“Batman” wasn’t the only comic book film that came out in the summer of 1989, “The Return of Swamp Thing” managed to beat it by over a month. That’s about all ol’ Swampy has over the Dark Knight, as most fanboys regard the offering as “The Barium Enema on the Bayou”. That’s a pretty fair description of the film, a low budget campfest where the best thing to hope for is that the end credits soon roll.
When we last left Dr. Arcane, he’d died at the hands of Swamp Thing; but this is a comic book film, so fatal damage is akin to a paper cut. Arcane’s back to work, creating mutants and treating scientific ethics like it was purely a theoretical concept. He desperately needs to find a formula to reverse his aging process, and time is rapidly running out. When his stepdaughter Abby arrives on his doorstep, seeking answers about the mysterious death of her mother, a breakthrough presents itself. Abby shared the same genetics and blood type as her departed mother, and is the key to finding his cure. Standing in his way is Swamp Thing, who’s taken to being a type of Bayou Batman, appearing out of nowhere to save the day. He and Abby fall in love, but their courtship is cut short when she’s captured by Arcane. It’s up to Swamp Thing to fight through Arcane’s personal army, and rescue the woman he loves.
The most striking thing about “The Return of Swamp Thing” is the opening titles, where the credits appear alongside comic book covers, many from Alan Moore’s tenure. The artwork is a nostalgic reminder of the heights the character ascended when scribes like Moore, Rick Vetich, and Andy Diggle handled him. They’re not even remotely involved, instead we’re given a halfwit script by Grant Morris and Neil Cuthbert. What they turn in is likely to trigger a glorious hate erection in comic fans, one that lasts longer than four hours and will require the afflicted to seek medical attention. Their take on the character is a step up from the first film, when Swamp Thing was more of a self pitying wretch lamenting his lot in life. Now he’s more of a two fisted plant of action, ready to jump in and save the day. But the whole story is a mess, a bad plot filled with characters spouting stupid lines. Apparently it was intended as campy fun, but it just slowly disintegrates over the course of 88 minutes.
Maybe if you had a decent director, this might have turned out alright. But they gave the job to Jim Wynorski, not exactly the man you’d turn to for a quality film judging by his resume. Under his watch, all the humor seems forced, the action scenes artificial looking, and the entire film moves at a snail’s pace. It’s the kind of film you could walk out of the room for fifteen minutes, return, and find you really haven’t missed anything. That probably happens a lot, since this isn’t a film that’s very easy to sit through.
The cast do their best with what they have, which isn’t much, and their efforts under adverse conditions are commendable. You can see in Louis Jordan’s eyes that he feels he’s better than the material, and why not? He’s a famed actor, now reduced to playing in a schlocky comic book film. The fact that he’s still trying is amazing, giving Dr. Arcane a fairly elegant air and dry humor. Heather Locklear plays the ditsy blonde role of Abby Arcane to the hilt, while Sarah Douglas plays Arcane’s lover and right hand scientist with all the unrequited love she can muster. Dick Durock returns as Swamp Thing, most of the time viewing the proceedings with a bemused smile. Considering the conditions he had to act under, it’s nice to see he kept his sense of humor.
The creature effects are pretty well done, considering the limited budget there was to work with. The new Swamp Thing suit is light years beyond what we were given in the 1982 film, it’s so organic looking that you could easily believe it was literally part of the swamp. The Arcane mutants were created by Todd Masters Company, and they’ve let their imaginations run wild to produce some insane hybrids. Most effective is the leech-man creature that Swamp Thing duels in the movie, it’s fairly creatively as well as coming across as pretty disgusting.
“The Return of Swamp Thing” is a terrible film. It’s not scary, or campy, just a chore to get through. Anyone halfway curious about seeing this should probably wait until it shows up as a late night movie. It’s not worth the trouble to see it any other way.
Jim Wynorski (director) / Neil Cuthbert, Grant Morris (screenplay)
CAST: Louis Jourdan … Dr. Anton Arcane
Heather Locklear … Abby Arcane
Sarah Douglas … Dr. Lana Zurrell
Dick Durock … Swamp Thing
Joe Sagal … Gunn
Ace Mask … Dr. Rochelle
Monique Gabrielle … Miss Poinsettia
RonReaco Lee … Omar