The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
This article is packed with screen captures of the film. These were pulled directly from the Blu-ray disc and are displayed at a smaller size within the article. They are illustrative and not intended to represent the quality of 4K UHD presentation.
Let’s take a minute to pause and appreciate that this movie exists. A fun, pulpy, practically-crafted, and strangely sexy science fiction movie directed by Wes Craven and starring Adrienne Barbeau, with Louis Jourdan as a smarmy villain.
We take weird comic book movies for granted now, but in the 80s studios weren’t exactly lining up to crank out comic adaptations, especially in the odder realm of fare like Swamp Thing, which despite its DC roots, is a world removed from familiar mainstream heroes like Batman and Superman. The misanthropic mutant originated in the pages of the horror and supernatural anthology series House of Secrets before moving on to his own series.
In 1981 Wes Craven was becoming known as a horror and exploitation director with The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and Deadly Blessing all under his belt. While it still has elements of both of those descriptions, Swamp Thing, a PG-rated film based on a DC comic book, provided at least a small departure from that lineup (though not for long – he’d get right back into the horror zone in a big way with 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street).
John Carpenter’s muse, and wife at the time, Adrienne Barbeau, stars as Alice Cable, a newcomer to working on a secret government laboratory located in the middle of a remote marshland. The project is yielding some incredible breakthrough discoveries in biology thanks to its ingenious sibling duo of scientists, Alec and Linda Holland (Ray Wise and Nannette Brown). But the team is being infiltrated and surveilled by Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan), a maniacal millionaire who wants to unlock the secrets of human potential and eternal life, and is willing to hire a small army of goons to help him do it.
In an attack on the compound, Alec, who has quickly made an impression on Cable as a new friend and burgeoning love interest, is doused in chemicals and set aflame, last seen fleeing into the swamp before being left for dead.
As the goons pursue Cable, she comes into contact with a pair of allies: Jude (Reggie Batts), a local kid who runs a derelict filling station and serves up a fun sense of sidekick chemistry, and… some kind of swamp thing (Dick Durock). A huge green humanoid creature, seemingly made of moss and vines, steps in to protect her whenever the villains close in on her.
It’s no spoiler of course that this is Alec, transformed by his incident and now desperately seeking to restore his humanity. It’s here that the film finds its surprisingly tender heart, as Alex and Cable are reunited and still very fond of each other despite their misfortunes and situation. While he was precocious and even a little obnoxious as a human, Alec is notably more subdued and gentle as “Swamp Thing”, tragically humbled in his new skin.
But once it becomes known, Alec’s transformation only makes Arcane even more convinced to discover and harness the secret of this new kind of strength and power, leading to a showdown that moves from Arcane’s dungeon (he has a dungeon) to a monster-on-monster, swamp wrasslin’ sword fight with a transformed Arcane.
This must have been an immensely difficult and uncomfortable film to make. It’s very apparent that this was all shot on location in real swamp, and it’s certainly a unique production. Every time a character gets tossed into the water (which is something that happens a lot in the movie), my brain’s firing off, “This is the real deal. That guy could die if he lands on an alligator or get bitten by a water moccasin.”
The film’s surprisingly gentle love story in the midst of weird pulpy action and horror made it a bizarre TV staple (I’ve caught the end of this movie a number of times but only seen the beginning on home media), but perhaps even more interestingly, provided longevity to the character and set the course for a revival of Swamp Thing comics. A few years later, Alan Moore’s run on the character would solidify the character’s popularity, doubling down on the elements of weirdness and romance that the movie helped to establish.
Thanks to MVD, Swamp Thing is new on 4K UHD Blu-ray, and also re-released to Blu-ray in a new edition. The Blu-ray follows MVD’s usual “Rewind Collection” packaging motif and numbering, while the 4K edition (which is the version I’m reviewing) kicks off a new “4K Laservision Collection” with its own numbering (“1”) and stylized packaging modeled after vintage CED (videodisc) cartridges. A folded poster is included, and my cover came with a slipcover as well which utilizes the same art as the case art.
Impressively, this edition has managed to reel in many special features originally prepared for other editions. When Shout Factory released the movie on Blu-ray in 2013, they were unable to obtain the international or “unrated” cut of the film. It’s cool to see this kind of cooperation taking place where MVD is able to create an ultimate edition building on Shout Factory’s prior foundation.
And certainly, finally having the international cut (which has been long absent on home video) is a big win. Although on finally watching it, I think the only difference is the addition of a couple scenes extended to include nudity.
The movie looks stellar, though perhaps not what you might expect of a 4K disc. The film has an inherently nice soft look and you won’t get, at least in the modern sense, a pristine, sharp image. Instead it’s a subtler difference of finer grain and “intactness”. The Blu-ray version of the film, which is also packed in the 4K edition, also really looks great, and I don’t think I could really argue with someone if they said the difference between the Blu-ray and 4K seems negligible.
I personally ran into a technical issue while firing up the 4K disc (about half an hour in, the video started glitching), and contacted MVD who were very quick to review my concerns and perform additional QC to try to ensure that it was an isolated issue and not a wider problem.
Special Features and Extras (4K UHD)
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Wes Craven moderated by Sean Clark (Theatrical / PG Version)
• Audio Commentary with Makeup Effects Artist William Munns moderated by Michael Felsher (Theatrical / PG Version)
Special Features and Extras (Blu-ray)
The Blu-ray disc includes the commentaries on the 4K disc, plus:
• “Tales From the Swamp” (Remastered) with Adrienne Barbeau (16:56) – On working with Wes Craven, the film’s shrinking budget and compromises, an uncontracted nude scene, and the loss and recovery of a beloved ring.
• “Hey Jude” with Actor Reggie Batts (14:30) – A fun interview with Batts, who was a child actor in the film. he describes working on the movie, the friendliness of the cast, and the benefits of having a cinephile dad.
• “That Swamp Thing: A Look Back with Lein Wein” (13:19)
Swamp Thing creator Len Wein on how he became a comic creator, visiting the film set, and thoughts on the film as an adaptation of his work and Swamp Thing’s legacy.
• “Swamp Screen: Designing DC’s Main Monster” (20:32)
Production Designer Rob Wilson King on his admiration for Wes Craven, designing and building sets practically on location in a real swamp, and also general thoughts on the movies – cast, crew, effects, and an especially impressive pyro stunt.
• “From Krug to Comics: How the Mainstream Shaped a Radical Genre Voice” featurette (17:34)
The always informative and entertaining Kim Newman discusses the film (one he’s “warmed up to over the years”) in the context of comic book movies and We Craven’s oeuvre.
• Posters & Lobby Cards – Photo Gallery
• Photos from the Film – Photo Gallery
• William Munns’ Behind the Scenes Pictures – Photo Gallery
• Behind the Scenes Photos by Geoffrey Rayle – Photo Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:31)
A/V Out.Get it at Amazon:
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.