Category: Monsters

Discounting Tim Burton’s Batman which rang in the end of the decade, the 1980s were not a kind period for movie adaptations of comic books. Whether it’s the painful to watch bastardization of Frank Castle with Dolph Lundgren as The Punisher or Howard the Duck (which is a regular contender for Worst Film of All Time) or any of the god-awful Superman films from the 80s but especially Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the comic book movies from those days are pretty much all universally horrendous. For a long time I knew that in 1982 Wes Craven had adapted DC fantasy horror comic Swamp Thing into a movie. Alan Moore’s run on the series (after the film had been made) is fairly legendary in the comics world as a writer revitalizing an all but forgotten character into one of the hottest properties of the era, and since I loved both Alan Moore and Wes Craven, I believe that I purposefully added this film to my master blog list (because after watching it, I’m positive it wasn’t nominated for any types of industry awards). Voluntarily subjecting myself to this film was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in ages because without question, this is the worst Wes Craven film I’ve ever watched.

After being sent to supervise a government research project helmed by charming plant geneticist Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise), Alice Cable (Carnivale‘s Adrienne Barbeau) is quickly forced on the run when mad scientist Anton Arcane (Louis Jordan) destroys Holland’s lab and apparently kills Holland to steal his work. Though Cable is able to escape, she is pursued by Arcane’s thugs because she possesses Dr. Holland’s final notebook detailing the last steps of his process to essentially solve humanity’s hunger problems with crops that can grow anywhere. As Arcane’s men chase Cable through the treacherous Louisiana swamps, an unlikely savior comes to her side. Mutated into a half-plant/half-man hybrid by the chemicals that everyone thought had killed him, Dr. Holland is now alive and Cable’s protector as a monster with the heart of a human.

This review is going to be really short because this movie is really bad and I’d rather spend my time watching one last episode of Doctor Who before I go to bed than devote 1000 words to this film (though it managed to pull legitimately poetic moments out of its ass from time to time but that’s Wes Craven for you). The plot is completely nonsensical and it fails to capture the fantasy-horror/psychological elements that makes the comics so memorable and is instead a series of action sequences tied together by a borderline incomprehensible plot. The acting is truly terrible as well and everyone seems to be taking pleasure in making things as campy as humanly possible. The special effects are egregiously bad. Understanding that this is 1982 and not everyone has a George Lucas budget to work with, but I had to control my laughter every time I saw Swamp Thing on screen. The editing is also atrocious and whether it’s the silly transitions the film would use for screen swipes or just the general lack of anything tying the events together, the film was a mess. Even the lighting was horrific and there were many moments in the film where it was just too dark to see what was happening and not because that was the director’s intention. I can’t even recommend this film to people who love “so bad they’re good films” because this one is simply so bad it’s terrible.

Final Score: C-

The original King Kong is one of the most beloved adventure films of all time. An obscure team of directors and producers that no one in Hollywood had ever heard of (or would really hear much from ever again) brought a fantastic tale of man vs. beast and the power of beauty to tame wild aggression, and they combined this tale with special effects (that while laughably horrible by today’s standards) were unbelievably exciting and terrifying for a 1930’s audience. Before this viewing, I had never actually seen the original King Kong and was only directly familiar with what I now know to be the far superior remake by one Peter Jackson (although I never would have guessed how faithful he was to the original source material). And while this film left me slightly disapppointed because Peter Jackson’s version really fleshed out the story and gave the characters greater depth and the film better emotional resonance, I can easily see why this is a beloved all-time classic.

The film tells the story of Carl Denham, a movie producer filming his newest flick in an uncharted island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. He has chosen street waif, Ann Dunham (the absolutely gorgeous and talented Fay Wray), to play the lead. He plucked her right off the streets. They set sail on a steam boat to Skull Island where they come upon a tribe of natives (who are portrayed so unbelievably, ridiculously racist) who worship a giant ape named Kong. Ann is kidnapped by the natives and given to Kong as a sacrificial bride. What follows is an adventure story set against dinosaurs and other fantastic creatures to rescue Ann from the clutches of Kong. Eventually Kong is captured and brought back to NYC where you have the infamous climbing of the Empire State Building. I don’t care that I ruined the story. This movie is like 80 years old and been remade several times.

The effects in the film are pretty damn ridiculous by today’s standards, and there were a couple of times that I literally laughed out loud because of how bad they were, but I have to remember how damn old this film is and how much it shocked and amazed audiences when it was released. Computers weren’t something film studios were using yet to make movies and this film is a pretty grand achievement in early visual effects. The acting is also ridiculously over the top, but Fay Wray was pretty damn good as Ann. There’s a reason she’s the all time reigning “Scream Queen”.

This movie was fun. Their wasn’t a lot of depth to the characters and I know I’ve been spoiled by Jackson’s remake. But I really enjoyed it. It does have one advantage over Peter Jackson’s version though. This film clocks in at about an hour and a half, not well over three hours like Peter Jackson’s film, so at no point do you think any of it has begun to drag on you. If you haven’t seen this film yet, you should watch it simply for the place it holds in the hallowed halls of film history. Just be prepared to take its age into consideration.

Final Score: B