Swamp Thing (1982)

JANUARY 3, 2009


It doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense that I have never seen Swamp Thing until now. I am a big fan of Wes Craven and own every genre movie he has made EXCEPT this one (yes – I own Vampire in Brooklyn). Plus, I watched the sequel probably 20 times as a kid, as it seemingly aired every other day on Cinemax. How did my 11 or 12 year old self understand the complexities of Jim Wynorski’s meticulously crafted film without the context one would gain from Craven’s subtle and cerebral original?

I am, as usual, joking – both movies are even sillier than the titles would have you expect. And by silly, I mean, the entire first 20-25 minutes of this movie are little more than a strung together collection of puns and one-liners. Adrienne Barbeau even gets to work in that most annoying of movie clichĂ© dialogue: “We’re sure not in Kansas anymore!” You know, maybe if someone would come up with a good line concerning his/her fear of being in a strange new world, future writers will have another one to use when they want to cover their inability to write good dialogue by dragging someone else’s line into their movie.

Once Swamp Thing is finally created, it picks up a bit, albeit only slightly. It’s a strangely all daytime set movie, and the middle of the film is essentially an extended scene of Barbeau trying to retrieve a notebook and escape the mercenary guys that the evil Dr. Arcane has hired to find her. One of them is played by David Hess, and I was hoping that he would turn into a monster that gave Swamp Thing a run for his money, like in the sequel, but no, he gets killed at the 2nd of the 2nd act, and the dude that played Pauly in Darkman takes his place as top henchman. Weak.

The finale sets up something interesting, where the formula turns you not necessarily into a swamp man, but rather something that is a metaphor for your essence. So when the henchman guy has some formula, he turns into a little impish monkey, because he is weak and small or something to that nature. But I can’t quite figure out what Dr. Arcane’s essence is, because he just turns into a kinda-cool looking monster. Way to blow your own concept (which was pretty great and should have been a focal point of the movie, not something added into the final 10 minutes), Wes. Then they have a pretty boring fight and the movie’s over.

One thing the movie does NOT skimp on is nudity. Barbeau takes a bath in the swamp water (sure, why not?) and the climax of the film takes place at what seems to be an evil villain cocktail party, complete with naked Gypsy women. The party bit is hilarious, by the way, because it looks like a regular party, with a nice meal and served drinks and such, but Arcane is openly celebrating the theft of the formula, and none of the guests seem to mind that or the fact that a woman is tied up at the table. I pictured a couple who got invited by mistake and they had to play it cool all night, only to be like “What the FUCK was that?” on the ride home.

There are also a great number of Star Wars-ish wipes throughout the movie, which I’m sure someone thought was a good idea. The usual ones are on display: pushes, clockwipes, etc. But the key one occurs late in the film, after an explosion - the wipe takes on the shape of the explosion! AWESOME! And this was way before Avids and After Effects, so some dude had to hand animate the explosion design.

One thing about the sequel that everyone hated was the two annoying kids that were trying to get a picture of Swamp Thing, and rightfully so. But it had precedent, the original had an annoying kid as well. There’s just the one, and he doesn’t ramble about snack foods, but he’s annoying in his own special way. Mainly, he talks like he’s about to fall asleep. He is seriously the most soft-spoken actor I’ve ever seen in my life, to the extent that I wasn’t even sure if his dialogue was supposed to be intelligible or just some sort of Charlie Brown’s teacher-esque background noise.

Some advice for future Horror Movie A Day-ers – when taking notes because you know that you won’t write the review for a couple days, make sure to write more than just a single word. I have written “vegetable patch” in quotations, and also “Harry” (no quotes), and I have no idea what the fuck either one is supposed to mean.. But after a few minutes I figured out what “2001” was – there’s a line early on, courtesy of a young Ray Wise (who looks nothing like the actor who will play Swamp Thing, but oh well), where he points out that the world’s population in 2001 will b 6.5 billion. He was only a little bit off, so I was pretty impressed with his 19 year old prophecy.

Oh, now I know - “Harry” is Harry Manfredini, who composed the score. I just wanted to point out that, as usual, he wrote his score by changing one note of his Friday the 13th score (which was already pretty much stolen from Bernard Herrmann) and going from there.

If I ever figure out “vegetable patch” I will let you know.

What say you?


  1. having never seen the movie, i am dying to know what vegetable patch means! as i am almost sure that it is something strange or funny

  2. I caught the end of a Swamp Thing once on cable when we were kids. It may have been the sequel. I honestly can't recall.

    What sticks out in my mind the most is a scene where somebody [male or female?] kisses a dead body [opposite sex of living person] full on the lips. All I know for sure is this. I was strangely aroused.

  3. Adrienne Barbeau was pretty awesome back in the day.

  4. So... I watched this with Dana last night. I came away with three things.

    1. My first arousal due to necro phelia must have been from the sequel. I'll let you know.

    2. Dana pointed out that Swamp Thing has the same nose as Michael Jackson. This is a good chunk of time before The Pop Prince's Mutation... was he inspired by Swamp Things profile?

    3. Also provide by Dana: The bad guy transforms into Teen Wolf.

    Oh and I disagree with you about the potion not doing what Swamp Thing claims. It turned the bad guy into a rampaging beast: He's pure evil. It's not a perfect depiction of Evil Incarnate. I'd liked to have seen a Super-Hitler or something... but it's not wrong.

  5. I've been wondering about this movie my whole life. I finally took the plunge. The first act was quite surprisingly well done. I liked some of the characters. Especially Dr. Holland (played by the guy who played Laura Palmer's father in Twin Peaks). Arcane was also suitably maniacal. Things got pretty bad once the titular character showed up. Man, did he look bad. But next to Arcane's bestial form, he looked better than freaking Gollum!

    I'll take a stab at "Vegetable Patch": Swamp Thing was a vegetable with mysterious healing/resurrection powers. When Cable was stabbed and dying, he tore off a chunk from his body, stuffed it into the wound and gave it the green neon light treatment. Perhaps the vegetable patch was the chunk of himself he stuck in the wound?

    What say you?

  6. Hahahah it's been so long I can't even remember that scene, let alone if it's what my note meant. Stupid memory.

  7. My favorite bad horror movie of all time is Nightbeast. It includes the dopeyest hero, stiff acting, most ridiculous story, mockable dialogue, terrible special effects, and the single most laughable sex seen EVER filmed. A huge and scary alien is traveling through the cosmos in his one man ship when he collides with an asteroid, causing him to crash land on the planet Earth. Wrapped in tin foil and armed with a disintegrator ray, he wreaks havoc on the nearby town of Perry Hill. One interesting note: A young J.J. Abrams actually did the music for this film.

    The director, Don Dohler is a man with a few admirers. And so, recently there was a documentary made about him titled: Blood, Boobs & Beast. If you like Nightbeast, I'd recommend The Alien Factor, an earlier film of his.

  8. I realise this is way after your original review, so your care factor about answering the ‘vegetable patch’ question has probably dropped well below zero. But I just watched this for the first time, and being a fan of your site, wanted to see what you thought.

    'Vegetable patch’ would’ve referred to a groan-worthy joke where Hess’s character and the rest of the army dudes think they’ve killed Swamp Thing with grenades but can’t locate his body. Hess asks on the radio, ‘Any sign of him over there?’ and someone responds, ‘Nothing. We think maybe he bought the farm. Or the vegetable patch.’

    Anyway, the movie is pretty bad, but still enjoyable. I noticed that the nudity you referred to was nearly non-existent in the version I watched. Must’ve been cut for Australian TV or something.


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