Thursday, October 10, 2013

Night of Terror #10: 'Swamp Thing'

One of the best lessons I think can be learned from Roger Ebert (rip) is that it's OK to be interested in movies and also be a sucker for straightforward genre pictures, particularly of the science-fiction/comic book variety. Even if it weren't OK, that would definitely be the case for me, and one of the best examples of that is the fact that I've seen Swamp Thing 3 or 4 times now and have liked it each time, despite the fact that it is completely ridiculous.

Most of that ridiculousness, or at least the most distracting part of it, is in the form of the titular monster. One can imagine a great special effects designer like Stan Winston or someone like that knocking the Swamp Thing costume out of the park, but that is not what happens here. I'm not sure who designed the Swamp Thing character for the movie and I'm not going to look him up because I'm lazy and also because I don't want to insult the guy's work, but it never looks like anything other than a rubber suit. This is particularly true whenever we see a close up of Swamp Thing's hands - it's during these sequences that we get closest to Zaat territory.

But the rest of the movie is so sublimely absurd that it wins me over every time. Director Wes Craven seems to be channeling both comic books and 50s monster movies here, with a refreshingly straightforward take on the ridiculous material but with touches like funny screen wipes to keep things from getting too wonky. And the stunts and action are great, that shot of Swamp Thing flipping a boat is cheer-worthy.

Another interesting touch that adds to this movie's sense of batshit insanity is that Swamp Thing is not the only monster in Swamp Thing. In the movie's last act, two additional characters (including Louis Jourdan as the chief villain who I will get to in a second) take the formula that created the Swamp Thing and turn into monsters themselves. I won't spoil it since a lot of this stuff is probably way more entertaining if you're caught off-guard by it, but what happens next manages to be completely hilarious without throwing off the tone of the movie.

Louis Jourdan. I think I've likened him before to James Mason in North by Northwest if Mason had had a shirtless scene, and I still think it fits. He's not as good as Mason, of course, but he brings substantial chops to the role of the suave, ruthless villain. If there's one thing the big-budget comic book blockbusters of today could stand to take a page of this movie from, it's Jourdan's performance. No more anonymous supervillains, please!

I'll close us out with some immortal words from Swamp Thing: "Everything's a dream when you're alone."

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