Swamp Thing 3.18: The Rubber Meets the Road

“We made one mistake,” said makeup designer Bill Munns, “in that we assumed that water is water.”

And I think you have to admit that the guy’s got a point. I mean, water is water. What else could it be?

But the problem, of course, was that lake water is different from swamp water, which is the kind of thing that might have come up during pre-production, if anybody working on Swamp Thing had bothered to look up “swamp” in the encyclopedia before driving down to South Carolina and making a movie in the middle of one.

We left poor Mr. Munns yesterday at a stressful moment, cooking up latex pieces that he planned to assemble into something humanoid. Munns only had six weeks to construct the costumes for the film, and three weeks into the procedure, the producers unexpectedly hired a different actor to play the part, so the costume had to be taken apart and put back together in a different shape.

Once he had enough latex pieces, Munns drove north from Los Angeles to Lake Hughes, with some of his crew, Dick Durock, and one complete costume. The suit was still partly in pieces, but they glued it all together around Durock’s body with carpet-seaming adhesive, and then they sent him out into the lake.

And it worked! To everyone’s delight, the suit held together, and it looked like something that might actually stand in front of a camera without inviting anything worse than room-temperature derision.

The one problem that they discovered in the lake was that the suit got waterlogged and took three days to dry, which would have been a pain in the ass even if that was the only problem, which it wasn’t.

The important problem, as Pop Munns observed, was that water isn’t water. The water in Lake Hughes is the regular kind that just gets you wet, while the water in Magnolia Gardens has been soaking up tannic acid from the cypress trees this whole time, as some kind of long-term botanical practical joke.

As soon as Swamp Thing got wet — and he’s wet a lot, in this movie — the acid started eating away at the carpet-seaming adhesive, which is supposed to be waterproof but not for this type of water.

“When Durock would bend his legs,” Munns told Cinefantastique, “the knee would start to open up. If he would bring his arms forward, the back of the shoulders would crack. [Three location assistants] were always standing around with a needle and monofilament thread, and between every take, they’d bring him over and sew up whatever had split open.”

They tried other ways to battle the acid, including soaping the suit down before a take with a mixture of over-the-counter antacids like Tums and Rolaids. I don’t know if that actually helped. It probably didn’t; nothing ever does.

And then Durock had to stand around in the suit for hours every day for most of the shoot, which are not the typical field conditions for a monster movie. “Rubber suits aren’t meant for work 12 hours a day, six days a week,” Durock told Starlog. “Traditionally, it’s ‘OK, bring the creature in,’ work for an hour and forget it.”

It was incredibly hot in the suit, of course, and being in a South Carolina swamp made the experience even worse. At first, Durock tried cooling off by resting in the water between takes, but the acid was breaking down the costume, so eventually they got him a kiddie pool full of fresh water to lie down in.

Getting Durock out of the costume at the end of the day was a whole other adventure; it took three people to get the waterlogged suit off of him: one pushing, one pulling and one saying encouraging things. Munns explained the next stage of the process: “They come home, they take him out of the suit, it’s soaking wet, they spend hours trying to blow-dry it, squeeze it — literally wring it out, trying to get the water out of it. But we rotated suits, so suit A he wears Monday, suit B he wears Tuesday, and we’re hoping to God suit A is dry enough on Wednesday to put him back in it.”

So that’s the suit saga, for now — break the suit, fix the suit, literally rinse and repeat. Down at the other end of the movie, we’ve got another tragic tale to tell, about disappointing monsters and the heat death of the universe, but it occurs to me that we’ve left Cable in the swamp with a troop of idiot soldiers hunting for her, and we should probably go and check in on that situation.

Tomorrow:
The short life and grim death of Arcane’s merc army
3.19: The Unknown Soldiers


Footnotes:

For these three rubber suit posts, I quoted from Bill Munns’ DVD commentary on the film, as well as:

  • “Swamp Thing: The trials and tribulations of Bill Munns” by Michael Kaplan, Cinefantastique vol 4 #2/3 (April 1982)
  • Wes Craven interview by Alan Jones, in Starburst #44 (April 1982)
  • “Full Vegetable Jacket” by Will Murray, in Starlog #142 (May 1989)

Tomorrow:
The short life and grim death of Arcane’s merc army
3.19: The Unknown Soldiers

Chapters

— Danny Horn

13 thoughts on “Swamp Thing 3.18: The Rubber Meets the Road

  1. No wonder so many people on the set were doing coke….

    I’m curious now about previous underwater monster costumes. Did Munns do any research on such costumes of the past to learn what worked and didn’t? Though granted probably none of the others were filmed in acidic swamps. And of course there wasn’t the internet then to do research, but surely he knew people in the industry that he could consult. Though once again the limits of time were not on his side in this regard either. I kinda feel bad for him. He was clearly in over his head.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think mostly they make monster movies on land, so it doesn’t really come up that often. Creature from the Black Lagoon was made in a lake on the Universal backlot. In the commentary, Wes Craven said that they looked at that lake for Swamp Thing, but it was too small.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Creature From the Black Lagoon was filmed partly in California and partly at Wakulla Springs, Florida, which had stood in for Africa in several of the early Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies as well. There’s no mention of tannic acid but there is definitely swamp water as well as spring water. It seems to have been a tried and true location but maybe Carolina was cheaper?
        The original Creature or Gill-Man was designed by an ex-Disney animator named Milicent Patrick, though it was credited to Bud Westmore. Ms. Patrick was fired upon her return from a publicity tour for the movie and never worked behind the scenes in films again. I don’t know if she’s included in Taylor and Roy’s Making a Monster book or not. It seems she might have been available. I wonder if anyone asked?
        The suit for the Gill-Man was also hot and restrictive but seems to have held up fairly well. It was made of sponge rubber and cost $15000 which was the equivalent of $52000 in 1982 dollars. That’s a good chunk of Swamp Thing’s allotted $80000. No wonder Arcane’s creature costume was so bad!
        Using Danny’s criteria for a successful movie, my husband thought Julie Adams was hot. I don’t think that anyone else in the cast qualifies. Creature made $1.3 million in 1954, so not great. It would have been a bit over $4.5 million in 1982 dollars against Swamp Thing’s box office of….nobody seems to know. But Craven didn’t work again for 2 years so we can assume it was pretty bad. Creature for the win?

        Liked by 6 people

      2. I can confirm that Creature From The Black Lagoon was filmed mostly in Waukula Springs, along with the sequel and the Tarzan movies. One of the Airport disaster movies was filmed there too. It’s pure water there, so there wouldn’t be any issues with the tannic acid. I’ve been there a few times and the water is crystal clear, but not so clear nowadays.

        Liked by 6 people

      3. I hate to disagree with MaryFromDESD’s husband, but I don’t see Julie Adams as hot in Creature from the Black Lagoon. She looks super-uncomfortable the whole time, and all that makeup they slathered on her face makes her look like somebody’s great aunt. She had an admirable physique and all, but it’s just difficult to think lustful thoughts when she’s presented that way.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. It’s so bizarre to realize how much the internet has changed things; it’s like watching old crime movies made before DNA sequencing was discovered.

      Now, having read this post, I know not to make a latex costume and dunk it in tannic acid swamp water, where back then the only way to find out was to do it. Munns now is in the enviable position of being the Wise Old Makeup Guy who can tell you not to dunk your latex costume in tannic acid swamp water, except the internet is doing it for him.

      Liked by 5 people

  2. There’s an excellent biography of Millicent Patrick called Lady From the Black Lagoon, by Mallory O’Meara. She had a helluva life story and was really screwed over by the Westmores.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I had to look up who she was in the movie. Julie Adams’s swimming double! I think in that case, she may be the reason my husband thought Julie was hot. Of course, he saw it on the big screen in 3d so that may have also made a difference. Or it could have been because he was 16 at the time.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Makes me think that no matter what Pinewood charges per day for their big water tank studio, this film should have saved up its coin jar until it could shoot there rather than the real swamp.

    Like

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