Then & Now: Swamp Thing

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Geoff Harris

Swamp Thing (1982) directed by Wes Craven based on the comic book character created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson is a bit of a reworking of the origin story with some major plot alterations. Deep in the Bayou of Louisiana, a botanist named Dr. Alec Holland works on a formula to enhance plant growth to aid areas which are either too barren to support life or too overworked. Just as he achieves a monumental breakthrough, his lab is raided by mysterious gunmen. During the attack, Holland attempts to escape with a finished version of the serum only to fall into the swamp while being covered by his creation. Sometime later he rises from the muck as a human/plant hybrid. He eventually learns the gunmen worked for Anton Arcane, a rich and powerful industrialist who tried to buy Hollands’s secrets for his own gain. Arcane manages to recreate his own version of the formula, and after a bit of tweaking, injects himself with the intention of becoming a living god. Instead he turns into some weird lizard-man. Big fight. Swamp Thing wins. This is not an oscar-worthy film.

Then

Superhero movies were rare and so I absorbed damn near every one I could catch. I had known little of the character prior to this movie. I didn’t read the comic. I was a mainstream kinda kid so I read the more accessible titles. Swamp Thing was always a book you had to find at a shop and I had very limited access to only whatever 7-11 carried on any given week. When the trailer came out I did hunt the magazine rack for articles about it. (I miss Starlog.) My uncle gave me a bundle of old issues he had and Swamp Thing was among them. The stories were interesting if a tad repetitive but I didn’t care. I had a better grounding and when I saw the film I became a fan.

Seeing a hero on the big screen was Christmas Morning. I didn’t care about the plot. I didn’t wince at the really bad acting. No sir, a big green dude was slugging it out with baddies and I was in Heaven. The Swamp Thing costume really looked like the character. It was enough. I could forgive the rest. (Until the sequel at which point I was becoming more cynical about my adaptations.)

Now

Holy Bat-Shit! What a smoking load of monkey crap! Okay, you have to understand I’m watching this now after x number of years after the first cherry viewing. In addition to having been spoiled silly by Alan Moore’s “reboot/retake” which elevated not only the character but the way comic book stories are told so forgive me if I’m being cruel to a dated relic. Moore conceptualized Swamp Thing as a plant elemental that assumed Holland’s identity and memories. A man died that night and a god did indeed rise. The comic shifted into a wild ride about existentialism, ecology, spiritualism, and the true nature of love. Plus it brought us John Constantine. The USA Network tried to do a trippy series but really fell flat on capturing the heart of Moore’s Swamp Thing.

It’s easy to throw stones at stationary targets. Wes Craven has become a paragon of horror film-making. Almost every director of merit has cut their teeth working on less-than stellar projects. Swamp Thing is in many ways an iconic film. It predates the slick MCU fan-fest catalog and can be found playing in damn near every video room of any given geek convention. Not quite a Rainy Sunday offering but it gets an honorable mention.  I’ve heard rumors of a reboot of the series. Vines crossed.

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