It’s a thing, from the swamp…
Government chick Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) is assigned to protect research scientist Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) and his sister Dr. Linda Holland (Nannette Brown) and their plant research from the evil Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan). Dr. Arcane – what a stupid name – want this research because … I guess … he’s evil, and evil guys need plant research. When Ferret (David Hess) and his mercenaries screw up the snatch of the research, Dr. Alec Holland gets turned into a monstrous thing of the swamp called SWAMP THING!!!!
The events of the film follow the usual pattern in a Frankenstein story with a couple of small twists. Dr. Holland becomes the Swamp Thing (Dick Durock) through the application of science that involves tragedy, but instead of being a jerkoff scientist who tries to meddle in those regions in which man-is-not-meant-to-tread, he’s a nice guy who’s trying to solve world hunger. When he becomes a monster, Holland still retains his humanity and his benevolent outlook on the world, though he has no problem squishing the head of Ferret when he gets the chance. He’s more a creature of sadness whose life’s work will never be accomplished because some jerkoff got the idea of snatching his work and killing anyone who was in the way. Jerkoffs make plots happen. Sure, Dr. Holland ends up deformed by the transformation to Swamp Thing, but he retains his mind and gains super strength and the ability to regenerate lost limbs, both of which are pretty cool. Getting a research grant should be fairly easy for him as I doubt any committee would be too keen on turning down someone who could squish their heads in a fairly bad special effect.
Cable, though put in the role of the tough heroine with a job to do, really doesn’t have much more to do than the usual female in a superhero film; she obligingly gets kidnapped. The problem with Cable is that she’s supposed to be the government’s bad ass sent out to look after an important asset – or else do his maintenance, the script isn’t particularly clear on this point – but she behaves in a moderately stupid fashion by hanging around the burned-out lab or not simply doubling back to the gas station after evading the mercenaries. Speaking of the mercenaries, she’s not particularly good at evading them in general, yet Washington thought she was the person for the job. Affirmative action in action I guess. To be fair though, she probably exists to add some chick to a comic book and, since Swamp Thing is the titular hero, is there for nerd-lust purposes. I’d like to thank Craven for the nude scene.
Dr. Arcane is like one of those Bond villains who’s evil because the plot demands it rather than any other good reason. A man like him, smart enough to understand the cutting-edge botanical genetics research of Dr. Holland, should be able to make a great living as a paid shill for whichever company needs a Ph. D. whore to make themselves sound good in court or advertising copy. Really though, Dr. Arcane is an uninteresting character – though he does hire lousy actresses (Mimi Craven) to work for him – because he’s just a bad guy and nothing is done to characterize him except to give him an insatiable lust for power. That sort of bag guy in the black hat stuff is tedious and really hurts what was an interesting film as a superhero story that lacks an intriguing villain is nothing more than a mindless slug-fest, and there are already plenty of Arnold Schwarzenegger films out there to watch if I want that.
Probably the most interesting character of the film is Jude (Reggie Batts), the young black kid that Cable picks up at the gas station. This kid is a lot of fun as he seems to be this film’s Sancho Panza, completely unflappable and totally loyal to Cable even though he met her moments before psychos with machine guns blew away his workplace … or maybe because she got psychos with machine guns to blow away his workplace, either way. The look on his face when Swamp Thing does a Jesus and heals him is priceless as a giant green man standing over him seems to be no big deal. It could just be poor writing or perhaps really strange acting from the kid, but Jude is far more engaging than the professional actors were able to make their characters. It’s a real shame that the actor, Reggie Batts, apparently never acted again as he showed real talent. Screw the rest of the film, I want more Jude!
The amount of bad science in this film is appalling even for a comic book adaptation. The first problem is the combination of human and plant into a single entity, something that is not really possible because of how radically differently human and plant cells operate. Putting that aside, there’s the silliness of the potion pulling some Jekyll and Hyde crap by amplifying the existing personality of the person who takes it, which turns a mild-mannered doctor into a giant plant man and does unfortunate things to bad guys. Bruno (Nicholas Worth), one of the mercenaries, is turned into a midget – interestingly enough the potion also affects the DNA of his clothing, causing it to shrink with him – when he gets affected by the stuff while Dr. Arcane turns into a giant pig-monster (Ben Bates) that looks like a cheap version of crossed with the monster fighter from . Note to producers: when I compare your monster to either of those two, it’s not a good thing.
Ultimately, this film suffers from a terminal case of comic book silliness. The characters all have stupid names and murky motivations – I’m sure their motivations were really clear and interesting in the comic books or something. – and the whole thing is just an excuse to pull out the same old nonsense once again. It seems that it’s next to impossible to properly adapt a comic book to cinema as comic books have their own level of acceptable melodrama and fans who have a really creepy level of personal involvement in their heroes that no one will be pleased. Nor will most fans of Wes Craven since it is quite different from his usual fare as it’s a movie about a guy in a rubber suit who fights another guy in a rubber suit for rubber suit supremacy. Oh well.