I suppose I’m just a romantic old fool, really, but I like to see the young people enjoying themselves. They’re standing in a crowded corner of a stifling set in South Carolina, surrounded by nonsensical movie biology and running out of money with every tick of the clock, but right now — just for this moment — Swamp Thing is an appealing movie.
It’s a clever little bit of romcom movie construction, really. Cable meets Alec Holland and Linda Holland, and makes the obvious inference. Then Alec takes Cable out into the swamp, where he offers her orchids and talks about the sex appeal of nature in general, and she shrugs him off.
“Just save the malarkey for your wife, Holland,” she says, and a playful grin spreads across his face.
Then they have a whole bunch of cute moments in the lab together, where he appreciates her intelligence, and she admires his dedication to solving world hunger. Finally, Linda mentions their father, and the penny drops for Cable: Alec and Linda are brother and sister, and Alec’s flirting was legit.
And Cable gets a wonderful moment, standing there among the paraphenalia, where she mentally goes over the events of the day, understands that Alec’s been teasing her, and makes some decisions about what she’s going to do about it. It’s a lovely bit of acting, probably the best moment in the entire film.
I have almost no patience at all for Arcane and his goons and pretty much anything that’s going to happen starting sixty seconds from now, but this moment of regular non-comic-book romantic comedy is the heart of the film — or, at least, it would be, if Ray Wise had been able to play the monster, too.
I don’t know if Wes Craven’s original idea would have worked, even if they’d had more money and development time. The plan was that Ray Wise would play the creature in close-ups and dialogue scenes, and stuntman Dick Durock would do the long shots and stunts. They actually filmed most of the movie with both Wise and Durock in the monster makeup, but their faces looked too different, even under the appliances.
But it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable problem. Movies use stunt doubles all the time for fighting and action scenes. You just need to plan the shots carefully, so the stunt double always has their face hidden or turned away, and you blend those shots with cleverly cropped close-up shots of the lead actor.
The problem is that it’s Swamp Thing, which they’re filming outside in murky acidic swamp water that degrades the suit, and everyone who goes into the water has to scrub themselves with antibiotics so they don’t get swamp scurvy or whatever, and the crew is doing coke in the bathroom. So it didn’t work.
And it’s a real shame, because I think he’s adorable here, and Ray Wise didn’t get a lot more chances to be adorable.
His very first gig was in a 1969 sexploitation film called Dare the Devil which was so obscure that Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes and Box Office Mojo have never heard of it. And then he went into soap operas, and never really left them.
From 1970 to 1976, he appeared on the CBS daytime soap Love of Life as Jamie Rawlins, who started out as a radical hippie college student and then became a cub reporter, a garage mechanic and a lawyer in the DA’s office. After that, he kind of drifted through some guest roles on primetime shows and TV-movies, on his way to another soap opera gig with Days of Our Lives, starting in 1982.
So what we’ve got here in 1982 is what I think is Wise’s one chance to be the leading man in a feature film, and he’s only in the first twenty minutes. I guess he doesn’t really have a leading man type face. He’s not unattractive, and I think he’s very cute as Alec, but he looks like what he is, a character actor who gets four romcom scenes and then explodes.
In 1989, Wise got the role that everybody knows him from: grieving father and spoiler alert Leland Palmer, on Twin Peaks. It’s a funny and weird part — he spends the first several episodes doing nothing but crying and pretending to dance with his dead daughter, and he gets even stranger from there.
He’s had a long and prolific career since then, mostly on television. He was the Vice President in one of the seasons on 24, he played the Devil on the CW show Reaper, and he had recurring roles on Fresh Off the Boat and How I Met Your Mother. He was on Mad Men and Agent Carter and Beverly Hills 90210, and he did a couple of years on The Young and the Restless.
But he never got to be the hero that sweeps the leading lady off her feet, and the one time that he tried, he got blown up and replaced with a 6’5″ stuntman in a rubber plant suit. Losing him from the movie is just one of the dozens of unhappy compromises that make up the running time of this film, and I wish he could have stuck around, somehow. Still, we’ll always have our memories of the orchid, and this crappy little corner of the lab.
We address the Ferret problem
3.12: The Hostiles
— Danny Horn