“In this sequence,” director Wes Craven said, “Adrienne Barbeau falls down twice, and my daughter, who at that time was about 14 when she was watching it, turned and looked at me very sternly and said, ‘Dad, girls don’t fall down when they run.’
“And I never forgot that, you know? Especially twice. [I said], you know, yeah, you’re right, and I think after this I did a lot of films with female protagonists that were very competent.”
I like that story, partly because it’s an appealing moment of self-reflection, and partly because it’s a good example of the redemptive power of 14-year-old daughters in American life.
This question of Cable’s competence hangs heavy over Swamp Thing, and of all the script’s many problems, probably the most serious is that it can’t decide what Cable’s role should be. In attitude and demeanor, she’s definitely not the damsel in distress; she’s a no-nonsense federal agent who knows how to shoot and fight.
But she’s also in a movie called Swamp Thing, which is a complicated place to be, because the title character is both monster and hero. If the movie is called Jaws, then we don’t expect the shark to save the day, ditto Godzilla and Alien; those movies have human heroes who arrange the happy ending. In Swamp Thing, Cable has to carry all of the dramatic scenes in the first hour, and then turn the movie over to Alec for the last thirty minutes and let him do all the day-saving. It’s like if the people in Sharknado run around rescuing school buses from sharknados for the whole movie, and then at the end, the sharknado beats up all the sharks by itself and makes a bomb out of chainsaws or whatever. I don’t really remember what happened in Sharknado.
So Cable gets to fire a gun at the bad guys, but it explodes and falls apart after the first shot. She outruns a Chevy Blazer, dashing through the trees and losing her pursuers in the greenery, but then she has to stop in the middle of a dirt road and rest, so the meanies can catch up with her.
She’s achingly close to claiming the kick-ass heroine role that becomes available just a few years later in The Terminator and Aliens, but Swamp Thing is always a couple years behind where it wants to be; it’s an early-80s movie with mid-70s monster costumes and late-70s second wave feminism. Its director is two years away from fame and fortune, and its source material is two years away from changing the direction of modern comic books. This movie has a lot going for it, but all of it is just on the other side of the horizon.
As the jeep approaches, Cable turns to the left, and finds swamp water.
Then she turns to the right, and there’s swamp water in that direction too, which makes one wonder how she managed to get to this spot in the first place.
At this point, there’s nothing left for her to do but try to run in a straight line, which makes her topple over, and enrage Wes Craven’s judgmental children.
And then a tall green figure steps out of the underbrush, for a tragically stunted stunt.
This is the first moment in the movie when you can really see how badly they ran out of time. Craven had a tight shooting schedule which was rigorously enforced by the film’s completion bond company, and they lost a lot of time trying to film in a swamp with an inexperienced crew, and two actors playing Swamp Thing at the same time using costumes that fell apart when they touched the acidic swamp water. Something had to give, and here’s the first sign of how giving things got.
It’s a fantastic moment, if you get it right. The monster who lurked around and grabbed people during the first swamp battle finally stands in full view of the audience, enormous and immovable. Cable’s on the ground, about to be run over by the cackling men in the sport utility vehicle, and suddenly there he is, our valiant sharknado, standing entirely in the way.
They only had time to shoot this once, and you can tell how badly they were running behind that day, because Swamp Thing doesn’t have his face on.
The lighting sucks as usual for the film, so it’s not that noticeable, and if you’re reading this post on your phone, then this screenshot probably isn’t giving you the thousand words you might require, but that is Dick Durock’s face, painted green.
And then you don’t actually see him stop the truck; they had to cut around the actual stunt. He reaches towards the vehicle in one shot, and in the next shot he’s got his hands on it, and it bounces a little. With the screeching-tires sound effect, you get enough information to understand what just happened, but it’s not the thrilling moment that they were hoping to capture.
And the battle that ensues is a continuity nightmare. We’ve got five guys in the truck: Ferret, Bruno, two white guys with mustaches, and one Black guy with no mustache.
Swamp Thing tears the roof off the truck, which is actually a quite effective shot.
The monster picks Bruno up and throws him into the water, at which point the merc apparently disassembles into his component particles and is no longer relevant.
The Black commando appears on Swamp Thing’s right and starts shooting…
When Swamp Thing turns around, we see Ferret shooting, and the Black soldier is in an entirely different position.
Swamp Thing takes a few bullets, and then it cuts to the Black merc again, who’s back in his original position.
Behind them, one of the white mustache guys has Cable…
So Swamp Thing picks him up, and throws him several feet away into the dirt.
Ferret and the Black commando scamper away, and that’s the end of the fight. Bruno and white mustache guy #1 have apparently evaporated, and Jude won’t see any unconscious bodies when he comes along a minute from now. White mustache guy #2 has been entirely unaccounted for.
But that’s what happens when you’re on the run, with a completion bond company breathing down your neck. We live in a fallen world, at least until the 14-year-old daughters come along, and pick us back up again.
3.24: A New Friend
I’m informed by the Internet Movie Cars Database that Cable is chased through the woods by a 1975 Chevy Blazer, but the car that gets wrecked is a 1973 International Harvester Scout. I know, nobody cares, but I’m bringing it up because it makes me happy that the Internet Movie Cars Database exists.
Swamp Thing stepping in front of the vehicle and stopping it is a lift from a spectacular splash page in the first issue of the comic.
Also — I’m going away on a work trip for a week, so I won’t have any new posts until the last week of June. My posting schedule has been kind of erratic lately, but I’ll be able to get back to a regular schedule again after this trip. If you want to get notified when the new posts are up, you can sign up on the email list in the sidebar, or follow me on Twitter and Facebook. See you in a week!
3.24: A New Friend
— Danny Horn