Digi-Schlock: SWAMP THING (Scream Factory Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack)

One of the most enjoyable parts of Scream Factory’s reissue series is seeing them take catalog titles that have never received special treatment and raise them up to special edition status.  Swamp Thing is the latest beneficiary of this treatment and it improves on the old VHS and DVD editions in a number of ways.

The HD transfer used for this set brings a new clarity to the film, particularly if viewed on the blu-ray.  Swamp Thing has always looked a bit murky on home video, partially due to the fact that it was shot in a way that uses minimal light from mostly natural sources.  The blu-ray version brings a new level of depth to the detail to the naturally soft and dim imagery here, making it easier to appreciate the rather artsy look the filmmakers were going for.  The film’s original mono mix is presented in a lossless version on the blu-ray and it is a quality vintage mix that makes strong use of Harry Manfredini’s lush musical score.

First up are a pair of new commentary tracks.  The first one features writer/director Wes Craven and moderator Sean Clark of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds fame.  Craven is usually pretty good on commentary tracks and he doesn’t disappoint here.  He reveals how he got involved in the project and lays out the complexities of the production: the physical challenges of shooting in a swamp, working with inexperienced producers and a tough completion bond company and having to rework scenes due to time/budget problems.

Clark makes a point of lacing the track with questions but Craven doesn’t need much encouragement to talk: he’s frank about the production’s failings – including his own issues as a young director – but does do in an even-handed fashion that feels honest instead of negative.  Overall, it gives some fascinating insight into this period of Craven’s career: listen for his comments near the end about how this film essentially iced his filmmaking career for a few years.

The second commentary track features makeup FX designer Bill Munns, with Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures serving as moderator.  Given that Munns’ effects are one of the most critiqued elements of the film, horror fans will find it fascinating to hear him discuss the many professional and technical problems he dealt with on this production.  Felsher gives Munns a basic framework of questions and Munns is able to give a comprehensive, detailed answer to each as he discusses the motivations behind his design for the Arcane monster (and how he himself ended up in that suit), the general disorganization of the production and how tannic acid was his worst foe on the swamp locations.  Munns tells his tales with great enthusiasm, making this track a real winner.

This special edition also boasts a trio of interview featurettes. “Tales From The Swamp” is an interview with star Adrienne Barbeau.  She looks back on the film and her director with great fondness but is honest about how she didn’t like the film when she first saw it and how there was drug use amongst the sometimes unhappy crew. “Hey Jude” offers a chat with Reggie Batts, who looks back at his childhood starring turn in this film.  He is as humble as he is cheerful in this piece, discussing how he got the role and his fond memories of his castmates (including Nicholas Worth, who went to church with his family!).

Finally, “That Swamp Thing” features Len Wein, who created the Swamp Thing for D.C. Comics.  He covers a lot of ground in 13 minutes: topics include how he came up with the character, his memories of visiting the set, his appreciation for Ray Wise’s performance and future cinematic plans for the Swamp Thing.  He shows a likeably wry sense of humor and this segment breezes by in an entertaining way.

A nice set of promotional materials closes the disc out.  The film’s original theatrical trailer is included, an interesting piece that takes on a campier tone than the film actually does.  There are also no less than four image galleries that offer visuals in a variety of styles: lobby cards/poster art, film images and two sets of behind-the-scenes photos, one from Bill Munns and the other from Geoffrey Rayle.  You get the occasional surprise in the first two – like a shot of the weird French poster art or a gorier version of one character’s demise – and the latter two offer some nice glimpses into how the makeup effects were put together and the challenges of shooting film in a swamp.

In short, this is a strong special edition that not only improves the A/V quality but also boasts a solid roster of extras that shed light on the troubled production of this film.  Thus, it is as educational as it is good to look at – and makes a nice companion to Scream Factory’s earlier special edition of Deadly Blessing.  Between that disc and Swamp Thing, Wes Craven fans can get a great primer on the “lost years” of his career.

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