Blu-ray/DVD Reviews: ‘Swamp Thing,’ ‘A Boy And His Dog’

Swamp Thing

How qualified am I to review writer-director Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, new on Blu-ray/DVD in a combo pack from Shout! Factory on Tuesday, Aug. 6? Well, how’s this: My familiarity with the character extends to buying DC’s first Swamp Thing comic book off the newsstand racks in 1972.

A decade later, Craven made his low-budget but affectionately campy film.  And I must say, today, it has aged well. Sure, it’s grinding to keep seeing men hurled into water as alleged violent action, and the Beauty and the Beast plot is as hoary as any. But Craven still makes it work as an action-fantasy, and he truly gets bang for his buck (reportedly, a budget of $3 million after frequent belt-tightening during production in South Carolina).

Fresh from her horror and action turns in then-husband John Carpenter’s The Fog and Escape From New York, Adrienne Barbeau stars as an agent sent to a remote swamp to join Dr. Holland (Ray Wise) as he tries to meld plant and animal tissue into one being. He does so by accident when attacked by dark forces commanded by Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan), becoming a hulking green plant-man with super strength. Marshy mayhem ensues.

The discs are bolstered by generous extras, including Barbeau’s interview in the 17-minute Tales From the Swamp. She relates how it was an arduous shoot but says Craven “made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear that was based on a silk purse.” (She loved the script, though she hated how she looked onscreen.)

Also offered is the 14-minute Hey Jude with Reggie Batts, who played her kid sidekick (Jude) and was a Charleston local when cast in the film. One-hit wonder, but nice guy.

Then there’s the 13-minute That Swamp Thing: A Look Back with Len Wein, who wrote the original comic (as illustrated by macabre master Berni Wrightson). The featurette’s title stems from the fact, as Wein relates, that he wrote the comic before naming the character, and kept referring to it as “that swamp thing” before turning that into its formal monicker.

Like Barbeau, Wein praises Craven, saying he treated Swamp Thing with the same kind of respect that Sam Raimi gave Spider-Man.  Wein also says Guillermo del Toro wants to make anther Swamp Thing movie (an exciting prospect), but adds that “nobody knows” who owns the screen rights now, “so it keeps getting back-burnered.”

Also included are the original theatrical trailer and a gallery of photos, as well as commentary by Craven, who allows that it was a “tough movie” and the swamps “were very difficult to shoot in.” (Having shot much of Jaws on the water, Steven Spielberg would say, “You think that’s bad?”)

In short, this Blu-ray/DVD gives Swampie the loving treatment the character received from comic book and film creators decades ago. If you’re a fan, rest assured he’s in good hands.

Not aging nearly as well is the originally acclaimed A Boy And His Dog, a 1975 cheapie based on a novella by Harlan Ellison, the acclaimed sci-fi writer whose two scripts for my beloved Outer Limits in the ’60s wound up getting him a credit on James Cameron’s The Terminator when it stole his plots.

As for Dog’s plot, it’s now a numbingly cliched post-apocalypse vision which may have felt fresh in ’75 but has become more stale than the years-old food its scrabbling survivors seek in desert vastness. Among them is Don Johnson, whose sidekick is a scruffy dog who for some reason has human intelligence and speaks to him telepathically while smelling out females with whom Johnson can have sex.

Yes, women are chattel in this juvenile, misogynistic yarn which proceeds with glacial slowness under the hand of director L.Q. Jones, who adapted the screenplay.

Among its many problems are the fact that the dog almost never seems engaged with Johnson, even while animatedly venting to him in voice-over “telepathy.” And, of course, a world decimated by nuclear holocaust would have this teensy little problem called radiation, which never comes up.

There’s also a preposterous underground society — complete with parks and trees — where a slumming Jason Robards makes a cameo. And Johnson’s acting? Don’t get me started.

As for extras, if you want to wallow in a mutual admiration society’s lovefest, try the 51-minute In Conversation with Jones and Ellison, who float the notion that this was (ahem) the greatest science fiction movie ever made.

Look, I have enormously high regard for Ellison. Among many great page and screen credits, he wrote Star Trek’s most beloved episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, and I avidly read his TV critiques known as The Glass Teat. As a writer, this guy is the real deal.

But movies are another animal, and this one is less “Boy, was that good” than “Sorry, but what seemed bold in the ’70s is now a  dog.”

— Bruce Westbrook

A Boy and His Dog

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