Directed by Wes Craven and based on the DC Comics series, 1982's Swamp Thing begins when a well-meaning scientist named Alec Holland (Ray Wise) decides to take his research into the middle of a swamp. His sister, and fellow scientist, Linda (Nanette Brown), is along for the ride. See, he's trying to come up with a solution to world hunger problems and that shack out in the middle of the bog seems like the ideal place to look into various theories and ideas he has brewing with the requisite amount of privacy as the government doesn't want this falling into the wrong hands. As such, a government agent named Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) is sent to assist him and soon enough Alec has come up with a serum of sorts that when used properly results in the rapid growth of vegetation. Soon enough, Alec has got the hots for Alice but before Holland can do much with his findings, a gang of armed thugs (lead by David Hess!) shows up to steal his work. A struggle ensues and a whole bunch of the serum is spilt. Linda is shot and Holland is burned by the fire that ensues. He runs outside and dives off of the dock into the swamp completely ablaze in hopes that a quick swim will save his life.
And it does, though not in the way that he hopes. The serum splashed all over Holland and although most assume him dead, he soon emerges from the bog as a muck encrusted mockery of a man (Dick Durock), a hulking green behemoth seemingly made out of some combination of what's left of Alec and… the swamp. As it turns out, the aforementioned thugs were hired by the evil Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan). He's not only stolen Holland's research but his woman as well, so before you know it the Swamp Thing has waged war on Arcane, taking out his thugs and saving Alice. Understandably terrified by this creature despite its good intentions, she initially passes out but soon starts to wonder why there's something familiar about him. Arcane, however, isn't going to let Alice go just like that…
Craven's take on Swamp Thing is a whole lot of good, goofy fun. The film never takes itself too seriously, flaunting its campy comic book roots with a self-awareness that lets us all know that this is a movie meant to put entertainment front and center, with realism not even much of an afterthought. The movie goes at a good pace and contains enough monster action and mayhem to amuse, though those expecting legitimate scares may walk away disappointed (though honestly, if you came to this movie with those expectations in the first place, you're just not paying attention). Craven was still maturing as a director at this point in his career but he keeps things moving nicely and while the effects are more than a little hokey, that's half the fun of a picture like this one.
As far as the performances go, Wise is fun as Holland but obviously he's not the focal point of the movie. Once he turns into the Swamp Thing and Durock takes over, it's no longer his show and he's no longer the star. Durock lumbers around pretty effectively, he's a big guy and he knows how to throw his weight around effectively, especially in the fight scenes. Barbeau is fun in her role too, playing her part with the right mix of ‘damsel in distress' and ‘tough lady' and looking great here as well. Louis Jourdan may not be the most threatening of villains and seems more interested in long rants and speeches than menace, but with that said, that's what we've got David Hess for. If he's a bit underused here, he stills offers up an enjoyably scuzzy turn as Arcane's main thug for hire.
So yeah, when the dust settles, Swamp Thing is a pretty campy affair. It might not play things with a completely serious face and it might not offer up a whole lot in the way of scares. It does, however, succeed in that it's still a lot of fun. Though there's the potential with the different comic book takes on the character and the concept to deliver a more serious, thought provoking picture (think the Alan Moore run), that's quite obviously not what Craven and company set out to do. Instead we get a movie made in the eighties that feels like it was meant for an audience stuck back in the fifties. But it works, it's one of those movies that should bring a smile to the face of anyone who can appreciate a good, goofy monster movie.
Note: when MGM first released this movie on DVD way back when, there were a few seconds of a topless Barbeau included originally included in the international cut of the movie. There was also some minor nudity in which some dancing girls performed for the bad guys. Subsequent releases have been of the US theatrical cut which had this footage removed, and that includes on this Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory.
Swamp Thing is presented in 1.85.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer that offers a nice upgrade over previous DVD releases, so long as you keep in mind that this has always been a pretty grainy, grubby looking movie to begin with. As such, it doesn't offer the same sort of pristine viewing experience that other films have received with a nice HD upgrade, but to those familiar with the movie, the improvements should be pretty noticeable. Detail is solid in close ups, less impressive in medium and long distance shots, but colors are reproduced nicely here and shadow detail is definitely better than it has been in the past. Blacks are generally good, if not always perfect while contrast is decent if a little warm. The grain might seem intrusive to some, as it is both heavy and prominent throughout the picture, but this is all in keeping with the ‘look' of the movie. There are no obvious issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement to note nor is there any obvious banding. Skin tones look natural, texture is pretty good and all in all, fans of the film should be pleased.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono mix, but it's a good one. Dialogue is always easy to understand and the levels properly balanced. There are no issues with hiss or distortion to note and the score sounds genuinely good throughout most of the movie. Granted, there are a few spots where a surround mix might have been fun, the attack scenes and the final monster battle being the most obvious examples, but there's more depth here than you might expect not just in the more action intensive scenes but even in the quieter moments. You can hear various swamp critters in the background, flying insects here and there too, while the roar of a swamp buggy has solid power behind it. If this isn't necessarily the most enveloping mix, it definitely feels true to form and represents the movie quite well. Optional English subtitles are also provided.
The extras on the disc start off with two commentary tracks, the first of which is from Wes Craven and moderator Sean Clark. It's a good track with Craven talking about how he first became involved with this project and how he feels about it in retrospective. He tells some interesting stories about the cast and crew that he worked with on the movie, the locations used in the picture and some of the effects as well. Craven's memory for this picture is pretty sharp and you know if you've heard any of his other commentary tracks that he tells a good story. This time around it's no exception and the end result is a nice, listenable and informative track that is on topic and interesting without ever getting dry. The second commentary comes courtesy of William Munns, the man who did the makeup effects for the movie. As you could probably have guessed, the emphasis here is on the effects work with William not only sharing how he did what he did here but also discussing how past experiences came into play and how he'd wind up working on other effects heavy movies in the future. The pacing here isn't quite as solid, there are some stretches of dead air, but for the most part Munns is an interesting guy and that comes across here which makes this one, if not essential, still very wortwhile.
From there, we get three featurettes starting with Tales From The Swamp, a seventeen minute interview with leading lady Adrienne Barbeau. Always charming and interesting, she shares some stories about working on this project, discussing her character and what was required of her during the shoot as well as what it was like working with the cast and crew on the picture. From there, check out the fifteen minute Hey Jude which is an interview with Reggie Batts. He too shares some fun stories from the set and gives us a bit of biographical information and a quick career overview. He's got a very likeable personality and is quite fun to listen to as he's very animated and enthusiastic about all of this. Last but not least, we get the thirteen minute That Swamp Thing featurette which is an interview with Len Wein, the author who, along with comic book artist Berni Wrightson, brought the Swamp Thing character to life in four color form way back in the pages of DC Comics' House Of Secrets in 1972. He gives us some insight into what it was like creating for comics at the time and talks about where some of the ideas for the character came from.
Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, the movie's theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. All of the extras on the disc are in high definition. As this is a combo pack, there's a DVD version of the movie included as well.
Swamp Thing remains a lot of fun, a great mix of action and science fiction with some solid monster mash chaos going on and fun performances by an interesting cast highlighted by Barbeau. Craven keeps things moving at a good pace and as hokey and goofy as it might all be, it's hard not to have a good time with it. Shout! Factory have done a fine job bringing the movie to Blu-ray, even if it is the slightly tamer American theatrical cut, offering it up in decent shape and with a solid array of supplements too. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.