In the swirly mists of the vast no man’s land between the release of Superman: The Movie in 1978 and Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, not a lot of other superhero releases were happening – unless you count the continuing (and declining) adventures of the Man Of Steel. However, one character from the funny books DID in fact manage to make a sludgy splash in the boggy marshlands of comic book movies, and that was Swamp Thing. Unfortunately after making said splash, it promptly sunk without a trace.
Alice Cable (played by spunky cult actress Adrienne Barbeau) has arrived in the fetid swamps of the American south to assist in a top-secret bioengineering project where other scientists have mysteriously gone missing. Here she meets head scientist and all round nice guy Alec Holland and his sister who are trying to unlock the secrets of something or other by screwing around with the DNA of plants and animals but things go impressively south with the arrival of rival evil scientist (do you have to do get different phd’s to be an EVIL scientist?) Anton Arcane, here played by a purring Louis Jordan. Him and his mercs cause Alex to burn alive and flee into the swamp after getting covered in his own miracle compound.
As Cable goes on the run from Arcane’s goons she bounces from chase scene to scene, repeatedly getting helped by the appearance of a hulking swamp monster who, when not thwarting bad guys by chucking them around like a second rate wrestler, wanders around the Everglades howling in anguish (good to have a hobby, I suppose).
Of course, long story short, old swampy obviously turns out to be Alec, mutated by his own work into a creature who is super strong, virtually immortal and has rubbery skin that bunches uncontrollably at the armpits. So begins a series of increasingly irritating, badly shot action sequences that eventually ends with Swamp Thing mud wrestling with a mutant wolf thing with a sword.
It’s not that surprising that a low budget 80’s adaption of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s imaginative DC/Vertigo horror comic would turn out so awful, but what IS surprising is that it took director Wes Craven to do it. Craven, takes a shot for the big time after his traumatizing gore epics, Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes, and misses by a country mile due to either a lack of budget, experience or knowledge of the source material. Let the man make an intellectual fright epic loaded with viscera and social commentary and you get gold, but this is so out of Craven’s wheelhouse it’s almost embarrassing as the tone is wildly uneven, the action is terribly staged and any attempt at humour falls flatter than four year old soda. It’s not even apparent who the film is supposed to be aimed at as broad performances and jokey dialogue sit uncomfortably next to awful monster costumes and cheap nudity.
Virtually every aspect of the film fails, from the score from regular Friday The 13th composer Harry Manfredini (who scores it like, you’ve guessed it, a Friday The 13th movie), to Swamp Thing’s stunningly bad makeup (seriously, did they just put some vines on a green wetsuit or what?) but some things rise above the mire. Adrienne Barbeau gives good heroine despite getting kidnapped every ten minutes, Louis Jordan doesn’t seem to know (or actually care) what kind of movie he’s in to amusing effect and Craven’s Last House On The Left buddy, David Hess is on hand as a shifty merc but nothing can save this wretched movie from proving why only superman movies were the primary source of cinematic superheroes during the 80’s.
Bored on the bayou…