The Strange World of Wes Craven's 'Swamp Thing' [Blu-ray Review]

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The 1980s started strong ("Superman II") and ended stronger ("Batman") for DC Comics on film, but the middle of the decade saw more misfires than hits. That included a pair of of not-great "Superman" sequels, "Supergirl" and the campy "Return of Swamp Thing."

One bright spot was 1982s "Swamp Thing" from "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "The Hills Have Eyes" director Wes Craven, who made his first and really only foray into straight-up action with this adaptation of the bog-dwelling DC hero. "Swamp Thing," while a little uneven, receives an excellent disc this week from Shout! Factory, giving us a chance to head back into the swamp and get a little mutated.

The film stars Ray Wise ("Twin Peaks") as Dr. Alec Holland, who discovers a compound which will create the perfect animal/plant hybrid for some reason. But Louis Jourdan's Anton Arcane has other plans for the compound and is determined to reach immortality (somehow), so he trashes the good doctor's lab and chucks the doctor himself into the swamp in a flaming mass. And thus, Swamp Thing is born.

Craven, who wrote the screenplay for the film, was able to get at the essence of the Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson creation. As modern audiences, we might balk at some of the deliberate campiness, like the hapless goons or the inclusion of the wisecracking Jude (Reggie Batts), but Craven was able to create something unique with "Swamp Thing" thanks to taking its title character seriously alongside detours into the grotesque (the pig man transformation is still unsettling to me).

Dick Durock (who would later go on to play the character in the USA live-action series as well as "Return") is both a noble and savage Swamp Thing while Jourdan plays Arcane with effortless menace. His kind of crazy is very matter-of-fact and under-played in a way that makes the villain all the more dangerous. Genre veteran Adrienne Barbeau ("The Fog," "Creepshow") does what she can as Swamp Thing's love interest, but she struggles with the leap from tough-as-nails government operative to swooning damsel in the final act.

So the movie's not bad--how's the disc?

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Special features

The "Swamp Thing" we ultimately ended up with in theaters was not the one that Craven intended to shoot. The special features, including an illuminating commentary by Craven, reveal a production beset by last-minute budget cuts from its producers Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan. Craven, as we saw on the "Deadly Blessing" disc, was no stranger to rolling with the punches and in his commentary, he's nothing but gracious about the whole experience, detailing the ways in which he and his production team worked within their constraints to deliver the best "Swamp Thing" they could.

  • Audio Commentary with Wes Craven: Craven's feature-length commentary is thoughtful and complimentary to his production team, with many kind words directed toward beleaguered actress Barbeau as well as the late, great Dick Durock.
  • Audio Commentary with Makeup Artist William Munns: Did you know they had to go through multiple suits out there in the swamp? Apparently, you can't put a foam latex costume in the hot swamp water as it will dissolve pretty much on contact. Munns, who worked on "The Beastmaster" and "Return of the Living Dead" details some of the challenges and processes of creating the effects for the North Carolina-based shoot.
  • Tales From the Swamp (16:56, HD): Actress Adrienne Barebeau talks about the harrowing experience of shooting the film, her own disappointed reaction to the finished product, and how she's come to embrace the surprise fandom around "Swamp Thing." Barebeau is, for lack of a better phrase, a classy lady, and never has a bad word for Craven or anyone on the production save her own performance. Oh, and she tackles the nude scene issue that led to the recall of MGM's 2000 DVD of the film.
  • Hey, Jude (14:30, HD): What was it like being a first-time child actor on the set of a comic book movie? Actor Reggie Batts who plays Jude in the film recounts his time on set and his own comic book fandom.
  • That Swamp Thing (13:19, HD): "Swamp Thing" creator Len Wein details some of the history of the film and the character as well as Joel Silver's later efforts to bring Swamp Thing back to the big screen in a CG-heavy reboot. Keep a listen out for Wein's very nice words for his "Swamp Thing" predecessors Alan Moore and Scott Snyder.
  • Theatrical Trailer (01:31, HD): Distributor Empire Films really pushed "Swamp Thing" as a big, crazy action movie that also happened to be a creature feature.
  • Photo Gallery

The disc also includes a DVD copy of the film as well as reversible cover art featuring the French poster for "Swamp Thing" as well as production stills.

"Swamp Thing" is available now in a Blu-ray/DVD combo today from Shout! Factory.