Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Dick Durock, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Carrell Myers, Jesse Zeigler, Scott Garrison
Directed by Various
Distributed by Shout! Factory
When I was offered the opportunity to review the four-disc, 22-episode box set of the first two seasons of “Swamp Thing: The Series” I was looking forward to doing so. I hadn’t seen the show in about 15 years when it originally aired on the USA Network back in 1990 and couldn’t wait to get a look at it again. I knew it wasn’t a great show and if I missed an episode here and there I wasn’t going to kick myself, but my memories remained positive. That all changed the moment I finished watching the first episode and came to the horrible realization that it was completely devoid of anything resembling a storyline or substance. Watching subsequent episodes I quickly came to the realization that the program I had fond memories of was simply terrible. In fact, I’ll go so far as to declare the first season of “Swamp Thing” to be amongst the worst written television I have ever seen. Swamp Thing opens each episode warning “DO NO BRING YOUR EVIL HERE!” I think they cut him off before he added, “OR YOUR QUALITY SCREENWRITING!”
A big deal is made on the packaging that the season one episodes are in order, unlike when USA Network originally aired them almost backwards. So what? The program had so little continuity going for it that only the first and last episodes of the season being out of order would really make a difference. In one instance being shown way out of order might have been a positive. If you’re unfamiliar with the DC Comics character, either of the two Swamp Thing movies or the short-lived cartoon and this low budget cable series is your first introduction to the character of Swamp Thing, you wouldn’t get an explanation as to how Dr. Alec Holland became the mossy mutant title creature until at least a dozen episodes into the series. That really wasn’t something they needed to keep viewers in the dark about for that long.
We will not, however, ever get any sort of explanation as to how or why his transformation led to him developing supernatural powers, such as the ability to control plant-life, communicate with plant-life, heal wounds and breath life back into people and plant-life, and if need be, transform really bad people into trees. He has other powers, too. All his powers have no consistency aside from that which is most convenient for the writers of the episode.
Nor will we get a decent explanation as to why his transformation into a swamp-dwelling moss man also transformed him into a deep-thinking pontificator. Swamp Thing isn’t so much an evildoer-fighting monstrosity as he is a metaphysical, muck-covered Deepak Chopra. Imagine Morpheus from The Matrix movies crossbred with Gumby and you get the idea. By the second season pretty much every episode will conclude with Swamp Thing giving us his best Rod Serling impression trying to impart us with a moral to the story. Those morals will prove so vapid as to make the typical Jerry Springer “Final Thoughts” sound genuinely insightful.
The bigger problem with the show is that Swamp Thing is far too often reduced to being a bit player in his own program. The focus is usually on characters like Jim, the young boy who Swamp Thing befriends; his MILF mommy Tressa, who Swamp Thing also seems to fancy yet nothing ever comes of it; and, of course, his arch nemesis Dr. Anton Arcane, played amicably by Mark Lindsay Chapman sporting a head of hair that leads me to suspect his first diabolical experiment was to transplant Michael Landon’s hair onto his head. It’s expected that many episodes would revolve around Swamp Thing trying to thwart Dr. Arcane’s wicked schemes, yet more often than not Arcane’s evil schemes don’t seem all that wicked. And either way Swamp Thing’s role is reduced to batting clean-up after the majority of the episode has focused on Jim or Tressa having to contend with whatever evil is afoot, not all of which even involves Arcane. One thing is a guarantee: the resolutions were consistently lackluster.
Take, for example, an episode that has Swamp Thing rendered powerless and locked away in a local freakshow attraction alongside other victims of Arcane’s mutation experiments. Jim has to come to the rescue. The conclusion of this episode will have all the freaks unleashed and getting their hands on Dr. Arcane. Do they tear him limb from limb for what he did to them? No. Instead they body surf him towards the entrance of the tent and toss him out on his ass. That’s it. That’s their comeuppance for the man who destroyed their lives. Really lame stuff.
It also becomes quickly apparent that the one thing the makers of the series did not want was for the show to fall into the realm of camp, admirable only if you provide compelling storytelling. So damned determined to be taken seriously is “Swamp Thing” that even when it does take a turn from the unintentionally campy there’s little entertainment value because they’ve sucked every last bit of fun out of this series. The writing of the first season is absolutely pathetic, lacking both focus and drama, and often devoid any real sense that there’s a story arc playing out.
There’s also no excuse for a 22-minute program to have this much filler. Too often time is killed showing characters walking around the swamp or the town almost aimlessly, at the very least with a feeling of little purpose for doing so. This is inexcusable.
Take for example an how episode where an assassin with his arm in a sling targets Arcane; after spending the bulk of the episode merely following Arcane around town, Swamp Thing confronts the hitman who pulls his arm out of a sling to reveal a giant turkey wing. It literally looks like they sewed the wing from a Woodsy Owl costume onto the guy’s shirt. Swamp Thing’s immediate reaction is to say, “There are so many beautiful birds in the world; why would he want to change a man into one?” To which the one-winged bird man reveals himself to have originally been a falcon that Arcane attempted to turn into a man and now he’s really pissed because he cannot fly and hates being a lowly human.
I’ll admit that when this potential killer unveiled his giant turkey wing arm I almost fell off the sofa laughing. Nothing else I ever saw came close to matching the hysterics of this image. Bu that aside, the episode remains a complete dud because as is far too often par for the course it has a set-up but no drama and a resolution that falls flat. In this case the man-bird rescues a drowning boy and realizes being a person isn’t so bad; his lust for revenge apparently gone. So what next for the winged samaritan? Does he become a turkey-winged Baywatch lifeguard or go to med school to become a life-saving doctor with one of the Gobbeldygooker’s arms? We’ll never know because the episode just ends and this character is never seen or heard from again. Lame.
Future season one episodes will feature such sleep-inducing storylines as the misadventures of Swamp Thing trying to escape Jim’s house without being seen by Tressa, random criminal types inevitably ending up out in the swamp for our title character to contend with (but usually not until he’s given them at least one good lecture about the poor life choices they’ve made), and random acts of Arcane-ness, whether it being trying to swindle a single mom out of her late mother’s home or creating poisons and toxins of varying degrees of lameness.
Okay; one more example, one that typifies everything wrong with season one. The episode starts with Swamp Thing showing Jim an unnatural section of the swamp and telling him never to come here again. One jump cut later and Jim is shown coming there again. He’s immediately bitten by a mutant fly and runs away. Another jump cut later and we’re shown Tressa weeping as an unconscious Jim is being stretchered out of their house into a waiting ambulance. The remainder of the program takes place at the hospital with Jim in a coma, Tressa an emotional wreck, and the doctors baffled by the unidentifiable insect bite. Then way too much time gets devoted to Arcane showing up and having to masquerade as a doctor just so that he can get into Jim’s room and re-confirm the insect bite for himself. Then he leaves.
Meanwhile, Swamp Thing’s “Spidey-Sense” had gone off telling him Jim was in dire need of his help so now he too arrives at the hospital. We’re supposed to believe that this hulking mass of swamp matter is getting around this hospital undetected by maneuvering through the crawlspace in the ceiling like he’s John McClain. Once he makes it to Jim’s room he’ll proceed to stand right in front of an observation window completely unseen by anyone because the nurse has her back turned (also because no one else seems to ever walk down the halls of this dimly lit hospital) and proceeds to give the young boy what looks to be a chlorophyll transfusion.
Elsewhere in the hospital, that mystery insect has also found its way to the hospital. Now its Tressa’s turn to contend with the bug; the actress is basically called upon to perform a one woman mime routine with the air around her for several minutes. Though herself bitten and showing symptoms, she still manages to kill the fly and take it back to the doctors. They’re able to diagnose a cure for its toxin after looking at it under a microscope for about a minute. She’ll run down the hallway to Jim’s room ecstatic they can save their lives only to find him already a-okay thanks to Swamp Thing having injected him with that glowing goo from his veins. Fade to black.
If I have made this episode sound campy or compelling or action-packed or anything that seems even remotely entertaining in the slightest then let me apologize for having done a disservice. This episode is the death of television. And the worst part is that episodes like the one I just summarized were typical to what the average show was like during the first season.
This isn’t merely a case of a series trying to find its footing. It’s quite apparent that the people making this show didn’t seem to know what the hell they were doing in the beginning.
Fortunately, something clearly went down behind the scenes on the production end somewhere along the way because the final three or four episodes of the first season showed an upswing in the writing that would lead into season two. I’m guessing USA Network brass stepped in and demanded some dramatic improvements. Amongst those improvements for season two: getting rid of young Jim and sexing things up a bit by introducing Tressa’s hunky young stepson, Will, and a young doe-eyed (and frequently wet) Kari Wuhrer as the almost child-like Abigail, a buxom young thing herself the product of a scientific experiment. If you’re familiar with Swamp Thing canon then you know Abigail to be the name of Swamp Thing’s comic book love interest, played in The Return of Swamp Thing by Heather Locklear. No plant-on-girl nookie in this show, at least none in season two. Tressa, meanwhile, is pretty much reduced to a third-string character along for the ride.
Also on the plus side, Dr. Arcane and his schemes begin to feel like genuinely nefarious enterprises and his doing so is actually given a purpose aside from being an evil scientist. He now works for an unscrupulous wheelchair-bound general up to no good. They’ve also gone and given Arcane the Mr. Freeze treatment; he now has a deceased wife in an incubation chamber that he talks to lovingly and vows to resurrect one day.
Storylines finally shows signs of actual imagination, taking a turn for the fantastical with plots built around genetic experiments, body swapping, earthquake machines, cyborgs, force fields, evil Swamp Thing doppelgangers, and so on. The episodes now feel like actual self-contained stories and not just meandering, unfocused messes more likely to put you to sleep.
Unfortunately, for all the season two improvements, the show still isn’t very good. It’s merely gone from being virtually unwatchable to being barely passable entertainment, the sort of TV show that I could imagine someone having on the in the background half paying attention to while they’re doing something else, but not the sort of show one would go out of their way to watch.
The only DVD extras we get are a pair of interviews billed as “The Men Behind the Muck”. The first is Swamp Thing creator Len Wein essentially giving us the history of the character. Curiously enough, he says next to nothing about the TV series other than being complimentary of Dick Durock’s portrayal of the character. This leads into the second interview with Durock, a likeable guy who gives us his own 40-year history in Hollywood as a stuntman-actor and his thoughts on playing Swamp Thing in both the films and the TV show, mostly about the difficulties of the suit and make-up. Durock praises the TV show. He was certainly better in the role than any of the material he was ever given to work with.
I have a sneaking suspicion there’s going to be a bunch of people like myself who are going to have a very similar reaction to seeing “Swamp Thing” again for the first time after all these years. I don’t know if I can attribute it to the folly of youth or the passage of time making me fondly remember something being better than it actually was but I’d always recalled enjoying “Swamp Thing” when it first aired.
Then again, there may be those of you who can look past the subpar writing, unengaging characters, not take notice of all the opportunities Swamp Thing gets to eliminate Arcane yet never does so, and enjoy the show in all its shoddy glory. Heck, there’s probably some of you out there that’ll enjoy it just for the weird midget fetish the show displays early on.
I leave you with this exchange between young Jim and Swamp Thing from the show’s very first episode.
JIM (upon first meeting Swamp Thing): “If I was a dumb kid I would think I was dreaming.”
SWAMP THING: “Only dumb kids dream.”
Several episodes down the road Swamp Thing’s show-ending words of wisdom will be all about the importance of people having dreams. Hypocrite.
2 out of 5
2 out of 5
Discuss “Swamp Thing: The Series” on DVD in the Dread Central forums!
Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review
Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.
Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.
Now let’s get to it.
First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.
Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.
I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.
Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.
It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!
And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.
Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.
This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.
And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.
Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!
In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?
That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.
Rockstar lighting for days.
Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.
Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.
More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.
Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcorn, and if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.
Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.
All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!
Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!
Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
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