This may come to a surprise for some, but there was a time that comic book movies just weren’t taken seriously. We had Richard Donner and his Superman The Movie film, and then there was Tim Burton’s take on Batman. Every other movie that was based on a comic book property was treated as cheesy camp fodder that no one took seriously. Wes Craven’s attempt at adapting Swamp Thing was slightly impressive for the time, but in retrospect I’m just not really a fan of the film despite how much I like the DC character. As for the sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing, I know I’m in the minority when I say how much I enjoy this camp classic. The first Swamp Thing I felt took itself too seriously and was lacking in the fun practical FX department, but to be fair, it also had a low budget and felt the need to be an origin story. Helming the sequel is one of the B-movie workhorses of the industry, Jim Wynorski, who is responsible for the 80s kill-bot classic Chopping Mall. It’s time to return to the bog and deep dive into the camp classic from 1989, The Return of Swamp Thing.
The film wastes no time getting things started when a group of hunters are attacked by Leech Man in the swamp, and it is Swamp Thing (Dick Durock) that comes to the rescue. I’m a fan of these practical FX suits, and just seeing this fun showdown in the film’s opening minutes definitely sets the tone for the rest of the film. If this sequence leaves you groaning and rolling your eyes, well, to be fair, this film just isn’t for you. But if you like your old TOHO man-in-suit battles, and enjoys some goofy B-cinema from Roger Corman or Lloyd Kaufman, then this film you are going to eat up. From the get-go we know this film is very tongue-in-cheek, and sure, I one day want to see a straight-up horror adaptation of the character, but till then, this is what we got.
The villain of this film is Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan coming off the success of the James Bond film Octopussy); he’s attempting to prevent the effects of aging by doing gene-splicing experiments in his lab. The results of these experiments lead to some great FX when we see a variety of animals being genetically spliced with men. It’s like a twisted bayou twist on the experiments of Dr. Moreau. Then there is the plant-obsessed Abigail Arcane (Heather Locklear), who decides to make an impromptu visit to her stepfather to investigate her mother’s suspicious death. Locklear basically just serves the purpose of being the damsel in distress and has a few entertaining bits along the way.
When I say this film is campy, I mean it, and it is pretty over-the -op and silly at times when I’m not sure if that was intended or not. Jumping out at me is a sequence where Swamp Thing rescues Abigail and they are escaping the house in a jeep. The driveway can’t be more than 100 feet ,but with some sloppy editing, this escape while dodging bullets and numerous explosions is nearly as bad as the runway chase in Fast and the Furious sequel. Then there are the two kids in the film, you either love them or can’t stand them. Honestly, I love them as a fun little side quest in the movie and their plans on getting rich by getting a photo of Swamp Thing. are they good actors? I’ll just say they were perfect for this film.
Return Of Swamp Thing is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 60-65 mbps with some peaks nearly 100 mbps. The film was shot on 35mm so is native 4K. With all of that in mind, this was a campy low-budget film from the 1980’s, so there wasn’t a ton of improvement up for grabs. The colors stand out with a bit more pop that feeds into the comic book feel of it all. There’s a bit of grain, but there’s also evidence of a bit more DNR than I would like to see. The grain adds an organic nature that brings out the atmosphere of the swamp locations. There are times the extra color bump works against the film. The first view of Swamp Thing almost goes too vivid so that the green is almost a fluorescent green and a little too campy even for this film. Black levels are pretty much average, and there are times the close-up details impress a bit. The big hope was that the makeup f/x would get a bump in texture, but not so much. You get at least some of the expected improvement overall in contrast allowing for a little better shadow definition all the way around.
The DTS-HD 2 channel mono is included to reproduce the film’s release condition. There is also a 5.1 track that gives the field a little more depth, but not as noticeable as you might think. The dialog is served, and there isn’t much in the way of full subs or aggressive surrounds in the audio presentation. It’s a little flat, but that’s not a knock on the release but rather the state of the source material. Remember: low-budget 1980’s film. The best improvement is the classic CCR Born On The Bayou opening credits sound.
Audio Commentary: Jim Wynorski (2003) He does a good job on carrying this track on his own and dispenses plenty of information on the making of the film.
Audio Commentary with director Jim Wynorski, editor Leslie Rosenthal, composer Chuck Cirino: This was a fun track that really is entertaining and full of information about how they got the film made and its impact on them. This is the track I’d recommend if you only listened to one of them.
Interviews with director Jim Wynorski, editor Leslie Rosenthal, composer Chuck Cirino, and Lightyear Entertainment executive Arnie Holland: (38 minutes) These interviews are pretty candid and discuss the making of the film. Some may be surprised on how little Wynorski holds back on his opinions on certain cast and crew members. For fans of the movie, this is definitely worth checking out.
PSA Announcements (1:03)
1989 Promo Reel (5:18)
TV Clips and Trailers
Exclusive to the UHD disc:
Reflections On Return Of Swamp Thing 35 Years Later by Michael Uslan – Producer Of Both: (32:07) The producer gives us a ton of anecdotes and talks pretty much in a stream of consciousness.
Music Video: (2:39) Your Ever-lovin’ Swamp Thing. it’s a new song with the same guy singing four parts as different guys.
Coming in at 88 minutes, this is a movie that delivers if you are looking for campy, B-movie fun. Sure, this is a property I hope will finally be given the respect it deserves. I loved the TV series, but this does deserve a big-budget tent-pole release This movie you just need to sit back and have fun with, it is nowhere near as good as the superhero films that we are used to seeing today, but there is a lot of charm in this film that was shot on location and is all practical instead of being all CGI.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani