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TCM Underground - October 2018
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Swamp Thing

The adventures of DC and Marvel comics heroes now account for a huge share of Hollywood profits, but in the 1980s comic book projects had difficulty getting to the screen. Low budgets and the inadequacy of pre- computerized special effects were factors in studio disinterest. While future gold mines like Spider-Man (2002) floundered un-filmed, small companies picked up the slack. In 1982 indie horror director Wes Craven filmed the DC comic Swamp Thing for Embassy Pictures. Created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, the character Swamp Thing has seen several comic re-boots, giving him widely variable origins and powers in each iteration. Written by Craven himself, this first movie reverts to an early version of the character as a noble scientist. Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise, notably from the first film RoboCop, 1987) is doing beneficial botanical research in a Louisiana swamp (actually South Carolina). Believing that Holland has perfected a formula for immortality, the evil Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan) raids the lab with his armed henchman. Burned and soaked with chemicals, Holland is transformed into a monstrous, powerful plant-creature (played in a rubber-suit costume by stuntman Dick Durock). At this time Craven was seeking to go beyond his reputation as the maker of the notorious The Last House on the Left (1972) and to that end Swamp Thing is an odd hybrid. Although the violence is kept somewhat in control to maintain a kid-safe PG rating, the film's level of sadism is rather high. Co-star Adrienne Barbeau plays Alice Cable, a government agent who befriends the mutated Swamp Thing. Already something of a scream queen due to her appearances in her (then) husband John Carpenter's genre thrillers The Fog (1980) and Escape from New York (1981), Barbeau is showcased in a brief nude scene, out in the swamp. As was the case in RoboCop, the villains are cartoonish yet vicious. Former matinee idol Louis Jourdan is a suave villain; his next role would be as a Bond villain opposite Roger Moore in Octopussy (1983). Special makeup effects designer William Munns concocted an impressive latex monster suit for the six-foot, six-inch Dick Durock to wear, a good match for the angular, pointy-chinned creature drawn by Bernie Wrightson. Swamp Thing lacks spectacle and graphic-novel dynamism, due mostly to budget constraints. It did turn out to be a good steppingstone for director Craven. Two years later he would strike horror pay dirt initiating his own profitable franchise with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and its memorable bogeyman Freddie Krueger. The biggest winner by far was tyro producer Michael E. Uslan, a comics expert who would go on to produce or executive produce an enormous franchise of Batman movies, cartoons and spin-offs for Warner Bros.

By Glenn Erickson

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