Forgotten Films: Swamp Thing (1982)

Swamp Thing Movie

Great comic, great poster… um… not so great movie.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 180th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

One of the things that I enjoy in my life is comic books. I got my first in 1959. I collected comics for several years and in 1962, the family moved from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Texas. My comic books at the time included early Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Thor, Hulk and Fantastic Four issues.

The comics were shipped in the family station wagon to Seattle, where we met up with it and discovered two items missing. One was a fire extinguisher; the second my stack of comics. I was devastated. We were about to embark upon a family trip, driving from Seattle to Dallas over a two-and-a-half-week period. We went to the Seattle World’s Fair, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and more. We got to see some military bases, including a naval station and a nuclear sub! Wow!

But two and half weeks in a station wagon with my parents, smoking two packs a day each, without comics was going to be hell, so pretty much every time we stopped I picked up more. This started a comic collection that lasted until 1968. My parents said they were not moving the comics anymore and that I had to rid myself of the collection, which I did a two cents apiece. I was crushed again.

But, soon, in college, I found my niche and friends who loved the illustrated page as much as I did. Among the titles starting to come out was Swamp Thing. (Hey, you knew the story was going somewhere.) Swamp Thing was a DC comic written by Len Wein and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson. It became a favorite comic because it was intelligently written and impeccably illustrated. The team worked together for only ten issues before they went in different directions. But Swamp Thing remained a classic.

So, you can guess my reaction in 1982 when this film (as you should remember, this column is about films) was announced and released. The track record of comic films at that time was not very good (except for Superman 1 and 2). And I was not familiar with the director at the time. His name was Wes Craven. Somehow I had missed his earlier directing stints, including The Hills Have Eyes.

So, I went to the theater and sat through the film. It was a mess. The story of Dr. Alec Holland and his botanic research in the swamp was there. The vicious attack by thugs and the horrific death suffered by Holland and his wife was there. The villain Arcane was there. Beyond that, things were muddled.

Dr. Alec Holland (played by the inimitable Ray Wise) has a shop in the swamp with his wife Linda (Nannette Brown). One of his security people has left and is replaced by Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau). As Cable arrives, some of the security network starts to malfunction and Alec and Alice investigate to find that wiring has been cut. When they return to the lab, some serendipity happens and the formula he’s creating starts to work in a fantastic manner.

Then the bad guys of Arcane (Louis Jordan) begin to arrive. Notebooks full of Alec’s research are taken, Linda is shot and Alec is doused in his formula and lit on fire. He runs screaming into the swamp, where he dies. Cable is hiding during some of this and has found the final notebook with the truly relevant information.

Now, the film falls off the rails. We get lots of shots of inept mercenaries trying to find Cable and we get the first appearance of the title character. Hollywood actor/stuntman Dick Durock wears the rubber suit and tries to make something out of the mess. Somehow he learns to speak, which the Swamp Thing in the comics did not regularly do.

There is some comic relief with a young black man running a gas station who is there when Alice runs in trying to escape Arcane. Reggie Batts plays Jude and is only in the film a few minutes. Soon, the film turns into a rubber-suit monster fight with broadswords in the swamp. Then it mercifully ends. But, like the seven year itch, the character returned in 1989 in The Return of the Swamp Thing.

As I watched this the other day, I cannot believe I watched both films back when they were released and had fairly decent memories of them. All I can say is, “I was young! So very young!” And I was starved for good comics-related films.

Pretty sure I will not be re-watching this one or the sequel any time soon. Or ever again. However, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Cocktail Hour: In honor of Wes Craven, the Deadly Friend

This week's drink toasts one of Wes Craven's least successful, but still fun, flicks.

Last weekend, the horror world lost one of its heavyweights: director Wes Craven.

Craven gifted us with controversial early films such as Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes that pushed the limits on bloodshed and brutality. Later in his career, he turned out clever, self-aware and lucrative mainstream horror such as Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent and the Rainbow and Scream.

Of course, Craven also made some less successful films during his career. For my money, one of the most enjoyable of that bunch is Deadly Friend, his 1986 riff on the Frankenstein tale.

Teen genius Paul (Matthew Laborteaux) moves into a new town, along with a robot of his creation named Bee Bee. While Bee Bee is an amazing engineering feat, his artificial intelligence has a dark (some might say psychotic) side. It doesn’t take Paul long to fall hard for Samantha (Kristy Swanson), the wholesome girl next door. Problem is Samantha’s the victim of an abusive father, and during an argument, dear old dad pushes her down the stairs.

Samantha lapses into a coma after the fall, and Paul implants Bee Bee’s AI components into the girl’s brain to bring her back. Like you do.

Of course, reanimated Samantha — now buffed with a robot’s strength and walking in a stiff and Karloff-like gait — also inherits Bee Bee’s dark side. To Paul’s horror, she begins killing off all the townsfolk who treated her badly.

Robot Samantha delivers the game-winning shot.

The movie’s primary flaw is that it can’t decide whether it wants to be a slightly dark sci-fi kid’s movie or a gory terror flick. Reportedly, that’s the result of a conflict between Craven, who wanted to make a lighter PG-rated film, and the studio, eager to capitalize on the recent success of Nightmare on Elm Street.

Despite the confusion, Craven’s wit and dark humor shine through. The gore — including the film’s money shot: a beheading by basketball — is too campy to take seriously, and the director drops in some clever nods to reward attentive viewers. Look for the scene where one of Samantha’s victims dies as her television plays The Bad Seed, a movie about a little girl with a taste for homicide.

Is Deadly Friend a Craven masterpiece? Not by a long shot, but it’s a fun, largely forgotten slice of ’80s horror that (mostly) works despite the changes the studio forced on its creator.

It’s also the inspiration for this week’s cocktail, the Deadly Friend.

This drink is a spin on the similarly named Old Pal, a classic cocktail of rye, dry vermouth and the bitter, deep red Italian digestif Campari. I substituted another bitter Italian aperitif, Cynar, which is less sweet and hits a different array of aromatic notes. Watching Deadly Friend may leave you wanting something that feels less like kid’s stuff, and this cocktail’s bitter, savory qualities definitely satisfy adult tastes.


1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. dry vermouth
1 oz. Cynar

Stir all three ingredients in an ice-filled glass until thoroughly chilled and pour into a cocktail or coupe glass. Optionally, serve garnished with a sliver of orange peel.