It’s the most wonderful time of the year; October. Join us for a tribute to a horror icon, a round-robin battle of ‘Horror Heroes’, a recent scare-TV round up and a look back over the movie Paperhouse.
Or walk away. For staying to face our puns could be the scariest thing of all this Halloween…
There are a variety of other ways in which you can listen to You Total Cult. You can automatically download the podcast via iTunes,RSS, and Feedburner .
The YTC podcast can be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/
As is a personal tradition, on my recent birthday I went to a particular second-hand shop in West London. This is one of my my favourite shops in London as it specialises in obscure art books, music biographies and Graphic Novels. I love going here on my birthdays as I always have some spare cash, and like Forest’s proverbial Chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
Frankly it also reminds me I am still an immature man-baby and not actually getting any older except for now sighing when I get off the sofa.
After spending some of this years birthday pennies (thanks Nan!) I left the shop with several trade paperbacks, including a few of Mike Carey’s run on the Hellblazer comic. Hellblazer may be better known to some readers by the protagonists surname- Constantine. John Constantine. In fact there was a surprisingly slick film with the same title of Constantine based on this property a decade or so ago, although it certainly bore only a passing resemblance to the source material.
Hellblazer is about a British occultist who generally saves the world from demons via sacrificing his friends lives. Only in the broadest terms is Constantine ‘a hero’ in that he does frequently stop supernatural menaces. He is perhaps far more comparable to being ‘a villain’ for his affect on those around him. Bitter, sarcastic, chain-smoking and always in trouble, John Constantine is a Noir figure all of his own. (Or, based on that same description, he’s just a typical surly teenager from Watford).
Now all of this introduction revolving around Hellbalzer/Constantine has only the slightest link to today’s blog. You see I have had a film lurking in my pile to watch for some time. Since I was a child, in fact. A film based on a comic property that I own on DVD but that I have never watched before. A film to rival my previous blog on the adaptation of Marvel Comic’s Man-Thing (http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/hollyweird/hollyweird-episode-xxiv-behold-my-mighty-man-thing/). The film in question is based on a different comic franchise to Hellbalzer, and was actually the first title that John Constantine appeared in as a supporting cast member. Today;s film is DC’s Swamp Thing!
Swamp Thing was always a film that somehow passed me by during my childhood. It came out in 1982, and I was born in 1981. Yet still I knew it existed. I knew of the comic character. I knew of the cartoon series. I remember the film posters in back issues of comics. As a comic-nerd of the 1990’s, I sought out every Superhero film that I could. In the days before Hollywood was interested this ranged from episodes of The Incredible Hulk featuring dodgy versions of Thor and Daredevil, to a Captain America movie made with the budget f a happy hour at the pub.
So it was odd that somehow Swamp Thing always eluded me. It was just one of those films that was never on TV, was not stocked in the local VHS rental shop and that none of my friends owned. What made this even stranger in hindsight is that it was directed by Wes Craven, a gentleman who’s films I grew up loving, from the obvious A Nightmare On Elm Street through to a very worn out copy of The People Under The Stairs.
Curiously enough, growing up I had seen the 1989 sequel, the imaginatively titled The Return Of Swamp Thing. Perhaps memories of how poor the sequel was put me off ever truly investing in tracking down the original.
A movie based on a comic book license that was directed by a horror genre legend had somehow remained unseen by me into my thirties. Now reaching 32, enough was enough and it was time to put that dusty old disc into the DVD player.
Almost instantly, one cast member on screen is a familiar face, Adrienne Barbeau. Barbeau is more familiar to me through Escape From New York, The Fog, Creepshow and- might I add unashamedly- a personal favourite, Cannonball Run.
Barbeau is playing Alice Cable, a Government Agent assigned to report on some mysterious research taking place in the back-swamps of Louisiana. Nothing more is explained to her other than the secrecy is being done to avoid ‘Arcane’ finding out about the project.
After Adrienne Barbeau’s appearance has intrigued me a little, another actor soon draws me in even more. For one thing, this performer is playing a thug who kills another man by snake. Yeah that’s right. A snake. Murder by snake. Guns are for cowards, knives are for chefs, but snakes are for the creative sort of assailant!
As assailants go, they don’t come much more intimidating than this actor, particularly for anyone familiar with his previous turn in Craven’s Last House On The Left. Playing the lead henchmen in Swamp Thing is Mr. David Hess.
Hess is capable in both The Last House… and in this feature too of giving off an aura of uncertain scuzziness, as if either film could take a nasty turn into snuff territory at any moment. I have read reports that the actor, and musician, David Hess was a lovely man. So credit to him for it not showing it through this work.
Cue the Opening Credits. These clearly imply the tone that Craven was most likely aiming for. The credits run via odd screen wipes and boxed off images, giving them a staggered, graphical quality. In other words, at this point it is pretty clear that the film will be an homage to Comic Book sensibilities. Once the credits pass, the narrative returns. Already the film has featured an established horror actress and a familiar, creepy sidekick. What we need now is a hero. A man who screams strength and dignity. Surprisingly then, it’s Ray Wise.
Wise plays Dr Alec Holland, a man working on a plant-animal genetic splicing formula. He hopes to be able to grow plants that can survive in any environment to solve world hunger- which is certainly an admirable goal, although mixing daisies and doves hardly seems the most practical approach. Still, to each their own. Wise manages to fills this role as Dr. Holland with a sense of decency and warmth early on, as well a s a fun-loving energy.
In part down to this charisma, the Doc and Agent Cable begin to bond pretty quickly. Whilst they develop feelings for one another he also finds the breakthrough in his formula. Go Dr. Holland! Quite a week for the big guy!
But since every silver lining has a cloud, the whispered bad guy from earlier, ‘Arcane’, finally appears. In fact he has actually been working with Holland all this time in disguise. Played by Lois Jordan, who was also the bad guy in oo7’s Octopussy adventure, Arcane is a literal ‘mad doctor’. He is obsessed with immortality and believes Holland’s solution can lead to it.
Arcane and his crew, amongst them is the gleeful David Hess, kill the Doctor’s research team and steal almost all of his notebooks- all except for the final one. Agent Cable gets away with this crucial book during the chaos. During this attack, Alec is covered in his plant-animal solution and then set on fire. He runs off screaming into the Swamp, which is probably a good call when burning alive.
This shot of Holland running whilst ablaze is actually very impressive. This is done through a long, single take. These days it would most likely be done via CGI and look nowhere near as good, so kudos to the stunt team for this set piece.
Sadly for this impressive stunt, the entire action scene has a camp value that detracts from it. Aside from the dated haircuts or comic book tone established early on, the fact this scene look laughably awful is due to the fact that ‘the swamp’ is an over lit studio.
By making a crucial set piece seem so fake at this stage the result does not pay homage to comic book fun nor present some hammy replica of schlock horror films. It just looks dumb.
Oh well, whatever, never mind… With Holland covered in his plant-animal chemical and running into the bayou, can you possibly whatever happened to Dr Holland?? I’ll give you a pictoral clue…
Or at least that is how the newly-formed ‘Swamp Thing’ should look.
Even allowing for different artists’ renderings or changes to the figures general form over time, what is in the film is a pretty shoddy representation of the comic counterpart. In 1980’s Hollywood, poor ol’ Dr. Holland actually became this:
This is terrible, but the fact the film takes almost completely in daylight certainly does not help things. Some shadows and slime can go a long way in cinematic creature design.
As if all that isn’t bad enough, at this stage the mute Swamp Thing is now played by Stunt Man Dick Durock. No more Ray Wise. Sigh.
Back to the plot, each time that Non-Ray-Wise-Now-A-Stunt-Man-Swamp-Thing appears, it is to try and save his new love, Agent Cable. His powers are not made particularly clear, although he is very strong and mostly impervious to damage. He can also raise the dead, but that barely gets used for some reason.
Not that such powers help him much. When Arcane works out the link between Agent Cable and Swamp Thing, he lures Swampy into a trap. In a sudden flash, Arcane strikes with… (drum roll)… a net!
He also gets an arm cut off, but luckily a shard of daylight grows it back quite late into the film. Which is pretty nonsensical given he walked around in the sunlight when it happened without healing. Ah well. In a film about an animal-plant hybrid it is difficult to get upset by such issues.
The rest of the film has its plotting that I’m just going to shorten into the key parts; there is a little boy who run convenience store, Adrienne Barbeau’s boobs, David Hess killing people, a muscle man getting turned into a cigar-smoking midget, more boobs, and finally Arcane mutating into a giant Wolf-Thing that faces off with Dr. Holland. At least I assume it was Wolf-thing. The costume is hard to tell beyond ‘furry’ and ‘cheap’.
I have skimped over quite a lot of Swamp Thing film because it is an average watch and not particularly memorable in itself. What actually makes it a more of an interesting watch though is the simple fact that this is a Wes Craven movie. Swamp Thing does not look like any of his others. The cinematography is brightly lit. The design work features pastel tones mixing with more vibrant, primary colours. Outdoor locations are used more than I can recall in his other movies. Even the pace of the film is even more rollicking, seeming more like a family adventure movie than the majority of his work, which naturally is in horror and requires a different speed to it.
As such as a curiosity for Craven fans, Swamp Thing is well worth seeing. But fans of the actual Swamp Thing comic will most likely want something a bit truer to the comic book of recent decades which is more focused on existentialism, ecology, and psychological horrors. Similarly, casual fans of Wes Craven’s more renowned genre movies, such as Scream, A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Last House On the Left may be a little disappointed at the more lightweight, irreverent feel of Swamp Thing.
To Swamp Thing’s credit, the film does at least vaguely stick to the source material as opposed to the Man-Thing movie, even if neither are very strong in their own right. Yet out of the two Out of the two, Swamp Thing is definitely a lot more fun to watch. This is mainly down to the strong cast and breezy direction. Oddly enough, if comparing the two movie adaptations of their similar-looking comic counterparts, it is probably the mysterious man at the back who comes out best. To return to the start of this blog, it is the man who first appeared in the Swamp Thing comic, John Constantine, that has the best film adaptation out there via Constantine.
Perversely though, also Constantine ditched almost everything recognisable from the original comic.
Hmm, Food for thought. Or perhaps just ‘food for things’ in this case.
Next time I’ll be writing up a little festive trilogy for Christmas. Three whole films in one new blog! Wow, what a present! I suppose a friend of mine was once correct when he stated “Santa comes but once a year, but when he does he fills a stocking”.
The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…
2012 saw the release of two comic book Superhero properties released to big effect, both The Avengers (Or ‘Marvels Avengers Assemble!’ if you prefer) and The Dark Knight Rises (Or ‘Fmpf Duhhhr Nhut Rzzzes‘ if you couldn’t understand Bane). Both films made a shed load of money at the Box Office. ‘Shed load’ is of course not a technical term, but they were probably both big enough hits to enable the Producers to enjoy a Scrooge McDuck style swim in their profits.
Of course Superhero films have been large hits before. Sam Raimi’s take on Spider-Man was such a big earner that less than 5 years between his trilogy the whole franchise was rebooted. Tim Burton’s 1989 version of Batman was a pop-culture phenomenon that reportedly netted Jack Nicholson a total of $84 Million! Men In Black was based on a long-forgotten Malibu imprint comic. Even 35 years ago, the success of Richard Donner’s Superman is perhaps what first proved comic-book properties could work as Summer blockbusters.
There are further success stories too, but then again there are also the flops. Not just financial flops, but critical ones. The sort of films whereby the film makers did not bother to read the source material. The sort of turkeys that even a Vegetarian such as myself would like to shoot down with one of one of Iron Man’s Repulsor Rays.
There are a whole gamut of terrible low budget films, TV Movies or Pilots based on Comics properties. Among these productions can be found a Spider-Man in LA who fights ninjas, David Hasslehoff as the least menacing Nick Fury of all time and an Italian Red Skull (I’m guessing the Producer fancied a break in Milan over Berlin). Suffice to say these are notoriously awful and shoddy treatments of valuable properties, and I haven’t even mentioned Roger Corman’s Fantastic 4 movie.
(Mind you, if Roger Corman made a film starring Hasslehoff as Spider-Man in the guise of an international Ninja battling Italians I’d certainly give it a go).
Setting aside these lower-tier productions, there remain another three comic book movies which immediately spring to mind as the worst ever made. No budgetary constraints can be leveled at these bad boys. They were all big releases but the Lord knows who signed off on them. In no particular order they are:
Some readers may feel that any of the three Punisher movies should be included, or maybe either of the Ghost Rider moviesdeserve a nod here. Perhaps the camp Batman Forever or Batman & Robin are strange omissions in a list of bad comic book movies. Likewise for Howard the Duck.
Howard: Born To Duck
These are all bad films- truly bad films in some cases- but I feel that they all have some level of redeeming quality about themselves. Yes, really. Not much, I grant you. But certainly I can at least enjoy aspects of any of them with friends or booze or boozy friends.
Elektra, Barb Wire or Catwoman have zero entertainment for me though. They are each dumb or dull, and at least two are arguably insulting to Women everywhere. Yet despite all of this, they are not the worst Comic Book movie that I have ever seen. Oh no. For you see I actually own a copy of…. Man-Thing!
So just why is Man Thing worse than all of the aforementioned movies? Well, put simply, it has nothing to do with the damn comic! Say what you will about Elektra, Cat Woman or Barb Wire but they at least have some semblance to their source material.
Man-Thing is not a well known character by any means. In the publishing world there are two giants in the Superhero print; Marvel’s and DC. Marvel’s most famous creations are quite possibly Spider-Man, The X-Men and The Avengers. Meanwhile DC’s heavy hitters are arguably Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
One of DC’s characters, Swamp Thing, details a sentient plant-like creature that is charged with protecting ‘The Green’. The Green is not money or marijuana, but it is instead the Earth. Swamp Thing is in effect an conscious vegetable that is a vigilante member of Green Peace.
Man-Thing is often considered Marvel’s version of Swamp Thing. (Though both steal from an older character called The Heap, too if you want to get technical). Both Man-Thing and Swamp Thing have similar monikers, they certainly both look alike and both dwell in similar habitats. Depending on which writers is supplying the origin, Swamp Thing and Man-Thing even have similar origins within their respective back stories.
No similarities here- move along
However, where as Swamp Thing has a clear purpose within the DC Universe and has at times been written with considerable insight into the human condition, Man-Thing is pretty much a C-List Marvel character. He is more of a silent beast that helps shift stories in certain directions.
Perhaps the most relevant difference for this blog is where as Swamp Thing’s first movie adaptation was for a Theatrical run and was handled by Wes Craven, the Man-Thing’s movie was shown as a Sc-Fi channel movie and was made by Brett Leonard. Who is Brett Leonard I hear you sigh? Why he’s the director of The Lawnmower Man, Highlander: The Source and Virtuosity. Ah. That explains a lot.
Isn’t it funny how Sheriffs and Journalists are always this young and attactive?
In the comics, the general idea of Man-Thing is that he is a mutated scientist. He is no longer capable of coherent thought and relies on emotional states. His body is a mix of acid and vegetation. He lives in a swamp, which coincidentally enough is also the ‘Nexus to Other Realities’. So he just sort of mopes around the swamp, and if any demonic things appear linked to the Nexus, Man-Thing tends to pick up on their evil vibes and react accordingly. He is sort of a good guy by circumstance more than an actual hero.
His predominant power is also described in the same way throughout many comic books that I read as child. For you see, “Whatever knows fear…. burns at the Man-Things touch!” I thought that was due to Gonorrhea, but nope. It’s Fear. So for instance, should a human character be in contact with Man-Thing and they are scared, his own emotional state will flux and he will begins to secrete acid. The human will then melt due to their initial fear of him. There is most likely a lesson about not fearing the ugly or the unknown in there, but as a kid I just liked the fact that bad guys touched him and then melted.
Burn, Baby, Burn!
So the character of Man-Thing is pretty broad. His world mixes science and magic. Furthermore, the Man-Thing reacts to the world around him, but he is not really a protagonist or an antagonist. Consequently any film adaptation has quite a lot of open space to play around with concerning morality, mysticism, science and super-heroes/villains. So how could they go wrong with nothing to draw from? Well they could ignore all of that and make their own back story
In the 2005 film Man-Thing, the title character is now a Native American monster. It stalks anti-environmentalists and grows trees inside them or, if its feeling particularly uncreative, it simply rips them limb from limb. The film plays like an after-school special mixed with a Slasher film, starring a killer Broccoli Stalk as the villain.
So manly… yet so… thingy.
I could describe the film further, but I just plain do not want to. It is too depressing to write up much about the film. Instead I’ll just add these random thoughts.
Being a film that involves Native Americans there is of course a ‘wise old Indian’. He knows things that the White folks simply don’t. Of course if he openly share these thoughts he could save a lot of lives, but maybe he wants his land back.
Being a horror film, there is a girl with fake breasts out the start of the movie. She is supposed to be a teenage school girl, so you have to think that signing off on fake breasts is some bad parenting right there.
Throughout the feature there are repeated cut away shots of nature. So many in fact I do not think there is some deep message about environmentalism so much as a need to pad out the total running time.
Man-Thing looks surprisingly good. He is a good approximation of his comic image. However the film makers have given him a permanent shake. Whatever the logic of it, ‘Poor Ol’ Manny’ seems to be suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.
The end of the film involves the swamp being polluted with Crude Oil. Man-Thing is then dispatched via being set alight. Quite the plan from the good guys. Luckily enough the oil never catches alight or the Swamp would be reduced to cinder. Good thing all Crude Oil is fireproof, right? Right??
Perhaps this is not the ‘wise old Indian’ you were expecting, you racists?!?!?
The oddest thing about Man-Thing is that it even tough is a terribly dull watch, at least it has some sort of a plot which is more than can be said for something like Green Lantern. The truth is that I have seen more inept films many times over. However I still I have to consider it the worst comic book movie that I have seen for one simple reason; the film makers got Man-Thing’s powers and origins wrong.
Man-Thing barely has any back story or powers and the film makers still erased them! They had a near open canvas to play with abut still avoided only the loosest of pencil sketches that were already in place.
If you get the rights to a Superhero property and then disregard 90% of the very loose back story and the characters powers, then why even bother to use the rights?!? Why not just make the same film and call it “Swamp Beast” or “Ragin’ Cajun”? It’s not as though the name ‘Man-Thing’ has much cache amongst even comic fans. I’m not sure this can count as a wasted opportunity since even a self-confessed comic nerd such as myself was hardly waiting to see a Man-Thing adaptation. It is however a waste of 97 minutes of my life that I will never get back.
Now, I have in fact been slightly in-genuine in this entry. There is one film so terrible that it is actually even worse an experience than Man-Thing. A film that stars Scarlett Johanssen dressed in different fetishist costumes and still manages to be a total waste of time. A film that makes me wish Man-Things touch could burn my eyes out. But if anybody out there thinks that I’m going to ever write about The Spirit then they need a slap upside their head.
Next Time I have no idea what I’ll be doing. Some physical injuries a while ago have made this blog hard to plan, so I’ll just play it by beer!
Thanks for reading,
There's no 'i' in 'team', but there is a 'u' in 'cult'.