Director/Screenplay – Wes Craven, Based on the Comic-Book Created by Len Wein & Berni Wrightson, Producers – Benjamin Melniker & Michael E. Uslan, Photography – Robin Goodwin, Music – Harry Manfredini, Makeup Effects – William Munns, Art Direction – Robb Wilson King & David Nichols. Production Company – A Melniker-Uslan Production/Swampfilms Inc
Adrienne Barbeau (Alice Cable), Dick Durock (Swamp Thing), Louis Jourdan (Arcane), Ray Wise (Dr Alec Holland), Nicholas Worth (Bruno), Reggie Ball (Jude), David Hess (Ferret)
Biochemist Alec Holland develops a formula that can regenerate organic matter. However, a fight ensues when his rival Arcane burst into his laboratory to steal it. During the fight, Holland is set on fire and dives into the swamp, covered with the formula. There the formula and the swamp waters combine to transform Holland into an entirely new creature.
Len Wein and Berni Wrightson’s Swamp Thing comic-book, which originally appeared in 1972, became a cult classic among comic fans with its dark, moody Gothic style and the conceptual daring of ideas that Wrightson and other writers (including Alan Moore and horror novelist Nancy Collins) incorporated. The very novelty of its central character made it seem a promising film adaptation. Moreover, Swamp Thing was taken on by Wes Craven who by the early 1980s had emerged as a director of two brutalizing shock effect films, The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and was starting to move towards mainstream acceptance. Ahead for Craven would be films like A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996). (See bottom of the page for a list of Wes Craven’s other films).
Unfortunately, the promise that both the Wes Craven name and the cult comic book offered was one that is quickly dispelled by the film itself. It is not just surface changes like turning the agent Cable from a male to a female in order to provide a love interest, or turning Arcane from an aging magician into a mad scientist but far more than that. Gone is the dark moodiness of the comic-book and instead the film is little more than a live-action cartoon set in the swamps. (Although, this is a model of restraint compared to the campy sequel). The Swamp Thing suit is poorly fitting. Agreedly, this suits the film’s cartoonish level, but it seems hard to believe that the creature with its ridiculously chiselled pert nose and jutting cheekbones is the same character as the scientist played by Ray Wise at the start of the film.
The plot consists of much running back and forth in the swamp and a series of tedious repetitions on Cable nearly being captured by Arcane and men, rescued by Swamp Thing and then captured again. The unexciting action sequences consist almost entirely of people being thrown through the air in slow motion. Louis Jourdan gives an awfully stilted and campy performance as Arcane. On the film’s plus side is Adrienne Barbeau whose tough and two-fisted heroine is certainly welcome.
Swamp Thing was clearly produced to jump aboard the sudden rush of screen comic-book properties in the early 1980s after the success of the Christopher Reeve Superman (1978). Producers Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan also held the rights to the Batman comic-strip around the same time and it is probably a good thing that the Tim Burton Batman (1989) did not go ahead under them. On the other hand, if Swamp Thing had gone ahead in the hindsight of Batman and adhered to the same dark brooding mood of both the Burton film and the original Swamp Thing comic-strip, this could have been a minor masterpiece. Played as the silly cartoon it is, it is a lost opportunity. Swamp Thing is one of the worst films made by the usually reliable Wes Craven.
There was a sequel with the dreadful campy The Return of Swamp Thing (1989), which features return performances from Louis Jourdan and Dick Durock. There were also two tv series:– Swamp Thing (1990), which is surely one of the greatest wastes of time ever committed to video, and the animated Swamp Thing (1991), a routine variation that turns Swamp Thing into a cartoon superhero. Swamp Thing was an extraordinarily creative comic-book – it is sad that none of its media adaptations have come remotely near its potential. Swamp Thing also makes appearances in the animated films Batman and Harley Quinn (2017) and Justice League Dark (2017).
Wes Craven’s other genre films are:– the brutality and revenge films The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977); the suburban witch film Summer of Fear/Stranger in the House (1978); Deadly Blessing (1981) about murders around a religious cult; Invitation to Hell (tv movie, 1984); A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984); Chiller (tv movie, 1985); The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1985); Deadly Friend (1986) about a teen inventor who revives his girlfriend from the dead; The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), a strikingly beautiful film about Haitian voodoo; Shocker (1989) a campily incoherent film about an undead executed killer; Night Visions (tv movie, 1990); The People Under the Stairs (1991); Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994); the Eddie Murphy vampire comedy Vampire in Brooklyn (1995); the slasher deconstruction trilogy of Scream (1996), Scream 2 (1997) and Scream 3 (2000); the werewolf film Cursed (2005); the dispossessed soul slasher film My Soul to Take (2010); and Scre4m/Scream 4 (2011). Wes Craven has also written the scripts for A Nightmare on Elm Street III: The Dream Warriors (1987), Pulse (2006) and The Hills Have Eyes II (2007), and produced Mind Ripper (1995), Wishmaster (1997), Carnival of Souls (1998), Don’t Look Down (1998), Dracula 2000 (2000), Feast (2006), The Breed (2006), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), The Last House on the Left (2009), The Girl in the Photographs (2015) and the tv series Scream: The Series (2015– ). He also created the tv series The People Next Door (1989) and Nightmare Cafe (1992).