I have to come right out of the gate and admit that Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing is not a favorite of mine. When the film was released in 1982, DC Comics anointed the now-legendary author/sociopath, Alan Moore (Watchmen /V for Vendetta), as the writer of the series, and, by the time I got around to seeing the movie for myself (on VHS a year or so later), I’d already been captivated by Moore’s soulful, supernatural reinvention of the character, and, even though I knew Craven’s film preceded Moore’s involvement in the comics, I’d hoped against hope that the vibe of Saga of the Swamp Thing would somehow find its way into the film. Craven, however, gleaned his inspiration from the early 70s era Swamp Thing, which was sort of a mish-mash of EC Comics horror and superhero tropes that, save for Bernie Wrightson’s incredible artwork, never really appealed to me. Craven would also up the eco angle, making Swamp Thing something of a slime-coated Smokey the Bear, while, at the same time, embracing the hokey, jokey pre-Batman conception Hollywood had of comic book properties in general (although, thankfully, not to the level of Jim Wynorski’s Troma-like Return of the Swamp Thing).
In other words, I just didn’t dig it.
Now, Scream Factory has yet to disappoint me with any of their releases, but I have to admit that this was one of the titles I was least anticipating, thinking it’d be more at home on the company’s parent label, Shout!Factory, as I just felt that Swamp Thing’s horror connection was tangential at best. Yes, it’s helmed by a man who many consider a “master of horror”, there are a few horror icons scattered throughout the cast (Durock, Wise, Barbeau, and Last House on the Left alum, David Hess), and Swamp Thing is, for all intents and purposes, a monster, but, for a label that’s now become the very definition of horror on home video, I just felt that Swamp Thing was too “soft” a choice to take up a spot that could be better filled by a movie more in keeping with Scream Factory’s oeuvre.
With that rant aside, let us now move on to the review, shall we?
Researchers Alec Holland (Ray Wise) and his sister, Linda (Nanette Brown), are holed up in a remote swamp, working on an experiment involving plant/animal hybrids. Alec and Linda’s work is being closely monitored by the government as its success could prove to be a powerful weapon, so Agent Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) is sent to check up on the siblings and gauge their progress. Alice is disarmed by Alec’s passion for his work, as well as his optimism that his research could be a boon for mankind, and the two become drawn to one another. Their courtship is cut short, however, when Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jordan) and his mercenary group attack the lab in order to steal the Holland’s research, killing Linda in the process, and sending Alec shambling off into the swamp, covered in the formula he created, and engulfed in flames. Alec soon reemerges from the murky depths as the titular Swamp Thing (Dick Durock), and, along with Alice, seeks out Arcane and his men in hopes of both retrieving his precious creation and getting his just revenge.
I have to admit that Swamp Thing is much more fun and inventive than I remembered it to be. Yes, it’s still fairly cartoonish with its Creepshow-style lighting and comic-book panel camera angles, but it’s also surprisingly violent and risqué for a “PG” film (ah, yes…the glory days of the US ratings system). One has to hand it to Craven as he did really nail the whole EC Comics look and feel, and also managed to inject a heck of a lot of drama and humanity into the proceedings (things that were completely wasted on my 14 year old self nearly three decades ago).
In other words, now I sort of dig it!
Scream Factory presents the film in a very attractive 1.85:1 transfer that sports impressive amounts of fine detail, exceptionally vibrant color, and solid clarity overall. One must remember that this film was made at the height of the “Vaseline-coated lens” era of 80s cinema, so the image has an intentional softness to it that cannot be avoided. There’s also an excess of grain at times, especially in darker, shadowy scenes, but, once again, that’s to be expected given the budget and age of the film. Surprisingly, Scream Factory only opted to give Swamp Thing a single DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 audio mix rather than pair it up with an updated 5.1 track, but, to me, that’s not a problem as, save for very few examples, I tend to prefer the mono mixes over the forced multi-channel offerings. This 2.0 mix perfectly complements the film, offering a bold, crisp, and well-balanced aural experience.
While not a Collector’s Edition title, Scream Factory loads this Blu-ray/DVD Combo up with an impressive selection of extras, including a pair of new commentary tracks; the first featuring an affable and brutally honest Craven joined by Horror’s Hallowed Grounds host, Sean Clark, and the second featuring make-up FX guru, William Munn and moderator, Michael Felsher. The former track is much more entertaining and informative, as Clark and Craven seem to have a great time deconstructing the film and Craven’s humility is quite refreshing. Munn’s track is a bit dry and very FX oriented, so there’s a lot of dead air in between FX heavy scenes.
Featurettes include Tales From the Swamp with Actress Adrienne Barbeau (HD), and it’s exactly what it sounds like; a fairly lengthy interview in which the still hot actress talks about her experiences making the film, as well as the horrors of working in a swamp!
Hey Jude with Actor Reggie Batts (HD) is another look back, this time from the perspective of Batts who, in his only film role, portrays the heroic young swamp denizen, Jude. Batts is enormously grateful for the experience of being in a film, and his recollections of the production and the awe it inspired in him are really quite touching.
In addition to having a ridiculously lengthy title in which it mentions Swamp Thing twice, That Swamp Thing: A Look Back with Len Wein, Creator of Swamp Thing offers a short-but-sweet interview with the creator that touches upon both the character’s origins, as well as Wein’s own metamorphosis from artist to writer.
Rounding out the extras are the film’s theatrical trailer (HD) and a fairly extensive photo gallery.
While Swamp Thing is still a bit of a goof, I was pleasantly surprised when I revisited the film after some time (decades!) between viewings. It’s not a patch on the recent comics-to-film adaptations, but it’s a solid enough attempt, especially from a time when Hollywood had yet to get beyond the camp mentality it applied to anything remotely comic book related. I’m still not sure if it’s a fit for Scream Factory, but what I am sure of is the fact that they did this release justice, with a very respectable transfer and an impressive selection of extras. If you’re a fan of the film, this should definitely be on your must-buy list.