Monday, July 19, 2010

Swamp Thing (Wes Craven, 1982)

"Water meadowland and small shot for the ducks. He walks in the mud, moves aside the reeds. No clapping of wings, no motions around. Just a singing wind in an ominous silence." Why, you may ask, am I quoting the lyrics to "The Bog" by Bigod 20? Well, at first, even I didn't know. But then it dawned on me, the lyrics to that sinister dancefloor jam (I highly recommend the "Techno Duck Mix") and Swamp Thing, a moist chiller from director Wes Craven (The People Under the Stairs), bare a striking resemblance to one another in terms of foggy tone and murky relevance. It's true, I could have started off on a tangent that compared the Adrienne Barbeau cleavage festival with "Swamp Thing" by The Chameleons. But if you check the lyrics to that song, you'll quickly realize that the words being sung/uttered have very little to do with an actual "swamp thing." Or maybe they do, and I'm just looking at them from a too prosaic point-of-view. Ironically, both songs were played heavily at Toronto area nightclubs like the Boom Boom Room and Catch 22 circa 1991.

While the self-satisfied sensation I'm feeling over the fact that I managed to tie together songs by Bigod 20 and The Chameleons with a film that features Reggie Batts is intoxicating, I'd really like focus primarily on the cinematic work known as Swamp Thing (a.k.a. "Das Ding aus dem Sumpf"). In my defense, it should be noted that I have already alluded to the ample division that separates Adrienne Barbeau's breasts, and I've already used a number of adjectives of a slippery and shadowy nature.

By the way, if you should come across a review of this film that fails to mention Adrienne Barbeau's chest region at least once, the person who wrote it is obviously divorced from reality.

Even though I think they can be unwieldy at times, I do have fond memories of looking her animated cleavage in an ad for the film located inside Sgt. Rock #364 back when I was a smallish woodland creature.

The wettest film ever to emerge out of the festering stew that was the early 1980s, Swamp Thing, based the D.C. comic of the same name, involves a male research scientist, Alec Holland (Ray Wise), falling for a female research scientist, Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau), in the seasonally flooded bottomlands of dewy Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.A. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Only problem being that commandos under the command of a corrupt businessman, Anton Arcane (a ham-and-couscous-filled Louis Jourdan), raid the their laboratory compound just as their relationship was about to blossom and junk.

In the melee that follows, Dr. Holland is transformed into a green monstrosity after being doused with some volatile iridescent sludge, while Miss Cable flees into the swamp with the knowledge of the whereabouts to the final notebook containing the formula for the aforementioned iridescent sludge. The malevolent Arcane wants to procure the recipe in order to use on himself. Mind you, not to become a walking and talking vegetable, but so that he can harness its power to do some evil bullshit.

What transpires after Holland and Cable are cast into the swamp is a serious of commando attacks, followed by a last minute rescue. The commandos, lead by Ferret (David Hess from The Last House on the Left), would chase and harass Adrienne Barbeau, and just as her ass was about to get snuffed, Holland's green thing (portrayed by Dick Durock when in shrub mode) would jump out of the brush to help her just in the nick of time.

As you would expect, this gets tiresome after awhile. The only repetitive motif I enjoyed during all this swamp-based action was the fact that the commando played by the always excellent Nicholas Worth (Don't Answer the Phone) is violently tossed in the water not once, but three times by the Swamp Thing (it might have even been four times). Anyway, it got to a point where I anticipated his dunking with bated breath.

Surprisingly, it wasn't spacious cleavage and regenerating limbs that caught the bulk of my attention. No, what interested me most was the awesome performance by Reggie Batts as Jude, the youthful, bespeckled gas station attendant who assists Adrienne Barbeau in her mad scramble not to get murdered in a swamp setting. There was just something about his head-on line delivery that tickled my fancy. Of course, as with the majority of great film performances, Swamp Thing would end up being Reggie Batts' sole movie credit. Joining the likes of the legendary Madeleine Reynal from Stephen Sayadian's Dr. Caligari and the unheralded Kristen Riter from Student Bodies, Reggie has cemented his place in the possibly made up Panthéon of one role film careers.

The assertiveness of Adrienne Barbeau's character during the film's first third was mildly glorious, especially when Arcane's hired guns are attacking the research complex–she makes a fool out of Nicholas Worth and guns down a nameless commando. Unfortunately, this scrappiness soon turns to timidity, as she slowly evolves into a bit of a damsel in distress. She doesn't even lend a hand to Mr. Swamp Thing during the climatic battle with Arcane. It doesn't exactly ruin the movie, but it was, nonetheless, a disappointing turn of events.



  1. Those commandos look like they walked in off the set of a Troma movie.

    Come to think of it, how does that Swamp Thing costume look worse than the Toxic Avenger's?

  2. I remember loving this film as a kid (prolly for Ms. Barbeau's presence alone) but I have a feeling that the film has not aged all that well. It's a shame that they went the campy route but I guess the special effects at the time couldn't really do the original comic book justice. I'd love to see someone like Guillermo Del Toro take a crack at it now what with CGI and make-up effects so much more advanced. Plus, I think he would take it back to its dark, more Gothic roots.

  3. Chameleons & Charleston? Rock on. Still kicking myself for not seeing the reformed Chameleons in 2001. (Not in Charleston, but in ATL.)

    The current Jeopardy! champ looks like Jeremy Davies.

  4. ZedWord: I take it that looking like a commando who has just left the set of a Troma film is not a good thing. ;)

    J.D.: As far-fetched as it may sound, I hear the sequel is even more campy.

    Karim Amir: Just to let you know, my mentioning of the Chameleons and Charleston was completely organic, and in no way was it some shameless attempt to curry your favour. ;)

    Have you demanded that the Grease Sing-A-Long come to your town yet? (The ads are all over my teevee at moment.) Anyway, I'm dying to dress up as a Pink Lady.

    Speaking of being on television, Jemaine's on Jimmy Fallon tonight.

    Yeah, Jeremy Davies with a hint of one those hirsute hillbilly dudes from Nell.

  5. I love this movie. I saw it when I was a kid. You've got me wanting to see this one again.

  6. Whenever I hear the phrase "curry favor," I think about that line in the Shawshank Redemption.

    Grease sing-a-long? I think the same place that had the Mamma Mia! sing-along recently had a midnight Grease screening. (Pink Lady = gin + grenadine)

    Not only was Jemaine on the episode of Fallon, but so was Crowded House!!! The Flight of the Conchords radio series, which predated the television show, featured Neil Finn in a funny recurring role.

    We are going to watch The Runaways this weekend.

  7. Keith: Compelling people to watch films they enjoyed as children is what I sort of live for.

    Karim Amir: "You could argue he'd done it to curry favor with the guards..."

    (Pink Lady = Japanese girls in pink short shorts + disco)

    Oh yeah, Crowded House were on right after Jemaine. I couldn't believe what a Karim-centric coincidence the last ten minutes of that show were. I mean, I half expected to see Daniel Craig taking a bath as The Roots' did a cover version of The Blue Nile's "Headlights On The Parade" during the show's closing credits.

    Unfortunately, I can't watch any of the musical acts on Fallon's show. Their habit of having audience members stand behind the artists as they perform causes me much discomfort.

    I hope you like it. If anything, you should dig the sight of Michael Shannon in heavy eye makeup and a studded do collar.

    I'm going to see Hausu on the big screen in a weeks time.

  8. I have a copy of the supposed uncut version (where you see Adrienne's "Barbeaus" up close and personal) lying around but have yet to watch it. This review may have actually inspired me to, you know, do stuff or whatever. I also like that you mentioned Dr. Caligari for no reason. EVERY review should mention Caligari for no reason whatsoever(or at least Cafe Flesh).

  9. Doing stuff is the cornerstone of getting things done.

    Whenever I find myself struggling to write about a movie I'm just not that interested in, my mind will inevitably wander over to Dr. Caligari.

    Funny you should say, "or at least Cafe Flesh, as I just finished typing a bunch of words about a movie that boasts at least four references to Cafe Flesh.

  10. Yeah, Michael Shannon and his do(g) collar were honestly quite underwhelming, but d. and I have been inspired to check out the documentary on the Runaways. Did you know Cherie Currie was married to Robert Hays, the Airplane! guy? There's your useless trivia for the day.

    d. and I always laugh at the Fallon background dancers.

    Etobicoke was in the news twice this weekend: I guess some guy held up a Swiss Chalet? (Sad to here the locations in the States have closed.) Also, the PGA golf tournament was held there.

    Hey, have you heard about this Human Centipede movie?

  11. Come to think of it, does Shannon even wear a dog collar in the movie? Anyway, I hope I didn't mislead you -- you know, collar-wise.

    Robert Hays, eh? I did not know that. Thanks.

    Well, it's good to see that you two have turned a negative into a positive.

    It's been 10 years since I had any Swiss Chalet.

    Joey Votto of the Reds is from Etobicoke. He was mentioned on the news yesterday...

    Yeah, it's the flick about this guy who sews people together in an unorthodox manner. (Not to imply that there's an "orthodox" manner to sew people together.

  12. I did not enjoy this movie as a child, and even to this day, I feel there are things that just don't add up to what I feel constitutes the Swamp Thing universe.
    I read Swamp Thing (actually Spider man and Swamp thing were the first series I started buying as a 10 year old in 82-84)way before I heard of the movie and it was such a Dark menacing comic (the years I read it at least) and the artwork was amazingly rich in gory yet defined and skilled detail, and this just movie misses that totally. From what I remember, there are serious flaws in the plot translation too and patterns of personality traits.
    It was like Wes hijacked Swampy and put him in a housecoat.
    Great review though, and I love that still shot of Barbeau you posted, seemingly looking directly into the camera's eye.