Blu-ray review: Swamp Thing (1982)

Swamp Thing 3D Packshot Slipcase.jpg

Swamp Thing (1982)
88 Films, certificate 15 (out 25 March)
Originally written for Dark Side magazine

The opportunity to write and direct a screen adaptation of the Len Wein / Bernie Wrightson horror comic came at an interesting juncture in Wes Craven’s career. Having navigated his way out of hardcore pornography through exploitation cinema (The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes) into the horror mainstream (Deadly Blessing), Swamp Thing allowed Craven to demonstrate his ability to handle action scenes, location work, special effects and a relatively tight $2.5m budget. Unfortunately, despite bringing the project in on schedule and within Avco Embassy’s cost estimates, it would be nearly three years before A Nightmare on Elm Street earned him wider recognition (by which time any comics fans picking up Swamp Thing on VHS would probably wonder why it diverged so much from Alan Moore’s 1983 reboot).

The movie was clearly aimed at a family audience, although 88 Films has chosen to go with the ‘European cut’; this version features brief nudity excised from the original US theatrical release, most notably a sequence in which its well-endowed heroine Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape from New York) skinnydips under the no doubt sexually frustrated gaze of mutated biologist Alex Holland (stunt man Dick Durock, who stepped in to play the beast of the bayou after Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) found the costume too clumbersome). Heading the cast as the urbane mad scientist Anton Arcane is Hollywood veteran Louis Jourdan (1977’s Count Dracula), who was most likely fulfilling a contractural obligation when he reprised the role in Jim Wynoski’s decidedly less effective 1989 sequel The Return of Swamp Thing.

In the excellent commentary track hosted by Sean Clark (Horror’s Hallowed Grounds), Craven readily admits there were problems with the production values – Jourdan’s climatic transformation into some kind of sword-wielding werewolf is more comical than comicbook – but Swamp Thing remains a fun romp, much of its charm lying in its being produced in an era before computer graphics became a kneejerk panacea for lazy film-makers.

Extras: slipcase, 16pp photobook and A3 poster (limited edition only); commentary by Wes Craven, which drops out during the nude scenes; interviews with production designer Robb Wilson King, critic Kim Newman; original trailer. The HD restoration is very nicely handled and my only regret is that 88 Films weren’t able to import the additional commentary by makeup artist William Munns and interviews with Adrienne Barbeau and Len Wein which appeared on Shout Factory’s 2013 Blu-ray (although that release omits Ms Barbeau’s steamy ablutions).

Book review: The Night Mayor by Kim Newman

MayorThe Night Mayor by Kim Newman

[From Critical Wave #14, 1989. Originally published as a Simon & Schuster hardback, Titan’s 2015 paperback edition is currently available via Amazon.]

 

Ridley Scott has a lot to answer for: ever since Blade Runner melded Chandler and Dick into a template for the literary hybrid thence dubbed ‘Cyberpunk’, we’ve been deluged by film noir pastiches masquerading as science fiction.

Kim Newman’s stroll through the rain-soaked backlot is better than some, but its basic premise — government agents chasing a criminal genius through a construct of his own mind, reminiscent of Christopher Priest’s A Dream of Wessex — rapidly degenerates into a conveyor belt of cinematic references. Remarkably, the one element which distinguished so many of the films Newman salutes in this slim novel — suspense — is sorely lacking, blunting the narrative’s edge and leaving us with what is little more than an extended in-joke.

Book review: Horror: 100 Best Books, ed. Stephen Jones & Kim Newman

Horror100 2Horror: 100 Best Books, edited by Stephen Jones & Kim Newman

[From Critical Wave #27, 1992. Released in hardback by Xanadu and subsequently revised for a mass-market paperback from New English Library, Horror; 100 Best Books was further updated for Carroll & Graf’s 1998 edition, with a second volume following in 2005. The third version is currently available via Amazon.]

 

Originally published by Xanadu in 1988, this “revised and updated” edition features the same collection of critical essays by leading genre figures (Clive Barker on Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Steve Rasnic Tem on Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Lisa Tuttle on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House), although the contributors’ biographies have been re-written and in themselves provide a useful reference tool.

By placing the critiques in chronological order, Jones and Newman have laid the groundwork for an historical retrospective charting the development of horror and dark fantasy over the past four centuries, even if such an overview is absent here. It’s a pity, however, that room could not be found for post-1987 works, especially as the “recommended reading” appendix highlights such important releases as Brian Stableford’s The Empire of Fear, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and Thomas M Disch’s The M.D.: A Horror Story.