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Film Review: The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

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The Swamp Thing returns to battle the evil Dr. Arcane, who has a new science lab full of creatures transformed by genetic mutation, and chooses Heather Locklear as his new object of affection.


As some of you may know, Swamp Thing is a recurring character in DC comics. Created in the early ‘70s by Len Wein, Swamp Thing’s stories were steeped as much in the horror genre as they were the superhero. Over the years, the character would garner a lot of attention as different writers, including the legendary Alan Moore, would use the character to tackle many aspects of the human condition and the world we live in. Many of Swamp Thing’s stories would go on to be nominated for, and win, awards during his heyday. His comics would encourage DC to create their Vertigo line of comics, where they published adult oriented comics that let creators create works free from the stifling confines of adhering to the Comics Code Authority.

Of course, Hollywood failed to live up to that same quality when it brought the walking salad to the big screen.

1989’s Return of the Swamp Thing is the sequel to the campy Swamp Thing movie that Wes Craven directed in 1982. This time Jim Wynorski took over directing duties and gives us even more campiness. The evil Dr. Arcane has been resurrected and is continuing his twisted experiments in an attempt to find a way to reverse the aging progress. His step-daughter, Abigail (Heather Locklear), pays him a visit and soon finds herself in the middle of the battle between Arcane and the heroic Swamp Thing.

Even more than the original movie, the sequel pretty much abandons most of what makes Swamp Thing such an enduring character. The movie goes purely for camp, but it manages to be far less charming than Wes Craven’s entry. Most of its attempts at humor fall flat upon delivery. A lot of that is due to the actors’ delivery but more so to the script, which could have used a bit of polishing. To put it bluntly, the script could have used writers that were actually talented. Along with an assortment of plot holes and underdeveloped characters, the script gives us some fairly bad dialogue that just hovered somewhere on the cusp of being groan-inducing. This is particularly true when it has one of the characters try to make a joke.

The movie isn’t helped any by the acting. Louis Jourdan hammed it up as Anton Arcane, which made him a bit more entertaining than he normally would have been.The most I can say about Sarah Douglas as his assistant is that she was there. She didn’t add anything to the overall finished product, but I think that’s more due to the material she’s given to work with (which isn’t much). The rest of the cast, for the most part, was just terrible to the point that it was almost embarrassing to watch them (we’re looking at you, Monique Gabrielle). Yes, that also includes Heather Locklear. She was never a great actor to begin with, but listening to her try to deliver the corny dialogue made me cringe. It’s was almost like this film was designed to show all her shortcomings and none of her strengths (granted, her only real strength is looking pretty).

One of the more disappointing aspects of Return of the Swamp Thing was the walking carpet of vegetation himself. I’m not saying Dick Durock, who played the titular hero, was bad in the role, but he they really gave him nothing to work with. They gave his character the personality of a stump (bad pun intended). He’s not given much in the way of development, and the only motivations the movie really gives us for his actions is basically “Dr. Arcane bad! Swamp Thing good!”. Granted, none of the characters are given much in the way of depth, but the one character that should have been explored more is Swamp Thing himself. The man once known as Alec Holland has spent years transformed into a monstrous looking plant creature. It would have been far more interesting to see how he really feels about the situation, and if he’s been trying to actually find a way to become human again. Instead, he just shows up periodically to fight some of Dr. Arcane’s twisted mutants and armed goons or save Heather Locklear’s character from impending danger. His appearances were so sparse that he was practically a side character in his own movie. But then, this is a Jim Wynorski movie, so of course, doing anything deep like exploring the psychology of a character is something he neither attempts nor has the talent to really handle.

On the good side of things is that the movie had better than I expected makeup and special effects. Swamp Thing actually looked impressive and closer to his comic book appearance than ever before. I’ll also admit that the production value was better than most of the other Wynorski-directed films I’ve seen in the past. The sets, for the most part, looked fairly decent, and even the overall direction was competently handled.

Overall, Return of the Swamp Thing is kind of disappointing. It’s not charming or amusing enough to really overcome its many shortcomings, so what could have been a fun B-movie romp turned into a slog to sit through. However, it’s still filled with some wacky moments, (like a hallucinated love scene between Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane brought about by her eating a fruit that grew on his body. Yeah, it’s as weird as it sounds), but nothing that makes it worth sitting through the whole flick for. I don’t recommend going out of your way to catch this one.

Bonus Materials

  • Brand-New 2K High-Definition Transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition (480p) DVD presentations of the main feature
  • Original 2.0 and 5.1 Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • NEW Audio commentary from Director Jim Wynorski, Composer Chuck Cirino and Editor Leslie Rosenthal
  • Audio commentary from Director Jim Wynorski
  • NEW Interview with Director Jim Wynorski (HD)
  • NEW Interview with Editor Leslie Rosenthal (HD)
  • NEW Interview with Composer Chuck Cirino (HD)
  • NEW Interview with Lightyear Entertainment Executive Arnie Holland (HD)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (New HD Transfer from original 35mm materials)
  • 6 Promotional TV Clips (SD)
  • 2 TV Spots (SD)
  • 2 Greenpeace Public Service Announcements (SD)
  • 1989 Promo Reel (SD)
  • Photo Gallery (accompanied by Chuck Cirino’s film’s score)
  • Collectible Mini- Poster

The Return of the Swamp Thing is now available on bluray per MVD

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