The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

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This episode of Revisited was Written by Emilie Black, Narrated by Niki Minter, Edited by Victoria Verduzco, Produced by Tyler Nichols and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

The original Swamp Thing is from 1982; it took seven years to get a sequel, a change of director, and a massive shift in tone. If the first one was very 1980s, this one is 1980s to the max! The sequel to Swamp Thing takes the tongue-in-cheek route all the way to the bank. Or at least all the way to the end credits. For a film that cost $3 million, making less than $300,000 at the box office was abysmal. However, looking back at the film now, it’s a fun ride. Is The Return of Swamp Thing (watch it HERE) a perfect film? Far from that. Is it a good movie? Debatable. Is it cheesy? 4 brie cheeses out of 5. How much should it be rated right out the gate here? A solid 7 out of 10, with most of that rating coming from the enjoyment of the film. Not all films need to be perfect; heck, not all films need to be good even. As long they are entertaining, they deserve a place on the shelves of everything in this here living room, which admittedly looks like a video store may have exploded in it.

The story is about Abby Arcane, the stepdaughter of Dr. Arcane, the man doing experiments on people back in the swamp. She’s in Los Angeles, owns a plant store, and is vegetarian, a fact that matters here. She’s full of life and full of quips, including one about that TJ on TV. Soon, she decides to go back to her mother’s home as she’s passed away, and she isn’t happy with how her stepfather has handled everything. It’s all very quick, just to get her out the door and into the swamp where she can be a fish out of water and at the mercy of Dr. Arcane. Once there, she meets a few more villains, some henchmen and henchwomen, and finally, she meets Swamp Thing, a man a plant lover can fall for. Yeah, you heard that right, fall for which she of course, does.

A few other people come and go in the story; plans are thwarted, and the plant man finds a way to pour himself into a bathtub, saves the day, and wins the girl. The story here is not exactly complex, but it also doesn’t claim to be at any point. One of the good things this film does is not take itself too seriously. It’s not great, it’s not a high-budget production, it doesn’t have a large cast and crew, and it’s definitely not a tentpole film. More importantly, it knows it. It plays everything tongue-in-cheek and does so quite well. There are a few annoying scenes here and there, but overall, the story flows well and moves at a good pace; both things help the nonsense from certain scenes just blow by without issues. Of course, some of the characters are thinner than paper thin. Some are just shells of human beings, present to serve a purpose and never seen again.

For example, at the start of the film, the shop assistant is told of Miss Arcane’s plans. We never see her again, and her lines are forgettable as can be. She’s there, so we can get exposition without Arcane going full plant crazy lady talking to her green friends a bit too much. We get treated to a few more of these characters along the way, but it’s not a hindrance to the story or its logic. Even the two kids who show up, get in trouble, and get rescued by Swamp Thing, don’t come off too badly. I mean, they are annoying, they do stupid things, and they are just there for the hero to save and make a point, but they are not the worst I’ve seen in a movie. Then comes the villains. They are cheesy. Yes, that is the theme here; they are cheesy! Like a 5-cheese lasagna at a cheap Italian diner cheesy. Are they effective villains? Or even henchmen and women? No. They are some of the least threatening villains put to film, but somehow, they make sense here. They are silly, they are ineffectual, and they don’t bring much, but they do entertain. Some of them you love, some of them you hate, and some of them you love to hate.

 Dr. Arcane himself is such a caricature that it’s hard to take anyone seriously in this film. The fact that Abby is his stepdaughter is mentioned here and there, but she also seems to be considered his daughter. The death of her mother was years ago, yet she’s now going to rectify things, once she gets there, the plush, fluffy bedroom she is given seems to make all her worries go away. That is until she gets imprisoned and needs saving. There is a lot of back and forth and so many different things in this film, yet none of it sticks or is very impressive here while it all fits somehow. This is the kind of story that makes sense here, within this world. It makes sense for those who have come here expecting a silly comedy with some seriously dark bits. It’s one of those films that wouldn’t make any sense in any other setting, with any other cast, in any other movie.

The movie’s direction here is by Jim Wynorski, the man behind Chopping Mall, 976-Evil 2, Munchie and its sequel, Ghoulies IV, and a ton more. The man comes from the Roger Corman way of filmmaking which means that he can do a lot with very little in terms of budget and resources. He can make the most out of just about anything. The script by Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris, from characters created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, is clearly on the humorous side, and Wynoski’s touch brings it fully into its dark humor and gooey quality for the viewer to enjoy. The direction here is pretty much exactly as expected by Wynoski, and it works. The film is kind of insane, a bit silly, splattery, and filled with a bunch of nonsense, and he makes the most out of all of it. 

This is a pure 1989, low-budget comic book film that many seem to have skipped on seeing its trailer and how it didn’t seem to make sense with the first one by Wes Craven. It’s a massive departure from the Craven film, but it still makes sense with it, in a way. It’s like, what if Craven went cheesy, something he’s done before, some would say, with Deadly Friend. Okay, it’s not as cheesy, but it has some cheese. Like a 2 out of 5 on the brie cheese scale.

The Return of Swamp Thing Revisited

In terms of cast, the film has one very familiar face around whom the script was adapted a bit with a TJ Hooker reference and a Motley Crue joke. Heather Locklear was a big name back in 1989, with lots of magazine and television coverage. She had been on CHIPs, Eight is Enough, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, TJ Hooker, Dynasty, and a bunch more before The Return of Swamp Thing. She was an established actress and a hot one regarding how much attention she attracted. Her marriage to Tommy Lee had her on the cover of all kinds of publications, making her even more recognizable.

She was everywhere, and everyone wanted her. She was, and still is a decent actress, and she clearly gave this film a lot of energy and did what she could with the part. She’s fun to watch here and helps the story make sense a little bit. The cast only has two returning members from the first film, Louis Jourdan as Dr. Anton Arcane and Dick Durock as Swamp Thing. It’s minimal, but they both help connect the two films together. Jourdan chews some serious scenery here, and Durock does the best he can, considering he’s under tons of prosthetics.

In the only sequence where Swamp Thing is in human form here, the part goes to a completely different actor, something that feels unfair once it’s found out. While watching the film, the other actor doesn’t get enough screen time for it to make a difference. The rest of the cast overall seems to have been given the same direction as Jourdan, with some serious scenery chewing and a few cases of taking this film way more seriously than it needs to be. As a whole, the acting works, though. I mean, it works for the film. Is it great? Nah, no way. Does it work for the story and everything else? Yep, indeed, it does. The cast, in general, understood that the film was not some serious drama or a big-budget action film or was it a comedy through and through, so they had some odd dance to do to make this work, and most of them did.

Now, the practical effects! They are lovely. By that, I mean they are gooey, they are made of latex and rubber, they are gross at times, and almost sweet at others (yeah, Swampy growing a flower out of himself to give to Abby got me). The practical effects are on point here, especially considering the budget being $3 million total; there had to have been not that much left for the effects once the cast and crew were paid for. The Swamp Thing design is clearly from the first film, but there are other beings in Dr. Arcane’s lab that are both gross and sad here, all of them in different states of mutations from their human forms to their whatever form. The work on the special effects for them, from their design to their application, shows talent and that the filmmakers knew what they wanted here. They look gross; they look cool; they look a little… Cheesy? Yeah, like a good bleu cheese dressing, cool, cheesy, gross.  

The Return of Swamp Thing Revisited

Now, two other aspects of the film that just hit you in the face with their cheesy factor are the set designs, set decorations, and costume designs. The work by those teams comes together like the perfect baked ziti, all cheesy, gooey goodness. Yes, it’s another cheese comparison; I don’t care. This film deserves it. The work on the production design and décor is done within the range expected for the budget. It means that the lab looks like a set, the prison looks like a set, and a few other places look like a set, but it works. I mean, it mostly works, and it certainly works within the confines of this movie. The costumes are where things are great here. The wardrobe for Abby Arcane has everything from pastels to satin, to big brim hats, to purely 1980s accessories. This is from the late 1980s, so it shows. It’s the end of the decade, so things are a bit more in your face, a bit more extravagant, so as expected for the end of an era or almost the end of an era. 

Some could debate that the 1980s style of clothes and accessories we think about when reminiscing about the decade was more from the mid-1980s to 1992, but I digress. Here, they are in full-blown 1980s mode, and they are glorious. Like a nice 3-cheese pizza. You know I had to. The wardrobe is stunning in all its tacky glory; it’s gorgeous, and it fits star Heather Locklear perfectly. On the male side of things, Swampy doesn’t need clothes except in that one sequence where clothes aren’t the point anyway. Dr. Arcane does get some fantastic suits here, and the henchmen and henchwomen, do we say henchpeople? have some colorful versions of henchpeople outfits that just fit the film’s tone. Overall, the fashion on display here is on point, like in the first film, and it almost becomes a sort of character of its own. Kudos to costume designer Vicki Graef for her work here. Love it! And that’s unapologetically loving it; no irony here.

The Return of Swamp Thing is a solid visit to the cheesemonger, all flavors included. It’s a cheesetastic movie, and I love it for it. I may have actually seen it before the first film, and it may have influenced my love of the original. I love this one even though I fully see its issues from some story problems, some acting bits that don’t fit, and some other stuff that just not quite on point, but after all is said and done, the 7 out of 10 rating is fair. It’s a ball of great cheese, a film not to take too seriously, and a film to watch with the intention of having fun. It’s one of those films that’s great to watch with people, a bunch of friends who don’t mind having a running commentary, maybe some cheesy dishes, and a few drink options for those who partake. This is a film that could even be watched with kids, as the only “adult situation” here is just so silly it’s not really an issue. Of course, the mileage may vary. For this film nerd, this film is a regular rotation at home, one that’s just fun to pop in and enjoy. 

Two previous episodes of Revisited can be seen below. To see more of our shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals channel – and subscribe while you’re at it!

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-return-of-swamp-thing-revisited/

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