Insomniac Movie Theater: Swamp Thing

by Trevan McGee on July 15, 2010

in Columns,Insomniac Movie Theater

Swamp Thing Movie Poster64 million people a year suffer from insomnia and every so often I am one of them. But rather than use the extra time I’ve been given during a given insomniac episode to be productive, balance my checkbook, study for the LSAT or exercise, I instead fool myself into thinking the time isn’t my own and can therefore guiltlessly waste it.

Netflix instant queue is the perfect response to this mentality as it gives me access to countless B and C movies all of which I willingly watch while everyone else is fast asleep. Enter Insomniac Movie Theater, where I subject myself to some of the worst, campiest and outright terrible movies the world has to offer … and the occasional cult classic.

Before “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” proved comic book adaptations could make serious money and before Tim Burton put his own spin on the Batman franchise, comic book movies were rare, awkwardly handled tripe. Then, comic book movies were given shoestring budgets and skintight shooting schedules and it showed.

“Swamp Thing” is a prime example of how not to do a comic-book movie.

Monsters and midgets? Sounds promising enough. Written and directed by Wes Craven, “Swamp Thing” takes place deep in the Louisiana swamps where brilliant scientist Alec Holland is working on a weaponized plant serum that is highly sought after by the nefarious Anton Arcane. Adrienne Barbeau shows up as Alice Cable, an agent assigned to assist Holland.

Not long after her arrival Holland has a breakthrough. His weaponized plant serum while somewhat volatile, actually regenerates cell growth in plant life. Naturally, Arcane reveals himself, steals the formula, torches Holland’s lab and bastes Holland in his own wonder serum, sending him screaming and burning into the heart of the swamp.

What follows is a pretty standard 80s B-movie complete with forgettable enemies, atrocious special effects, and the prerequisite amount of partial nudity from Barbeau. It’s revealed that Holland’s serum amplifies the quality of a person’s character, allowing them to mutate into something reflective of his or her moral fiber. Holland becomes the titular Swamp Thing, while the thug Bruno becomes the midget shown in the trailer and here:

Arcane, however, becomes a combination of an orangutan, werewolf, and a walleye. I’m pretty sure that Craven spent his entire effects budget on Dick Durock’s Swamp Thing costume. Mutated Arcane can’t blink, there’s no articulation in the face, and his mouth can’t open or close. It’s no wonder he enters the movie’s final battle with a sword.

Craven’s movie is a cheap monster flick that owes more to “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” that should be allowed, but there are a few charming elements to the movie. Louis Jourdan is a serviceable villain and there’s definitely a guerrilla element present in the shooting and staging. “Swamp Thing” really feels like it was made in two weeks.

As far as its faithfulness to the source material, “Swamp Thing” gets the details right. At the time of its filming and release, the comic book was still a pulpy adventure book with elements of sci-fi. In fact, fans of Alan Moore’s legendary run-on saga of the Swamp Thing owe this movie a debt of gratitude –– without it, DC wouldn’t have rebooted the franchise and Moore never would have written for it. That’s justification enough.

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