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MGM Studios DVD presents
"There goes the neighborhood."
DVD ReviewIn 1982, coming down off of the demented dark turns of The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left—and still a couple of years before the franchise magic of A Nightmare on Elm Street—director Wes Craven dabbled in adapting a comic book into a feature film, something that has become quite a popular commodity these days. The Swamp Thing comic, from the talented duo of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, was something of a cult title, hardly mainstream but full of beautifully dark artistic weirdness (a Wrightson trademark), held together by a bizarrely transformed swamp-dwelling hero.
For comic purists, Craven's broad approach to the material lacks some of the surreal Wrightson visual magic, and the overall mood is more live-action cartoon and less brooding Gothic thriller, which is what made the books so unusual and appealing. But if you put the comparisons to the comic aside—and it is difficult to just cast the Wrightson factor aside casually—Craven's version had the advantage of being an HBO regular for a while back in the mid-1980s, earning it the same kind of repeated, unavoidable viewing that propelled it into the stratosphere of cult titles, much like what happened to Don Coscarelli's equally low-rent Beastmaster.
The story is modified a bit from the comic, but the essentials remain the same, with dedicated scientist Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) getting transformed into the Everglades-dwelling half-human/half-plant hero known as Swamp Thing (played by Dick Durock) after having a dose of his secret formula poured on him by vile villain Arcane (the dapper Louis Jordan).
For this nudity-free version of Craven's film (you'll need the OOP version for those brief bits), the suave and evil Arcane is a scientist (not a magician as he was in the comic), but he's a moustache-twirling baddie, if he had a moustache, that is, with an army of henchman and a real handle on general nastiness. Adrienne Barbeau is Cable, a tight-shirted government agent who spends most of her time running through the swamp, avoiding Arcane and teaming up with a scene-stealing youngster (Reggie Bates) to help Swampie do battle and make everything right with the Everglades. This generally involves throwing soldiers through the air in slow motion and fighting one of the goofiest-looking monsters I've seen since The Attack of the Killer Shrews.
This isn't Craven's most polished work, and the low-budget campiness factor is extremely high, appearing more often than not like a near parody than an actual dark comic homage. The Swamp Thing costume goes back and forth, sometimes looking effective—and almost evoking a Wrightson feel—and then suddenly looking like a poorly fitted green suit.
Overall it hasn't aged all that well, but like Beastmaster, if you saw Swamp Thing a million times during the 1980s, there is an undeniable attraction that all of the minimal effects and bad Barbeau line reads can never diminish.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: MGM has issued Swamp Thing as a two-sided disc, with a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer on one side and a 1.33:1 full-frame treatment on the other, which I guess is for those folks who want that nostalgic VHS quality presentation. Kudos simply for giving fans an anamorphic side, though the print suffers from major grain problems and colors look a little murky, especially when lighting is not at a premium. For fans, the print quality will more than suffice, if for nothing else to enjoy the campy weirdness, considering this is a just below B-level comic book movie.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Nothing spectacular about the Dolby Digital mono presentation, but it is a fairly clean track, with very minimal hiss issues. Sound quality is rather flat, but the comic book dialogue is always clear.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: Extras consist of the very funny theatrical trailer, but that's all. The disc is cut into 16 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThis won't replace those hard-to-find versions featuring brief Barbeau nudity, but as a comic book movie from a major genre director Swamp Thing is an acquired taste, a cheesy piece of tacky B-movie pulp. Hoky, corny, and often unintentionally laughable, beneath it all there remains an unrelenting charm that I suspect is colored by a veil of warm fuzzy nostalgia that may be lost on those younger viewers weaned on glossy, modern extravaganzas like Spider-Man or The X-Men.
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