Tag Archives: Bernie Wrightson

The Return of Swamp Thing (1989, Jim Wynorski)

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.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Wynorski; screenplay by Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris, based on the DC comic book by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson; director of photography, Zoran Hochstätter; edited by Leslie Rosenthal; music by Chuck Cirino; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Lightyear Entertainment.

Starring Louis Jourdan (Dr. Anton Arcane), Heather Locklear (Abby Arcane), Sarah Douglas (Dr. Lana Zurrell), Dick Durock (Swamp Thing), Joseph Sagal (Gunn), Ace Mask (Dr. Rochelle), Monique Gabrielle (Miss Poinsettia), RonReaco Lee (Omar), Daniel Emery Taylor (Darryl Hallenbeck), Ralph Pace (Sheriff Beaumont), Timothy Birch (Clyde), Alex Van (Gurdell) and Christopher Doyle (Leechman).


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Swamp Thing (1982, Wes Craven)

Swamp Thing succeeds–to the degree it does–both in spite of Wes Craven and because of him. Craven is not an inventive low budget filmmaker. He does nothing to compensate. The Swamp Thing costume is bad, has lots of movement below the chest. Craven shoots it head-to-toe instead of obscuring it. There’s a real disconnect between Craven’s handling of the costume and with the special effects in general and the film in general, because Craven’s not playing Swamp Thing for laughs. The other big problem Craven brings to the table is his inability to film an action scene or scenes in the open (on open water, with a clear sky). Swamp Thing cuts from good composition to bad composition almost every shot during the middle. It’s extremely disconcerting.

But, like I said, it still succeeds… because even with turning Louis Jordan into a wild boar, Craven takes the film seriously. Swamp Thing is not smart. Craven’s script is riddled with holes and is, at times, dumb. But he’s earnest. He creates two excellent character relationships–Swamp Thing and Adrienne Barbeau and then Barbeau and her teenage sidekick, played by Reggie Batts. The most successful thing about the Swamp Thing romance–well, it starts when it’s still Ray Wise as the human version–is Craven sells it in a short amount of time. The whole movie takes place over three or four days and the establishing romance takes place in–story-time–a few hours the first day, at most. But Craven, Barbeau, Wise and later Dick Durock sell it.

A lot of the film’s earnestness has to do with the actors. While Jordan (gloriously) adds relish to his ham, Barbeau, Wise, and Durock all play it straight. Barbeau runs around in skimpy outfits–heels in the swamp too–but her performance is great. The stuff with her and Durock, who I never realized was so affecting in the Swamp Thing costume before, is great. But the stuff with her and Batts is somehow even more touching, since the romance is kind of expected, but the genuine human concern element is not.

Craven shoots all of the swamp scenes on location, both a good idea and bad (those wide open spaces I mentioned before), and the film does have some lovely cinematic moments. Especially when the Harry Manfredini score is in its soft parts and not the action ones (Manfredini’s action music is a fit for Craven’s action direction). Unfortunately, the scenes in Jordan’s villainous hideout… a mansion, leave a lot to be desired. Craven’s script is short on establishing Jordan’s character other than giving him a staff of young female assistants and dumb macho mercenaries.

Because the film’s so short, because it moves so fast–and because the action scenes are impossible to remember–Swamp Thing leaves a good impression. One remembers the successes–thanks to Barbeau and Batts–and excuses the failures. But some of it, the haunting beauty, does come from Craven… though he gets crucial help from the natural locations and Manfredini’s score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; screenplay by Craven, based on the DC comic book by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson; director of photography, Robbie Greenberg; edited by Richard Bracken; music by Harry Manfredini; production designers, Robb Wilson King and David Nichols; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Louis Jourdan (Dr. Anton Arcane), Adrienne Barbeau (Alice Cable), Ray Wise (Doctor Alec Holland), David Hess (Ferret), Nicholas Worth (Bruno), Don Knight (Harry Ritter), Al Ruban (Charlie), Dick Durock (Swamp Thing), Ben Bates (The Arcane Monster), Nannette Brown (Dr. Linda Holland) and Reggie Batts (Jude).


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