Super Movie Monday – The Return of Swamp Thing

So in 1989, seven years after Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing (which was discussed here last week), came the sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing. Back for the sequel were Dick Durock as Swamp Thing and Louis Jourdan as villain Arcane (yes, he was killed in the first film, but he reappears in this one). Gone are the semi-dark tone of Craven’s film and the Barboobs.

Instead, director Jim Wynorski, fresh off the triumph that was Traci Lords in the remake of the sci-fi exploitation pic Not of This Earth, plays the movie as a comedy. This is made all the more bizarre by the fact that the reason Swamp Thing had become popular enough to make a sequel was that Alan Moore, with artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben, had taken a much darker approach to the material, making the series into an honest-to-God horror story.

The film opens with some good ol’ boys trudging through hip deep water and carrying M-16’s. They are Treasury agents looking for an illegal still, but what they find instead is a giant leech-man, who kills a couple of them.

Some of the men run away, only to be shot by a mysterious babe.

The last man is saved by the arrival of a green giant who pounds the leech-man into submission. He introduces himself as Swamp Thing.

The suit is better this time around, leafier and more verdant, reflecting Steve Bissette’s more complex interpretation rather than the clean lines of Berni Wrightson’s original. But in this film, neither Durock nor the filmmakers do anything to change Durock’s normal speaking voice. He sounds like he should be doing TV commercials for a car dealership. So Swamp Thing is both cooler and stupider.

Anyway, after an opening credits sequence that features a montage of artwork from Swamp Thing comics that’s more dramatic and interesting than anything we’ll see in the next hour-and-a-half, we meet Abby Arcane, played by Heather Locklear.

She owns a flower shop, so she likes plants, get it? Also, she’s upset at her stepfather, Arcane, because he has never given her an adequate explanation for how her mother died nor why she wasn’t invited to the funeral, and her therapist says she can never get a boyfriend until she deals with the issue. No, really.

Meanwhile, back in the swamp, we find the villain Arcane, once again played by Louis Jourdan, looking surprisingly healthy after being killed off by Swamp Thing in the first film.

There is some half-explanation that he has been brought back to life with a formula that has left his body unstable, but it never makes any sense. Arcane meets with his scientists, Dr. Rochelle and the dishy Dr. Lana Zurrell (Sarah Douglas). The surviving T-men who were tranquilized by the babe (Miss Poinsettia, a member of Arcane’s security forces) have undergone experiments turning them into half-men, half-beasts. And the make-up effects aren’t half-bad, really. This roach-man is a nicely monstrous design, with a look very reminiscent of Steve Bissette’s work.

They leave it on screen too long, but really, if Wynorski had put half the amount of care into the rest of the film that went into these monster suits, then, well, the film would probably still suck, because Wynorski is a hack. But one can dream.

Anyway,  Abby arrives at Arcane’s mansion in the swamp.  Abby and Lana hate each other instantly. Mainly because it’s obvious that Lana and Arcane are together. Lana and Arcane have an intimate evening together, where they plot to combine Abby’s genetic code with Swamp Thing’s serum to stabilize whatever they did to bring Arcane back to life.

Meanwhile, a couple of kids in a trailer park take advantage of their parents absence to eat junk food and look at porn. And we get a little bit of inadvertent documentary along the way. For instance, remember when MTV stood for Music Television?

Loved those animated interstitials. And then we get a glimpse of the covers of the magazines.

Normally in movies, you get faked magazines and other products, but it looks as if here they went with some real issues. Let’s check…

Yeah, it looks as if they were filming this scene in mid-1988, because the issues I can find are from the summer of that year. The Hustler is June 1988, in which “Women Tell What Really Gets Them Hot!” The magazine on the lower left with hte white background is the July 1988 issue of Velvet, while in another shot we saw the July 1988 issue of Fox. So apparently a prop guy just  ran down to the newsstand to grab a bunch of whatever was available that month.

Sorry, there was a movie, wasn’t there? So there’s a knock on the door, and the kids panic, thinking it’s the parents returning. They hide the magazines, only to discover that it’s not their parents; it’s the leech-man! They run outside, where they are saved by the appearance of Swamp Thing. He and the leech-man grab metal poles and start bashing each other with them (and for some reason, lightning crackles along the poles when they hit–maybe the leech-man is actually an electric eel man?).

Whatever. The leech-man inadvertently hits a propane tank, and there’s a big explosion, destroying half the trailer park, although if you look closely, you can see that the leech-man and the propane tank, where the explosions supposedly started, are still intact.

The boys decide that Swamp Thing is a good guy, so he gives them the cheesy thumbs up.

Later, Arcane and Abby have dinner, when Lana hands Abby a ring that supposedly belonged to her mother. The ring cuts her finger however, and it becomes apparent that the gift was merely meant to obtain a sample of Abby’s blood. So she gets pissed off and wanders out into the swamp, where she runs into a couple of moonshiners (remember the still from the opening scene?). They threaten to rape her, but Swamp Thing saves her. He tells her his origin over some footage from the previous film, then she is captured by Arcane’s soldiers, while a group of them fire at Swamp Thing.

That guy in back never fires, probably because there was not a safe line of fire, even with blanks. But they had to line up that way to look good on camera. Swamp Thing is blown up by grenades.

Abby is taken back to the Arcane mansion, where Arcane plans to extract her genetic material for his own immortality. But he also needs a second genetic sample to stabilize the formula, and one of the potential donors just happens to be Lana. Arcane orders her death without a second thought, but she overhears. She’s so distraught that she decides to take a bath.

So Abby escapes with the help of Lana and Swamp Thing, who has  reformed from the green sludge that ran into the bathtub. Abby and Swamp Thing escape in Lana’s jeep. Swamp Thing drives, while Abby kills a few guards with a shotgun. Wha?

Once in the swamp, Abby suddenly decides that Swamp Thing is her new boyfriend. After all, she likes plants, and real guys have never done her much good.

Alec is a little taken aback by the idea, protesting that he can’t give her the kind of love she wants, hint hint.  Abby asks if he’d like to, and wow, I really have no idea what she’s thinking about, but it’s probably not the hallucinogenic pod Alec snaps off of his hip. He and Abby both take a bite, and suddenly, she’s in a dream sequence kissing Dick Durock without his suit.

Now we see why the footage from the first film never showed Alec Holland’s face (played by Ray Wise in the first film). So basking in the afterglow, Swamp Thing hears the kids from the trailer park screaming for help (they’re trying to find Swamp Thing so they can take a picture to sell to the tabloids) and saves them from some of Arcane’s security guys. But that leaves Abby alone to be kidnapped.

So Lana (having gotten rid of Dr. Rochelle) performs the operation to transfer Abby’s life essence to Arcane, which ends up killing Abby. But it turns out that Lana intentionally used the wrong formula, leaving Arcane deteriorating faster than ever. So he kills Lana. Then Swamp Thing busts in and confronts Arcane, which is when the mutated Dr. Rochele bursts out of his holding cell. Monster fight!

If you look closely, you can see the rubber appliance that forms Rochelle’s giant elongated skull flopping loosely when he takes punch. Rochelle is killed and a fire starts. Swamp Thing takes Abby’s body with him, leaving Arcane trapped in the fire to die. Out in the swamp, Alec uses his special healing powers to bring Abby back to life, though he doesn’t grope her like he did Cable in the first film.

They kiss, though Alec warns there might be side effects, which is the cue to show the flower growing out of her foot. Ick.

The film is, of course, wretchedly bad. However, what makes it feel weird are the many references to storylines and characters from Moore’s run on the comic, which make you think there might possibly have been a good film to be made, if they’d had a budget and a director who gave a shit about the source material.


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2 Responses to Super Movie Monday – The Return of Swamp Thing

  1. Sargon says:

    Man, I had that Hustler issue.

  2. Slab Hardapple says:

    Weird how you only remember certain scenes from movies of your early childhood. We had this movie on a bootleg VHS copy and I must have watched it nearly two dozen times as a small child. But other than the trailer park kids looking at porn and the leech monster fight, the scene I remember most is of Abby’s coworker (employee? assistant?) disinterestedly eating yogurt in the flower shop as Abby prattles on about plants being better than men. Each time I think of that movie, which isn’t often, I think “Huh, I could go for a yoplait right about now”.

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