It was exciting news to see that one of my favorite comic book heroes, Swamp Thing, is back, thanks to DC Comics.
I loved Swamp Thing (and Man Thing as well), growing up, and had great fun seeing the movie Swamp Thing when I was a kid in 1982.
Directed by Wes Craven and produced by Michael Uslan, who also played a big hand in bringing the 1989 Batman to the screen, Swamp Thing didn’t take itself too seriously, which comic fans today probably wouldn’t be too thrilled with, but it fit the ’82 film fine, and should be better remembered today among Craven’s filmography. (If Swamp Thing got remade today, and it probably will be announced any second, I’m sure it will be a much darker story).
Wes Craven is a name synonymous with horror, and he’s been lucky enough to reinvent himself several times throughout his career. At first, his name had a hideous reputation because of Last House on the Left, then he returned with The Hills Have Eyes, which was still pretty down and dirty, but nowhere near as unpleasant as Last House, and it’s still a cult favorite today.
Yet it took a long time for Craven to become established as a master of terror, and was barely surviving from job to job. In fact, he was pretty much broke having gone through his savings, and wondering if he’d ever direct again, before Freddy Krueger saved him.
As Craven recalled in the book Filmmaking on the Fringe by Maitland McDonagh, “It’s a strange business, because once you finish a film, there’s this deafening silence and you say, ‘I’m not working,’ and the phone doesn’t ring. You utterly panic.”
Swamp Thing wasn’t an easy shoot because of the marsh locations, and of course the extensive make-up jobs on Thing himself, played by Ray Wise, and Arcane, played by Louis Jordan. Bill Munns created the Swamp Thing make-up design, and David B. Miller, who also created Freddy’s make-up design, also worked on the film.
Craven was also shooting as fast as he could before the completion bond company could potentially shut down the movie. (This actually happened with Terry Gilliam’s Man of La Mancha, starring Johnny Depp, which was shut down after five days). Adrienne Barbeau was not a fan of horror, and had to be convinced by her then husband John Carpenter to star in Swamp Thing, as well as Creepshow, but as she recalled in her autobiography, There Are Worse Things I Could Do, she loved working with both directors, and found Craven especially to be a lovely, gentle person, not what you’d expect considering the kinds of movies he made.
Although Swamp Thing wasn’t a hit, Craven was definitely happy with the film. It was a big step away from his ultra-violent Last House rep, he was pleased he made a film that families could attend, and he felt the movie had a good hidden message about inner beauty that audiences could walk away with.