4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:
$39.95 Blu-ray, $49.95 UHD BD;
Stars Dick Durock, Ray Wise, Adrienne Barbeau, Louis Jourdan, David Hess, Nicholas Worth.
While it has achieved a certain cult status over time, Wes Craven’s 1982 adaptation of the Swamp Thing comic book wasn’t an immediate contender for inclusion on his list of accomplishments.
Though Craven delivered the film on schedule and under budget, it didn’t make much of an impact on audiences upon its release, with critics calling it more campy than his usual forays into horror. In the Blu-ray commentary, Craven remarks that the film set his career back a bit, and it took a few years for him to rebound with 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (based on a premise he came up with during the production of Swamp Thing).
Len Wein, co-creator of Swamp Thing, notes the early parts of the film are relatively faithful to the character’s origin story in DC Comics, before the rest of the film’s plot veers off the rails a bit.
In the comics, Swamp Thing is a human/plant hybrid who defends the swamps of the Southern United States, created when a scientist named Dr. Alec Holland, who is working on a formula to strengthen the world’s food supply, is accidentally doused in his bioengineered chemical formula when his lab is destroyed by criminals.
The film’s focus is really split between three main characters. Ray Wise appears in early scenes as Holland, shown conducting experiments in a highly guarded lab in the middle of a swamp. Adrienne Barbeau plays Alice, a government agent sent in as a replacement when another worker is killed. Louis Jourdan plays Arcane, leader of a cabal that wants to steal Holland’s formulas and the primary reason for the security detail.
Jourdan has a howler of an introduction, peeling off a disguise to reveal he’s been embedded among the security detail the entire time and wants Holland’s new formula for creating highly adaptable plants by combining them with animal DNA. Holland’s attempts to destroy the formula set him on fire, and he disappears into the murky depths of the swamp.
Arcane then collects Holland’s journals and sets off to re-create the formula for himself. But Alice has the final journal with the key to making the formula work, and escapes into the swamp, where she is pursued by Arcane’s goons.
However, Holland emerges to protect her, transformed into a brutish humanoid plant creature now played by Dick Durock. (Several observers in the bonus materials liken him to a plant version of The Incredible Hulk.)
In a classic trope, the heroes attempt to hide the book rather than destroy it, which all but assures Arcane will eventually get a hold of it in his attempts to create his own elemental super soldier, which turns out to be a sword-wielding man-boar thing. From there the film descends from the cheesy to the ridiculous, culminating in a fight between two guys in rubber suits.
In the years following its release, Swamp Thing’s ‘B’-movie sensibilities led it to become a modest success on home video, eventually spawning the 1989 sequel The Return of Swamp Thing, which Craven said he was never told about and only learned of after it was released.
Swamp Thing has its own rather sordid home video history as well, with an old DVD once discovered to have contained the nudity-laden international cut of the film rather than the American ‘PG’ theatrical cut. Later DVD and Blu-ray releases contained just the ‘PG’ version.
MVD Entertainment’s new edition of the film represents a definitive release, containing both the ‘PG’ and unrated cuts in newly remastered versions on both Blu-ray and 4K. The image quality is exceptional, with bright, vivid shades of green from the swamp contrasted nicely with Barbeau’s colorful wardrobe. The unrated cut runs two minutes more but adds nothing to the story. The primary difference is the international cut includes a minute of Barbeau bathing topless in a lake an hour into the movie. There’s also some nudity involving strippers at a party thrown by Arcane.
Aside from the bonus footage of Barbeau, the highlight of the film is the performance of Jourdan, a French actor coming off a BBC adaptation of Count Dracula. He makes for a captivating on-screen villain, and his Arcane is essentially the template for his performance as the scheming James Bond baddie Kamal Khan in 1983’s Octopussy.
MVD’s new Blu-ray and 4K editions carry over pretty much all the previous bonus materials from earlier releases, most of which come from Shout! Factory’s 2013 Blu-ray. A couple of featurettes, one about the design of the creatures and one about the film’s influence on cult cinema, are from a 2019 U.K. release by 88 Films.
The theatrical cut of the film on both 4K and Blu-ray includes two commentaries, one with Craven moderated by Sean Clark, the other by makeup effects artist William Munns moderated by Michael Felsher.
The regular Blu-ray edition, offered as a standalone or with the 4K combo pack, includes all the extras. The 4K disc offers just the commentaries as extras.