Swamp Thing [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - America - MVD Visual
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (8th August 2023).
The Film

Deep in an uncharted swamp in the Deep South, Dr. Alec Holland (Twin Peaks' Ray Wise) and his sister Linda (Nannette Brown) have been working on a Recombinant DNA experiment to breed plants with the "animal aggression to survive." Alec succeeds in his work just as he falls in love with Alice Cable (The Fog's Adrienne Barbeau), a government scientist who has arrived on the project to replace another technician who had a run-in with an alligator.

No sooner do they see just what his solution is capable of doing than supervillain Arcane (Gigi's Louis Jourdan) swoops with is foot soldiers lead by Ferret (Last House on the Left's David Hess) and Bruno (Don't Answer the Phone's Nicholas Worth) to take it for himself with the goal of controlling the future food supply and make the world "bow or starve." In the ensuing struggle and firefight, Linda is killed and Alec is doused with his own solution, going up in flames and diving into the swamp.

Alice is the only survivor of the massacre, making off with the last notebook that Arcane needs to reproduce the formula with the only help she can depend upon in resourceful local boy Jude (Reggie Batts). When the men pursuing Alice run afoul of the mutated half-plant/half-man "swamp thing" that once was Holland, Arcane sees new possibilities for immortality and decides to use Alice to draw the swamp thing into a trap.

Based upon the short run comic series from the early 1970s by Len Wein, Wes Craven's film Swamp Thing is nothing special as far as DC Comics superhero films. The low budget approach just reveals how overblown the later films have become while being nothing more than an origin story in which a man (or woman) somehow mutates sometimes through the actions of a bad guy adapts to their powers, experiences the barriers his or her powers have on meaningful human interaction, and then save their love ones and/or the entire world from a villainous master plan. Holland and Alice know each other a matter of hours and kiss once before tragedy strikes, Swamp Thing sometimes Wise and most of the time Dick Durock (The Enforcer) in a suit that is the most accomplished thing about the make-up effects of William Munns (Superstition) assisted by David B. Miller (A Nightmare on Elm Street), and Steve LaPorte (Once Bitten) pops up fully-mutated and then is left to wanders the swamps with a few obligatory scenes of mourning his lost humanity amidst repeated attacks from and on Arcane's men who are after Alice. In spite of this, Barbeau and Batts are charming and Wise does manage to convey some pathos in the shots in which he wears the Swamp Thing make-up and prosthetics in close-ups, so they are as worth rooting for as the villains are deserving of their fates.

Barbeau's government scientist holds her own physically against most attacks, but viewers might get some Last House on the Left flashbacks in the brutality of the scenes of her being menaced by Hess. The climax is rather perfunctorily handled, let down by both some awful make-up effects transformations and a fight scene between two stuntmen trudging around a misty swamp. Thankfully, the open ending feels more in line with the close of a comic book story rather than an invitation for a sequel. The real triumph of the film lies in the production design of the swamplands with its half-submerged cemetery, derelict church turned high-tech laboratory, and the various backwoods locations. The photography of Robbie Greenberg (Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker) seems less deliberately diffused than hampered by the humid shooting conditions while the scoring of Harry Manfredini sounds as indebted to his Friday the 13th score as every other soundtrack he did around that time. While Craven's film was not particularly successful in itself despite spawning a sequel (which Jim Wynorski would helm with Durock and Jourdan returning and Heather Locklear as the new love interest) and a short-lived television series in 1990, Swamp Thing lived on in comics form with DC reviving the character soon after the film and several times sporadically since along with another quickly-canceled HBO Max series in 2019.
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Video

Released theatrically and on VHS and laserdisc by Embassy Pictures, Swamp Thing was available throughout the eighties and nineties in its American PG-rated version. When MGM released it on a double-sided non-anamorphic letterboxed/fullscreen DVD in 2000, it turned out to be the international version which featured topless views of Barbeau and a later a dancing girl at Arcane's party. When MGM reissued the DVD as an anamorphic transfer in 2005, the transfer was of the PG version. The PG version also surprisingly was what Scream Factory put out on their 2013 Blu-ray while the international version first turned up on Blu-ray in Germany (92:52 versus 91:12). The international version is also what appeared on 88 Films' UK Blu-ray.

MVD's 2160p24 HEVC 1.85:1 widescreen 4K UltraHD disc (the first in their 4K LaserVision line) and 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray also available as a standalone Blu-ray release as number fifty-five in their MVD Rewind Collection both feature the U.S. theatrical cut (91:20) and the international cut (93:03). The new transfer features only the most minute framing differences with the additional slivers on all four sides; however, the swamp scenes look a tad clearer while still being subject to the muggy conditions, in closer shots the foliage is no longer a mush of green, there are more discernible textures in the clothing, facial features, and latex prosthetics while the shortcomings of the original shoot remain. The Swamp Thing versus boat set piece in the middle of the film reveals that some shots are just poorly focused as if shooting in the swamp waters did not allow for the boats to always hit their marks or for the camera operator to follow focus quick enough. The greater resolution does no favors to the Arcane Monster make-up.
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Audio

Both versions include a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track. Dialogue is clear and effects get the job done although not in a particularly dynamic fashion. Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono dubs are also included for both cuts as well as optional English SDH subtitles.
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Extras

The extras package for MVD's edition provides nothing new; however, it is quite comprehensive in collecting the extras exclusive to both the Scream Factory and 88 Films Blu-rays. The 4K UltraHD disc and the Blu-ray feature both cuts of the film with the bulk of the extras on the Blu-ray disc. The two discs share a pair of audio commentaries from the Scream Factory edition for the theatrical version only (88 Films' only included the Craven commentary and synchronized it to the international cut).

On the audio commentary by Wes Craven Craven, moderated by Sean Clark, Craven discusses how he had come to Hollywood and directed some TV movies before landing DEADLY BLESSING, and that the production schedule of the film overlapped with the pre-production of SWAMP THING which he recalls as an unpleasant shoot not only because of the South Carolina swamp settings but also because of the inexperience of himself he wanted to shoot as much footage as possible of Wise in the suit but ended up not using most of it since he looked so different from Durock the producers, the effects crew (he describes the Arcane creature as "painful to look at"), and the completion bond company over their shoulders which lead to the cutting of a lot of scenes, particularly during the final third of the film (including an underwater escape scene). Curiously, both Craven and Clark suggest that their own confusion about Barbeau's "save the malarkey for your wife" line resulted from missing scenes, but it seems obvious from watching the film that she was under the misapprehension that Alec and Linda were husband and wife at first.

Also from the Scream Factory edition is the audio commentary by make-up artist William Munns, moderated by Michael Felsher in which Munns recalls becoming fascinated with special effects, studying cinema arts with a class taught by make-up artist Michael Westmore (Star Trek: First Contact) who got him a job on the make-up show at Universal Studios which gave him access to the make-up labs, odd jobs like the Blackenstein monster and The Boogens, and teaching at the Elegance Academy of Professional Makeup which offered an alternative to apprenticeships in the union (particularly for women). He recalls meeting Craven and being so enamored of the Swamp Thing comic design that he did not want to change it. On the other hand, the Arcane monster in the comic was a werewolf, and he knew what Rob Bottin had already done on The Howling and that Rick Baker was likely to blow them out of the water with what he was doing on An American Werewolf in London so he suggested a completely different creation. He discusses the shoot, the lack of planning and overlooking things by the production crew, being scapegoated early on for shoots going over-schedule only to be vindicated later on, and the draining effect of the shoot on Craven. He also describes building the suit for a different stunt performer only for Durock to come on, necessitating rebuilding the suit on Durock, as well as having to rework the design when Craven wanted Wise to be able to deliver dialogue as the creature rather than dubbing him. Other mishaps include the different pH levels of the swamp water effecting the suit differently than the lake tested it in, and Durock realizing that the heat would cook him in the suit as soon as he got out of the water so he ended up laying in the swamp between scenes.
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Also from the Scream Factory disc is "Tales from the Swamp" (16:09), an interview with Barbeau who recalls falling in love with Craven's script and being advised to do it by then-husband John Carpenter, only for the budget to be slashed as the film went into production. She recalls the Cypress Gardens shoot, working with child actor Batts, and losing her own ring which she wore for the character only for the crew to take a metal detector out into the swamp and retrieve it for her. She also discusses the nudity that appeared in the original cut which was pulled and replaced while the earlier cut appeared overseas.

"Hey Jude" (14:43) is an interview with Batts who recalls auditioning for the film, his father's reaction when he told him the film featured Barbeau and Durock, Worth having dinner with his family and attending church with them, and Jordan keeping to himself in the aftermath of his son's drug overdose.

"That Swamp Thing: A Look Back with Swamp Thing creator Len Wein" (13:20) who recalls wanting to draw for DC Comics only to be offered a writing job, the origins of "Swamp Thing", and the appeal of the comic in its human element even as Alan Moore took over and changed the origin story (making the creature a mutated plant that absorbed Alec Holland).

In "Swamp Screen: Designing DC's Main Monster" (20:34), art director Robb Wilson King (Friday the 13th, Part III) recalls working his way up from set decorator to art director when called in to assist David Nichols (The Serpent and the Rainbow) who he knew from the Venice, California film scene along with Craven. King would end up co-credited with production design because of the workload and recalls how some of the same features of the swamp that Craven and company felt were a detriment assisted him in constructing the sets. He also reflects on his working relationship with Craven and his friendship with Barbeau while on location.

From the 88 Films edition is "From Krug to Comics: How the Mainstream Shaped a Radical Genre Voice" (17:36), a video essay by critic Kim Newman who sees Deadly Blessing and Swamp Thing as transitional films between Craven's earlier works and his more mainstream productions while seeing stylistic and thematic links between the likes of Last House on the Left and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and also noting that Craven was one of the filmmakers best able to adapt to the times (noting that Scream was as much the epitome of nineties horror as the aforementioned films were to the 1970s and 1980s).

The Blu-ray disc also includes the theatrical trailer (1:31) and several photo galleries culled from both the Scream Factory and 88 Films discs: poster/lobby cards (1:24), photos from the film (8:19), William Munns' behind the scenes photos (1:24), and behind the scenes photos by Geoffrey Rayle (3:23).
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Packaging

The disc comes packed with a slipcover and a foldout poster.

Overall

As a DC Comics adaptation, Swamp Thing is nothing special but it has a certain charm thanks to cast and its transitional position in Wes Craven's filmography.

 


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