Lovelorn florist Abby Arcane (Heather Locklear) visits her stepfather Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) at his mansion near the Florida swamps, hoping to learn the truth behind her mother’s death. She discovers that Arcane and his lover Dr. Lana Zurrell (Sarah Douglas) are conducting bizarre experiments in an attempt to uncover the secret of immortality, which somehow involves combining various swamp animals with captive human beings to create an army of monsters. These mutant monstrosities run rampant around the swamps battled by the heroic Swamp Thing (Dick Durock), a former scientist transformed into a bog creature after his last encounter with the evil Dr. Arcane. Noting how much Abby resembles her mother, Arcane plans to use her as his next test subject. Luckily, Swamp Thing saves Abby’s life and unexpectedly wins her love.
Wes Craven came a-cropper with the original Swamp Thing (1982), a flop adaptation of the DC comic co-created by writer Len Wein and artist Berni Wrightson, but the film must have proven profitable in the long run given the arrival of this belated sequel. This time around the producers hired B-movie staple Jim Wynorski. True to form, Wynorski ditched Craven’s gothic approach for an altogether campier tone, signalled not only by the intro: “once upon a time in the swamp” but a colourful credits montage of Swamp Thing comic book covers (including art by Wrightson and his celebrated successor Steve Bissette) while Creedance Clearwater Revival perform “Born on the Bayou”! Following the film’s release on region one DVD with director’s commentary (sadly not included with the region two version) there was some debate as to whether Wynorski set out to make a comedy or reverted to one mid-way through filming when he realised things were going bad.
Certainly, following its theatrical release most critics received The Return of Swamp Thing as simply a bad movie with soap opera queen Heather Locklear somewhat unfairly bestowed with a Razzie Award as Worst Actress of 1989. Frankly, it is obvious Wynorski was not taking any of this remotely seriously. Paying only the slightest attention to the thin wisp of a plot, he plays for laughs, relishing choice moments where Jourdan argues with a parrot named Gigi and pilfers his own line from the classic Vincente Minnelli musical of the same name, a Jaws (1975) spoof wherein evil henchman and woman Gun (Joey Sagal) and Poinsettia (Monique Gabrielle, former Penthouse Playmate and Wynorski regular) compare battle scars, and a sub-Little Rascals sub-plot involving a couple of obnoxious kids (RonReaco Lee and Daniel Emery Taylor) out to snap a valuable photo of Swampy that admittedly grows tiresome.
Somehow the film works. In fact, The Return of Swamp Thing stands as Wynorski’s liveliest, most engaging B-movie, likeably irreverent without crossing the line into crass Troma territory. Shot in vivid comic book colours by Zoran Hochstatter, the film maintains a breakneck pace, sports some choice one-liners and at a brisk eighty-eight minutes never outstays its welcome. While fans of the comic book, particularly the groundbreaking Alan Moore years, will be justifiably aghast at the liberties taken with beloved characters, Dick Durock emerges an amiable muck monster, sporting an improved creature suit this time round. Jordan and Douglas - best known for her villainous role in Superman II (1980) - camp it up with relish while Locklear, who has since proven herself quite adept at light comedy, pitches her performance accordingly, whether wielding a shotgun or delivering wry put-downs. Whereas Alan Moore drew the unconventional romance between Abby and Swamp thing with great conviction, Wynorski pulls off a straight-faced Mills & Boon spoof culminating in an infamously surreal love scene wherein the lovers imbibe seemingly hallucinogenic shrubs.
The creature effects are under-used but adequate with monster battles closer in tone to a Power Rangers episode than the vivid horror conjured by talented artists in the original comic. Oddly the climax pits Swamp Thing against a minor mutated character while the chief villain watches, pinned under a girder. Durock reprised his role once again in a surprisingly successful television series that restored some of the original seriousness and ran for three years.