'Swamp Thing' Movie Review - Camping Out in the Swamp
Is this film worth watching?
With the current Swamp Thing TV series airing on DC Universe, I have been going back and reading earlier Swamp Thing media. After reading the 1970s comic series, I decided to give the 1982 film a view. I have thoroughly enjoyed the fantastical aspects of the original comic series, including the sorcery, Un-Men, the time travel, the T-Rex, and the demon Nebiros. But as was the case with the new TV series, I went into this film expecting something more grounded. I was intrigued by the fact that this was the fifth film both written and directed by horror filmmaker Wes Craven, with the subsequent film being A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Alec Holland (Ray Wise) is depicted as a scientist with a romantic side to him, admiring the beauty of swamps as he does research. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan) is the leader of a paramilitary group trying to take over his operation. In the original Swamp Thing comics, Arcane is a scientist and magician who creates the Un-Men. I suppose that one could consider him a necromancer. While I did expect him to have a more grounded role in this, I found him to be underwhelming and not particularly memorable as a villain.
Once a lab disaster transforms Alec Holland into Swamp Thing (Dick Durock), his love interest, a government agent named Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau), is constantly on the run. She is actually an amalgamation of the characters Matt Cable and Abby Arcane. She fulfills a damsel in distress role that feels really repetitive to watch. Swamp Thing himself is expressive enough, especially in a scene where he heals a gas station attendant named Jude (Reggie Batts). He is able to convey how he feels about Alice. But some scenes come across as feeling awkward, including the moment when he watches Alice bathe in the swamp water.
In the comics, Alec Holland has a wife named Linda Holland, who gets murdered. Here, Linda Holland (Nannette Brown) is his sister. She is still a scientist like her comic book counterpart, but this change of relationship feels odd. After she gets shot, she feels forgotten for the rest of the film. It seems that viewers are mainly supposed to care about Alec and Alice in this story.
Again, this is a Wes Craven film. But it does not feel like the horror movie that one might expect from knowing this info. Whatever horror movie tropes it has feel very watered down. Rated PG, it feels more like an action adventure film in the scenes where Swamp Thing tries taking down Arcane's forces. It feels more campy than is preferred. At one point, Swamp Thing causes a boat to flip over, and then we get a slow motion shot of that as the military men deliver their elongated, "Oh sh**!" Some of the dialogue feels too awkward to be taken seriously ("You wanna play rough, huh?"), and a line like Swamp Thing's, "Everything's a dream when you're alone," should feel thought-provoking. But the delivery and the context stifle the effect.
There are also wipe transitions that feel very out of place. I'm used to seeing these at the end of scenes, but some appear in the middle of sequences here. Some are the standard side wipe, a couple are clockwise wipe, and one is a silly star or explosion-shaped wipe. It is fine for comic book movies to be fun, but this just feels ridiculous. The slow pacing of this hour-and-a-half movie, with its forgettable score, certainly does not help.
Even when taking into account that this film was in some ways limited by its resources and the time at which it was released, I still believe that it could have been a lot better. It neither does justice to the comic series that came before it nor works well simply as a film on its own. It does make me curious about whether it has somewhat of an influence on the 1982 Swamp Thing comics that followed, but I would hope for those to be better stories. I am aware that there is a sequel titled The Return of Swamp Thing, but I do not feel excited to give it a watch anytime soon, given the lackluster presentation of this first film. As such, I give this Swamp Thing movie the following rating:
3/10 - Really bad, in my opinion. Swamp Thing (1982) feels like it does not quite know what it wants to accomplish. You would be better off watching DC Universe's Swamp Thing show, which commits more to a horror aesthetic.