Swamp Thing first appeared in the comics in House of Secrets #21 (Jun-Jul 1971) and the current version in Swamp Thing Vol 5 #1 (Nov 2011). His name was Alec Holland, from Houma, Louisiana. He was a botanist haunted by apparent memories of his own death and visions of a life he did not remember. An Emissary of the Green told him he had in fact died, which had prevented him from becoming Swamp Thing as he was destined. After meeting Abigail Arcane from those visions, he was drawn into the war between the Green and the Black, also called the Rot, led by Anton Arcane. Most superheroes die and come back to life, but few start out dead in the first place. Buffy’s Angel comes to mind.
Through exposure to a chemically polluted swamp, he became the Swamp Thing. He was the Avatar of the Green, with prodigious strength and regenerative powers, the ability to manipulate plant life, change size and shape, and even travel in time. He found love with Abigail Cable in Saga of Swamp Thing in 1985, became a member of the Parliament of Trees through John Constantine in 1986, and represented Earth to the Parliament of Worlds in 1996. The comics spawned two movies and two TV shows.
The 1982 Swamp Thing movie was nowhere near as mystical. After a scientist is killed while involved in a bioengineering project in the swamps of the American South, a government worker named Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) is sent to replace him. She discovers that a paramilitary leader named Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdain) is trying to hijack the operation. She meets Doctor Alec Holland (Ray Wise) and they are attracted to each other immediately. Holland has developed a hybrid plant and animal cell. His sister Linda’s (Nanette Brown) formula spawns rapid plant growth. They are all attacked by Arcane’s forces. Linda is shot and Alec is set on fire by the exploding formula. He dives into the swamp to extinguish the flames.
Arcane’s henchmen try to drown Alice in the swamp, but a green humanoid figure drags her ashore and chases the henchmen away. Arcane is looking for Alec’s notebook, which Alice has hidden. She is pursued through the forest, but the Swamp Thing again saves her from the henchmen, unharmed by their gunfire, but his arm is severed. Alice runs from the Swamp Thing. Arcane is still searching for her and the notebook, and now the creature.
A kid named Jude (Reggie Bates) helps Alice until he is killed, but he is brought back by the Swamp Thing’s touch. He realizes that the creature is Alice’s friend and gives it the notebook. Alice faints in the creature’s arms, but when she awakes it offers her an orchid and she recognizes Alec’s voice. She is comfortable enough in the creature’s presence to go skinny-dipping, which scene much of the audience had been waiting for since the beginning. Alice and the Swamp Thing are captured by Arcane’s men, and they get the notebook besides.
That evening, Arcane invites Alice to a formal dinner party to celebrate his success. He gives the first dose to his dumb, hulking henchman Bruno (Nicholas Worth), who shrinks into an ugly little troll instead of becoming more powerful as expected. He is locked up in a dungeon with Alice in a slinky gown (proper attire for being carried in the arms of a monster) and Swamp Thing with his arm cut off. Arcane takes a dose himself and becomes a monstrous creature. Swamp Thing’s arm grows back in the sunlight, giving him the strength to break his chains, and the captives escape, pursued through the swamp by Arcane’s creature with a sword. He stabs Alice with it, but Swamp Thing revives her and kills Arcane. Then it wanders off alone.
Adrienne Barbeau was born on 11 June 1945, one day before I was. She appeared in Someone’s Watching Me in 1978, The Fog in 1980, Escape from New York in 1981, Creepshow in 1982, and Two Evil Eyes in 1990. She was married to director John Carpenter, which didn’t hurt. She was also the voice of Catwoman in the Batman animated series in 1992 and the computer voice in The Thing. She was the original Rizzo in Grease, appeared on Babylon Five and Deep Space Nine, and the Creepshow TV series. She was a regular on Maude and Bea Arthur’s lifelong friend. Her memoir is called There Are Worse Things I Could do. She was more than a Scream Queen and the characters she played were tough and resourceful, like those of Jamie Lee Curtis. Incidentally, Barbeau and Curtis both appeared in The Fog but had no scenes together.
Louis Jourdan’s son died during the filming. Dick Durock was hired to be Ray Wise’s stunt-double, but they looked so different that he played Swamp Thing through the whole movie. Filming in the South Carolina swamps was uncomfortable to say the least. During the shoot, Wes Craven came up with the idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street. Wes Craven never read comics as a child as they were forbidden by his church, so he was not familiar with the Swamp Thing story at all. The music was composed by Harry Manfredini partly based on his music for Friday the 13th.
In 1989, The Return of the Swamp Thing was released, starring Heather Locklear. Dick Durock returned as Swamp Thing and Louis Jourdan as Doctor Arcane. It was intentionally cheesy and played tongue in cheek. It was filmed in 27 days. It did not get a lot of respect, but it was enjoyed by some fans. The first Swamp Thing TV series began in 1990 and was cancelled in 1993. Unusually, it was shot in cinemascope. Durock again played Swamp Thing. The second TV series appeared in 2019 and was cancelled after filming ten episodes, one week after the premiere aired, despite ambitious plans for a three-season arc. It was well-liked by fans, nevertheless, and won a Saturn Award. Adrienne Barbeau guest starred.