The Return Of Swamp Thing (1989)

Here’s a trivia question for you: which three DC properties got made into movies in the 80s? If your answer is “Superman”, “Supergirl”, and “Batman” then you’re almost right, but also definitely wrong as Supergirl doesn’t count, having had its rights sold off as part of the Superman package. The correct answer is “Superman”, “Batman”, and “Swamp Thing”; a character so iconic that at the time Wes Craven released his film version of it 1982 the character hadn’t had his own comics for six years. And so successful was that film that the comic launched to cash in on it was given to beardy weirdy brit Alan Moore to write and its sequel didn’t happen until 1989! And it’s the sequel we’re interested in this time, because whilst the original was merely mediocre, The Return Of Swamp Thing was joyfully awful!

Although the producers, director, and (alleged) writing team were all different from the original, it managed to keep it’s two main stars. Duck Durock appears again as Swamp Thing, probably because it was the biggest role he could get, and Louis Jourdan appears once more as Doctor Arcane, presumably after losing another bet. Both put in as good a performance as they can, given the b-movie circumstances, with Duck clearly trying his hardest to emote under 100 pounds of green latex and Louis being an absolute trooper for not yelling “I’ve got two stars on Hollywood Boulevard!” every five minutes. Joining them is Heather Locklear, absolutely determined to play the right-on West Coast hippie love interest to Swamp Thing, Abby Arcane, to the absolute max in every scene, and Sarah Douglas as the evil sidekick/romantic interest for Doctor Arcane (gee, guess how that ends). The only other real characters in it are Darryl the head goon and Gunn the deputy goon in a tight corset and revealing t-shirt. Everyone else is garnish, as is the plot.

The bulk of the film is badly made and predictable. The storyline makes no sense, character motivations keep changing on random whims, plot points just appear and, on occasion, disappear, and the whole thing ends up feeling like an excuse to have Swamp Thing lay The Smack down on a near endless sea of braindead orange jumpsuit-wearing goons and the odd mutant monster. Which he does, with amazing regularity, and with the kind of moves that you would expect to see in a bayou wrestling match. Bullets can’t harm him, so it’s a case of waltzing around and throwing armbars and karate chops at anything that gets in his way. And somehow, due to a strange alchemy of being so badly done with such overwhelming conviction, it becomes majestic. At first you will scoff, and then you will parody, but finally you will be cheering along with him for no earthly reason.

The enthusiasm developed is probably helped by everything exploding whenever it gets the chance. Cars hit by lampposts, cars not hit by lampposts, people on fire jumping into water, bits of freshly mown garden, science equipment, failed lab experiments thrown into the most pointless incinerator ever, guards on balconies; if it maybe could explode then it will. Huzzah! There is also the mansion that explodes the first chance it gets, because someone decided that if the window on the incinerator gets broken, the whole place has to go within 3 minutes. Why? Don’t ask questions; just sit back and watch the explosion!

Adding to those are the most vital part of great bad movies: The Moments. Little bits of cinema that are almost genius and that will stick with you for an age. The highlight Moment has to be the sex scene between Swamp Thing (a vegetable) and Abby (not a vegetable): how do you have the inevitably consummation of her position as love interest without it seeming weird? You have Swamp Thing grow a shroom off his body that gets Abby hallucinating that he’s a hunk of a human guy. Obvious now you think of it! Other moments include Swamp Thing being blown up but getting better by turning into a 50 pound ball of shower-drain clag, the head goon and the deputy swapping stories of how they got scars as a prelude to making out (I’m pretty sure that that sequence was directly copied by Loaded Weapon 1), searching for Swamp Thing by using ten different types of transport in a two minute montage, and everything involving the delicate science of putting two sets of genes in a coffee blender and seeing what the results are when you inject them into someone. All of them ridiculous, all of them somehow sublime. Most of them ending with a person in a very badly made rubber monster suit doing some random terrorising for a bit before being bravely punched in the head by Swamp Thing.

As I hope you have gathered, this is not a smart film. It is, arguably, a very dumb film. It also tries to be a very sexy film, but that falls flat on its face by having three attractive ladies going around in not much and the very attractive gentlemen being a six foot tall vegetable (then again, maybe that’s your thing. I don’t judge, I watch bad films for a hobby). Louis Jourdan could have played Arcane to be sexy, but, bless him, he makes the character far too self-obsessed to be anything but a prick. But then again, the female characters all have some kind of self-driven agency, Swamp Thing is a master of decorum and polite manners, and there are two kids of different racial background reading porn mags together in hormone fuelled unity so it’s not without its progressive moments.

But mostly it’s just kind of fun. You get the sense that, given the time and maybe a million dollars, you too could make a film that could make a quarter of a million dollars at the box office. But they did it, and you’ll respect them for that whilst you wait for the next thing to randomly blow up.

The Raggedyman

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