't know how to feel about it. One perspective sees it as so bad it's good, with a bunch of jokes and dialogue that just do not land, but another sees it as a positive message about environment and world issues in general. For me, I just can't see it as anything too deep. I personally find it campy and cheesy in all the right ways. This is a guy in a rubber swamp man suit, and it's about as easy to take seriously as the 1966 Adam West 'Batman' movie.
It's a situation where the stupid and silly Dad jokes are kinda what make it so likable. I therefore can't finish this review without bringing up Jude (Reggie Batts), who, to me, was both the best and lamest part of the film all at once. He's meant to be the comic relief, but the dialogue is often about as funny as a standard knock-knock joke, which in a roundabout way makes it funny. Unfortunately, saying he's what's best about it doesn't give the movie much headway in terms of seeing it as "good". But I think it can easily be seen as one of those guilty pleasure movies that a lot of people can share.
I enjoy that the film seems to embrace its tacky charm, and understands what it is, not trying to be anything more. The style is fairly comparable to 1960's 'Batman', as I mentioned earlier. Thinking about that, 'Swamp Thing' is also a DC property, and in 1982, the best superhero movie was either 'Superman' or 'Superman II', depending on your perspective (I'm a 'Superman' guy). Until Tim Burton's 'Batman' came along, changing the face of comic book movies forever, the cheese was what we not only got, but accepted. So for that, 'Swamp Thing' is a perfectly charming, silly, superhero time capsule. It drags at points, but all in all, not bad for a Wes Craven attempt at a superhero movie. Regardless, a couple of years after this, he created one of the biggest super villains of a generation. So consider this one of the higher steps on his ladder to success.
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