Swamp Thing 3.12: The Hostiles

And then the island is overrun by malefactors and nogoodniks, emerging from the mud flats. Dr. Alec Holland has just made his amazing scientific breakthrough — like, literally in the last sixty seconds, he made it — and suddenly, this is a base under siege.

I don’t know if you remember all those guards with guns who were scattered around the landscape outside the lab, but every single one of them has either been shot, run away or turned out to be just a cardboard cutout with “guard” written on the front. As far as the main characters are concerned, they are alone on the moon with no outside assistance, surrounded by a tribe of terrible people who are dead set on ruining everybody’s day.

So the main thing that I object to about this twist in the tale is how ugly all of Arcane’s assistants are. As you know, the only two important questions about a superhero movie are how much money did it make and how hot are the people, and for Swamp Thing, they spent all their hotness money on Adrienne Barbeau, and then filled out the rest of the cast with the least visually appealing people they could find.

I mean, I’m not saying that every single person in a movie needs to be attractive, although now that I say that, I can’t really think of a downside. But filmmakers are supposed to give the audience interesting and appealing things to look at during the runtime of the movie; that is the responsibility that they took on, when they decided to make a film.

And Swamp Thing obviously understands that, because they have Cable with her clothes off, and Arcane has two beautiful female assistants. But when it comes to the guys, it feels like they intentionally hired the most repellent people that they possibly could, and there are long stretches of the film where that’s the thing that we have to look at, and I resent it.

The worst one, of course, is Ferret, the leader of Arcane’s band of merry mercenaries, as he and his friends bust into the lab on the say-so of somebody else’s fingerprints.

“Very interesting, Doctor Holland!” he proclaims, strutting around with an unwarranted smirk.

Alec is swarmed by goons. “Who are you?” he asks.

Ferret takes in the room and says “Interesting,” which is pretentious, and not an answer to the question.

He walks up to the formula-enhanced orchid, which has burst its beaker and grown thick roots all over its corner of the lab table.

“Now, I know I haven’t seen anything like this before,” he says, and lifts the table up, just by grasping the oversized stem.

Then he looks at Alex, cocks his head, furrows his brow and says, “Have you?” in what I guess is supposed to be a sarcastic and threatening tone.

Now, in the script, Ferret says, “Interesting specimen, Dr. Holland. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.” Then he picks the table up by the orchid roots, and moves on with the scene. “Have you?” appears to be a David Hess special.

So there you have it, our first candidate for the worst moment in the movie. We’re currently 22 minutes and 48 seconds into the film, and if there’s anything coming up that’s worse than that line of dialogue delivered in that particular way, then there is rough sailing ahead.

“I represent a certain party,” Ferret explains, toying idly with an empty beaker, “that’s interested in your — formula? Give an arm and a leg for it.”

He poses with his head cocked, staring at Alec, open-mouthed. “Your arm and leg, if necessary.” And then he lets the beaker slip from his grasp, and it shatters on the floor. He continues to hold this pose. He thinks this is how you menace people.

Now, I want to be clear that I’m not upset because a villain is doing villainous things, in a villainous way. That is obviously what he should be spending his time on. The problem is the completely unearned smugness, delivered by an unappealing guy making moronic facial expressions.

Plus, as I noted last week, Adrienne Barbeau said that David Hess was unnecessarily rough with her during the shoot. So in the moment that leads up to this scene — when Ferret karate-chops Cable and pushes her to the ground, and then grabs her arm so that he can use her fingerprints to get through the door — we know that the dude was actually hurting Barbeau, and leaving bruises.

I would imagine that an actor couldn’t get away with damaging the merchandise like that, especially with the actress that they planned on shooting a nude scene with later. You’d think the director would have noticed, and told him to cut it out.

Except Wes Craven already knew what an asshole Hess was, because they’d worked together before. Hess played the lead villain, Krug Stillo, in Craven’s first movie, the 1972 exploitation horror film The Last House on the Left.

That film was David Hess’ first time in front of the camera, and apparently he decided on the spot that he was a Method actor, so if he’s playing a sadistic rapist and serial killer in the film, then he should act like that during the shooting. At one point, he threatened to actually attack the female lead so that he could get a more genuine reaction in the scene, so he sounds like kind of a psychopath to me, and not somebody that I’d want manhandling Adrienne Barbeau.

The weird thing about David Hess is that his other career was as a songwriter, where he was not unsuccessful. As David Hill, he recorded the first version of “All Shook Up” in 1956, a year before it was a hit for Elvis Presley. Hess wrote several songs for Elvis — “I Got Stung”, “Come Along” and “Sand Castles” — as well as songs for Andy Williams and Sal Mineo. In 1961, he co-wrote and recorded “Speedy Gonzales”, a song about the fastest mouse in Mexico, which became a minor hit for Pat Boone in 1962.

The songwriting was kind of the non-depressing phase of his career. After he shot The Last House on the Left in 1972, he moved to Munich and did English translations for German movies for a while, and in 1980, he directed a slasher film called To All a Goodnight which was not well-received.

Also in 1980, he starred in a loose remake of The Last House on the Left called The House on the Edge of the Park, where he played another psychopathic rapist, and probably did his “Method acting” routine with the female cast on that one, as well.

So that’s the dude that we’re dealing with, and for the moment, there’s nothing we can do about it. Like Adrienne Barbeau, we’ll just have to put up with him. The best thing I can say is that he dies two-thirds of the way through the movie, and sometimes the bad lighting means that you can’t really see him that well. There’s always a silver lining, if you look for it.

Tomorrow:
The logic of Arcane’s Ritter cosplay
3.13: The Birth of Tragedy


Footnote:

The names for Arcane’s main henchmen, Ferret and Bruno, come from the first issue of the Swamp Thing comic, although in the comic the guy’s name is “Ferrett”, and it’s his last name.

Tomorrow:
The logic of Arcane’s Ritter cosplay
3.13: The Birth of Tragedy

Chapters

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Swamp Thing 3.12: The Hostiles

  1. “But when it comes to the guys, it feels like they intentionally hired the most repellent people that they possibly could, and there are long stretches of the film where that’s the thing that we have to look at, and I resent it.”

    Thank you, Danny! I wanted to say this earlier when I commented on the lack of appeal of Ray Wise, but I thought I was being shallow enough without bringing up the other guys in the film. Maybe all of this was to help make Swamp Thing himself more appealing. Sure he’s supposed to be a swamp thing, but he’s also the titular character and the love interest of the main character in the end. It’s the ugly bridesmaid scenario. How do you make the monster more attractive? By making all the guys around him repellent.

    I’m sure there’s also much to be said about the female/gay male gaze not being important in media yet. I mean just look at male porn stars in straight porn of the era. Ron Jeremy? Really? (Of course, I screwed up last time I ventured into straight porn, so I imagine someone will set me straight with bohunks of the time.)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I was about to bring up the porn thing (rim shot!) myself–Danny, I doubt you’ve watched a ton of straight porn, but the idea of the male performers being, frankly, hideous isn’t just a cliche that came from nowhere, and that was especially true in the seventies and eighties.

      The basic idea behind it is, of course, that the straight male audience for this product absolutely does not want to feel threatened while enjoying the fantasy of banging the actresses, so the creators can’t have super attractive men in the films. Add in the absolutely unspoken but very real gay panic of said audience maybe finding the guys attractive, and you’ve got the basis for the whole “hot ladies, gross guys” set up Male performers’ only real requirement was to be able to keep up with the athletic demands of porn movie interactions.

      Wes Craven, I’m sure, did not have any of this in mind consciously when filming Swamp Thing, but he also seemed okay with working with an utter asshole who threatened to sexually assault his female costar on his first film and was okay throwing Adrienne around like a discount beanbag chair.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I usually have a low threshold for screen violence, so I found it very difficult to watch THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. But a lot of people didn’t, and I’m sure they liked Hess’ scenes. Not only is he clearly the same guy from that movie, but the shots he’s in could have been spliced into that film without breaking the pace or style at any level. So any fans Craven picked up with THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT would count themselves well-served.

    Of course I’m sad to know Hess hurt Adrienne Barbeau. Going by what we see on screen, though, I still insist that the kiss Alec forces on Alice after she tells him to cut out the sex talk is by far the worst moment of the movie.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I think the forced kiss is an aesthetic worst as well as an ethical one. The movie could only be better if we were rooting for a relationship between Cable and Alec, and his behavior in that scene rules that out.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Trying to find some witty snarky thing to say here. But when I read what you have to say today about this film, and the story behind making this film, all that comes to mind is, “That is SO messed up.” And not in a charming way.

    “it feels like they intentionally hired the most repellent people that they possibly could,”
    Maybe there’s something about feeling around for Coopers Diggers that’s rejuvenating. But only a few Swamp Scientists get to do it.

    Sorry, that’s all I got today. Maybe the movie will give us something better to work with tomorrow.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “…filled out the rest of the cast with the least visually appealing people they could find.”
    I believe Louis Jourdan was considered attractive in his day.
    The thing about Hess is that you really just want to slug him. Repeatedly. So it’s a valid bit of casting.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Louis Jourdan was a good (enough?) looking Dracula for the BBC in 1997. Anyway, that’s the only role I associate him with. I’m pretty sure I saw him in other things, certainly in Gigi and OctoPussy, but he never stuck in my memory for anything other than Dracula.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Maybe there’s a subtext here about human beings behaving more like monsters than the inhuman thing from the swamp?

    Maybe these monsters are supposed to look the part?

    Maybe there’s more to this Grade D movie than we know?

    … nahhh

    Liked by 5 people

  6. So many redshirts.
    Guess I shouldn’t ask why a trained group of soldiers, specifically there to protect the perimeter, was completely destroyed by a small group of bad guys?
    Musta been the pocket snake.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. All of the Base Under Siege and Trapped On The Moon talk is code for “Patrick Troughton should be in this instead of this guy,” right?

    Like

  8. David Hess was kind of a smuggy dude in real life, too, so that cocked head, shit eating grin was more about his actual range as an actor, I think? He could always be counted on to actively enjoy playing the grossest, most unpleasant men in any picture you threw at him. I don’t think he ever played a ‘good guy’ type. He was a bright guy though, and had a surprising amount to say about all of his roles, generally thoughtful takes, but even then had a tendency to fall back on saying shit to freak out the squares, or whatever they called it when you were a righteous hippie sticking it to the man. His life was definitely crazy, I’d have loved it if a biography had showed up. I don’t think he was ‘easy’ or even ‘professional’, but a bunch of directors really seemed to like him, namely Wes, and also Ruggero Deodato, who he worked with a bunch in Italy. Probably because he could bring that very extreme sort of nastiness on command.

    Like

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