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).

Escape From Old Trafford

I once had the enormous pleasure of meeting the director John Carpenter at the National Film Theatre, where he’d presented a lecture on his idol, Howard Hawks. I pointed out that he’d paid homage to Hawks’ westerns (Assault on Precinct 13) and science fiction (The Thing), but never tried his hand at a ‘screwball’ comedy. He joked that he might do just that, but with only two movie credits this century (2001’s lacklustre Ghosts of Mars and 2010’s barely-released The Ward), it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him in Bringing Up Baby mode.

In any case, Mr Carpenter is now pursuing a different path, albeit one which feeds on his parallel career as a soundtrack composer: rock star. Which is why Saturday evening found me at the Victoria Warehouse, a short distance from Manchester United FC’s home ground. The European leg of his Release the Bats tour had originally included two nights at Manchester’s Albert Hall, but a switch in promoters precipitated a conflation of both events into one venue, a massive concrete box with all the ambience of a multi-storey car park (and comparable acoustics, according to some who ended up standing at the back). A makeshift sign near the entrance alluded to Escape From New York, but the building itself was a far more convincing nod to that movie.

Doors opened at 6:30pm, and most of the 4,000 ticket-holders seemed to have made their way inside by 7pm, but other than a couple of technicians, the stage remained empty until 8:30pm. Luckily, I’d managed to finesse my way into the balcony area, which offered very limited seating, but the vast majority who’d expected to watch the concert in relative comfort were instead forced to stand for three hours with a restricted — or non-existent — view of the 75-minute set.

The sole saving grace was the performance by Mr Carpenter and his band, which was excellent, although the balcony may have been the only place where it could be properly enjoyed. In amongst the instantly recognisable Halloween, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China et al, we were treated to tracks from his two volumes of Lost Themes, belted out in a mesh of synthesiser and heavy guitar.

So, great gig, lousy location. To quote Beth Abbit’s review in the Manchester Evening News, “It’s disappointing that this highly anticipated opportunity to see a hugely iconic movie man at work was hampered by an unsuitable alternative choice of venue.”

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