The Return of Swamp Thing belongs on the modern movie equivalent of “Mystery Science Theater,” or maybe “USA Up All Night!” (I think it might have gone on “Up All Night” actually). But Return came out in the late 1980s, before the direct-to-video deluge and I saw it in a theater (an absolutely wonderful old theater in Chicago, beautiful woodwork). Instead of doing a sequel to Wes Craven’s original or adapting the comic book, The Return of Swamp Thing appears to be a family-friendly Toxic Avenger movie, though I might be overanalyzing. But the inclusion of two ten year-old boys on an adventure through the swamp certainly suggests the target demographic (leaving out the scar comparison scene, which Lethal Weapon 3 ripped off).
Even though Jim Wynorski can’t really direct–the scenes with the two kids, with poorly edited close-ups, are particularly bad–he brings a amiable ineptness to the movie. Similarly, Heather Locklear’s performance is bad, but it’s very friendly. The scenes with her and Louis Jordan–Jordan’s hammy and zealous acting the only reason Return is watchable, the desire to see what he does next makes the movie–are hilarious, as Locklear acts in her 1980s TV show style and Jordan hams with his considerable experience behind him… the scenes are hilarious.
Besides a handful–Sarah Douglas has flare-ups of quality, RonReaco Lee is the less annoying kid and Joe Sagal is real amusing as Jordan’s idiot lacky–the other performances are terrible. Monique Gabrielle can’t even pretend to be annoyed, though her scenes are often the ones with Wynorski’s weird two-dimensional composition. The actors face each other and the camera shots them directly, no depth. Dick Durock, given a full talking role and no character–but a more ornate rubber suit–in the sequel, is awful. The terrible handling of the Swamp Thing character probably does in Return, which probably could have survived otherwise. In fact, a straightforward Swamp Thing caught in Jordan’s low budget Bond villain mansion… might have even been (intentionally) amusing.
The special effects aren’t bad. The costumes, besides Swamp Thing’s and only because Wynorski shoots it under bright lights, are pretty good. It’s an eighty-eight minute waste of time, but it does feature Jordan bickering with a parrot and that bit alone makes it special.