Celebrating Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing

Revisiting the forgotten 1980s superhero cult classic.

Celebrating Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing.

The 1980s was a very different time for comic book movies.

Tim Burton had yet to bring Batman to the big screen while the only real cinematic success of note had come with Richard Donner’s Superman in the late 1970s.

Hollywood studios didn’t really know what to do with the various superhero entities gracing the likes of Marvel and DC Comics – but they knew they wanted to do something.

Into the breach came Swamp Thing, the tale of a research scientist who, after a violent incident involving some special chemicals, is transformed into a swamp planet monster.

An outlandish concept on paper but one that harked back to the Universal monster movies of old, it was clear that a visionary filmmaker was required to bring Swamp Thing to the big screen – and Wes Craven was certainly that.

Having made his name in low budget, high shocks exploitation horror, Craven was eager to carve out a new niche.

Adrienne Barbeau and Ray Wise (left to right).

A undoubted talented filmmaker, Craven nevertheless courted controversy and criticism with his debut effort The Last House On The Left, which was heavily censored in the US and UK where it was handed an X certificate.

His mutant hillbilly horror follow-up The Hills Have Eyes may have proven a slightly more palatable prospect for censors but his third film, Deadly Blessing, had bombed, leaving Craven in need of a hit.

Swamp Thing represented a rare change to show major Hollywood studios he could handle things like action set pieces, stunts, major stars and a hefty budget.

It also gave Craven a chance at writing a different kind of movie with the horror master single-handedly crafting the film’s script.

Craven would go on to enjoy more success with seminal horror efforts like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream but those projects may not have come about had it not been for the success of Swamp Thing.

Louis Jourdan

It was Swamp Thing that gave Craven crucial experience in managing big budget monster effects the likes of which would later be seen in A Nightmare On Elm Street. It also allowed Craven to dabble in the kind of post-modernism later popularised in Scream, with Craven writing Swamp Thing as both a superhero tale and knowing pastiche of the mad scientist movies of the 1950s.

This kind of campy, science fiction action thriller also required a cast willing to play it straight and Craven certainly had that with John Carpenter favourite Adrienne Barbeau recruited alongside Ray Wise, a character actor who would go on to find fame on Twin Peaks.

Allied to that was Louis Jourdan, an actor best known for his villainous turn in the James Bond outing Octopussy but in his element as Swamp Thing’s Anton Arcane in a role so scene-stealingly brilliant he ended up being resurrected for the sequel.

A decidedly different comic book adaptation to Donner’s Superman, Craven’s film may not have done the same big numbers at the box office but it remains the more faithful adaptation of the two and was a success.

Distinctively shot on a budget with South Carolina doubling for the Bayou, Swamp Thing benefitted from an atmospheric soundtrack, put together by Harry Manfredini, who would go on to find fame for his music work on the otherwise forgettable Friday The 13th franchise.

Often overlooked by comic book movie aficionados despite its forefather status in the sub-genre that would eventually emerge.

And while it didn’t make Superman money, Swamp Thing still proved a big enough success to spawn a sequel The Return Of Swamp Thing.

By then Craven had gone while budgetary constraints resulted in a somewhat underwhelming follow-up. But this visually impressive and expertly told comic book creature feature remains as a testament to the work of Craven and a character ripe for a modern retelling.

88 Films presents Swamp Thing on Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD 25 March 2019.

Previous Post
Next Post