After an explosion in his lab turns Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) into the Swamp Thing (Dick Durock), he and government agent Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) must evade capture by the evil Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan).
By 1982, Wes Craven had a reputation for producing some of America’s most violent films, making him an odd choice to adapt this DC Comics property. This led to a production fraught with studio interference and practical turmoil, as costumes rotted and actors collapsed in the heat. What emerges from this swamp is a clearly mangled but weirdly fun comic book movie.
While the swampy setting and intimidating presence of David Hess recall The Last House on the Left, Swamp Thing‘s campy, sentimental tone could hardly be more different. That being said, the film’s central idea of fighting evil to find goodness and beauty runs throughout Craven’s work, and his horror influences can be seen in the film’s references to 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein.
Craven also knows his way around special effects, and stages some remarkable action in and around water, including an astonishing sequence in which a man goes on fire and runs around for 20 seconds – an effect he’d re-use in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
All the money may have been blown insuring this one stuntman, because the monster costumes look like Halloween store dregs. It doesn’t help that Durock, despite having once played the Hulk on TV, gives the Swamp Thing good posture and ends up looking like a green Chris Grayling.
It’s fortunate then that Craven keeps the focus on Alice Cable, originally Matt Cable in the comics. She features more than the eponymous hero and stands out as an admirably tough and smart character – though not smart enough to recognise that Swamp Thing is obviously Alec Holland. Barbeau kicks ass in the role, and while her bathing scene is completely gratuitous, it might explain the film’s success on home video. Apparently there are no bras in the bayou.
Wise meanwhile is typically great as Holland, and although he’s only in the first few scenes, playing a plant-man clearly prepared him well for the plant-sounding role of Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks.
With its eccentric ’60s comic book vibe complete with old-school screen wipes, a score by Friday the 13th‘s Harry Manfredini and a dodgy climactic fight that looks straight out of early Star Trek, Swamp Thing is a strange beast indeed – an entertaining ride that’s as bumpy as Swamp Thing’s skin. The best Wes Craven/Twin Peaks crossover continues to be The People Under The Stairs, but this is still a damn fine cup of crazy.