Retro-active: The Best from the Cinema Retro Archive
By Todd Garbarini
Swamp Thing (1982)
is a peculiar entry in the Wes Craven canon.
For a director who cut his teeth in porn (most directors began their
careers as editors in this field in the early 1970s) and directed such fare as The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Swamp Thing is a much gentler film. One of the few PG-rated entries to his credit,
it was made just a few years prior to his very own A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the movie that turned the horror film
industry on its ear with the introduction of Fred Krueger and which spawned one
of the most successful franchises in the genre.
Released on Friday, February 19, 1982 by the
late Joseph E. Levine’s long-defunct Embassy Pictures, Swamp Thing is a film version of the DC Comic that was created by
Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. Set in
the swamps of Louisiana (though filmed in South Carolina), brother and sister
scientists Alec and Linda Holland (Ray Wise and Nannette Brown) are hard at
work on an experiment that is designed to create a plant and animal hybrid that
can withstand the extreme temperatures of various environments. Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) works for the
government and makes a trip to the lab to see how things are coming along. Just as it appears that the government has
spent its money well, the henchmen of one sinister Dr. Anton Arcane (Louis
Jourdan), headed by the late cinema baddy David Hess, attempt to steal the written
magic formula and the serum from the clutches of its rightful owner. Linda is killed, and Alec gets doused with
the new concoction, ends up on fire (yes, that is stunt man Anthony Cecere running
outside engulfed in flames, a feat he
would repeat in A Nightmare on Elm Street)
and jumps into the swamp, reemerging as the titular creature who is henceforth
played by Dick Durock. Dr. Arcane believes that this serum will make him
immortal and he will therefore stop at nothing to make sure that he gets his
hands on the complete formula. Alice
begins to fall for Alec/Swamp Thing as she is eluding Dr. Arcane's machine gun-toting
minions. Mr. Hess, who appeared in the
aforementioned Last House, plays the
usual crazy, bullying nut job that he did so well in Hitch Hike (1977) and House
on the Edge of the Park (1980), and the supporting cast that surrounds him
are a terrific group of menaces. Reggie Batts nearly steals the film in his
turn as Judd, a young store proprietor who does everything he can to help Alice
avoid capture. There are various animated wipes, dissolves, and visual
transitions/segues that take you from one piece of action to the next in an
effort to emulate the look of a comic book. For the most part, the film succeeds.
Swamp Thing was
originally available on home video on capacitance electronic disc (CED),
laserdisc (LD), and the ubiquitous VHS cassette. Although it made its DVD debut in 2000, the
discs were pulled from the shelves when it was discovered that the DVD was
sourced from the international print which ran 93 minutes in length and contained
an additional two minutes of nudity that was not seen in the original 91-minute
PG-rated 1982 domestic theatrical exhibition. Bowing to some consumer complaints, MGM reissued the movie on DVD in
2005 in its original version, minus the nudity. It is this version that appears
on both the new DVD and Blu-ray. It would have been nice if the missing footage
had been included as an extra (if it is here as an Easter egg, kudos to those
of you who can find it!).
The transfer of the film is excellent; there
are a few spots and very small scratches here and there but nothing to distract
from your pleasure of watching the image. Scream Factory, an imprint of Shout! Factory, is to be commended for
continually putting out our favorite genre films in these new versions with
top-notch extras. Best of all, this is a
DVD/Blu-ray combo. I don't know what the criteria is (or who the decision maker
is) when it comes to deciding to release a title in separate formats or as a
combo, but I sincerely wish that all of Scream Factory's titles were sold as
combos forthwith. That being said, both
formats boast excellent transfers, with Blu-ray obviously being the sharper and
clearer of the two.
There are some really nice extras on the
discs (which are presented equally on both formats). The movie contains two
separate full-length commentaries. The first is with writer/director Wes Craven
and it is moderated by Sean Clark of Horrors Hallowed
Clark is a walking/talking encyclopedia and asks Mr. Craven lots of interesting
and intelligent questions about the production and the people involved.
The second commentary is with makeup effects
artist William Munns, moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. This track is an absolute joy to listen to as
Mr. Munns remembers a great deal about the making of the film. Growing up in Studio City, CA, he speaks quite
eloquently about his experience in the film business prior to Swamp Thing, in addition to the issues
that began to flourish when the film was green-lighted. He recalls having to wait a long time as the
financing was secured, and even went to work on a film initially called Witch (later released as Superstition) in
the interim. Since the sex of the Swamp
Thing was an issue, he had to work around the anatomically correct creature and
his recollections are humorous in how this was handled (he says that the film
needed a PG-13 rating, however Swamp
Thing was shot in the summer of 1981 and this rating was not used until 1984
with the release of John Milius’ Red Dawn). He talks about fitting the suit, discusses
how the makeup crew became the scapegoat when filming came to a crawl due to
the other departments that were behind, the dangers of wearing the Swamp Thing
suit, the stunts that needed to be done, and how he took over as Swamp Thing
when Mr. Durock could no longer perform.
The bonus features consist of:
Tales from the Swamp is an
interview with Adrienne Barbeau. The
segment runs 16:56 and Ms. Barbeau is a delight to listen to. Jovial and funny,
she recalls the time that she spent on the film and talks about the bacteria
and parasites in the water, the long hours on the set while they were in South Carolina,
and the challenging elements around them. The original script that was given to
her by Wes Craven was far more audacious than what ended up on screen.
Unfortunately, just as the film went before the cameras, the production company
began to chip away the film's budget, necessitating constant rewriting during
the course of shooting and many concessions needed to be made. Ms. Barbeau is
rather candid and pulls no punches in explaining her disappointment with the
final product at the time, however she has developed an appreciation of the
film in the years since its release.
Hey, Jude is
the name of the second segment, and this is a fun and entertaining interview
with actor Reggie Batts who plays Jude (hence the name!). It runs 14:30. Mr. Batts explains how he got the role in the
film and was a fan of DC comics. Following
the release of Swamp Thing, he also appeared
in the North and South (1985) miniseries
The last segment is titled That Swamp Thing, and it’s a look back
with creator Len Wein who explains how he came up with the name for the
creature and how he got his start as an animator. The segment runs 13:19.
The original theatrical trailer is also
included, and this is in excellent condition, not the usual scratch-ridden mess
that we’re used to seeing.
The photo galleries consist of posters and lobby
cards; photos from the film; William Munn’s behind-the-scenes photos; and behind-the-scenes
photos by Geoffrey Rayle.
As an added bonus, the DVD/Blu-ray sleeve is
reversible and has the French poster artwork under the title of La Creature Du Marais, which translates
to “The Creature of the Swamp”.
Pinter was one of the groundbreaking playwrights that emerged out of the 1950s,
along with Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and a handful of others. They changed
the landscape of what audiences could expect on the stage. Pinter’s first
decade of remarkable plays (and a few screenplays) fall into a category dubbed
by critics as “comedies of menace.” They feature (usually) working-class
Britons in situations in which an ambiguous threat lies underneath the surface
of an otherwise mundane existence. The subtext
is everything in a Pinter play. Known for the pauses in dialogue
(specifically designated in the scripts), Pinter was able to pack weighty
meaning in what is not said, more so
than perhaps any other modern playwright.
The Birthday Party was his first
full-length play (written in 1957, premiered in 1958) and is one of his
most-produced and well-known works—although probably not so much by anyone who
isn’t an aficionado of the theatre. You’re not going to see a production of The Birthday Party at your local high
school. The Homecoming (1967) won
Pinter the Tony Award, and, for my money, is his greatest work (it was
brilliantly filmed by Peter Hall in 1973 for the American Film Theatre
experiment). As a screenwriter, Pinter’s work on The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Betrayal (1983) received Oscar nominations, and he received the
Nobel Prize shortly before his death.
filmmaker William Friedkin, who had yet to make The French Connection and The
Exorcist, had seen a production of The
Birthday Party in England in the early 60s and, by his account, was knocked
out by it. He personally met with Pinter to convince the elusive playwright to
allow him to adapt the play into a film. It took some doing, but finally Pinter
relented and wrote the screenplay himself. The picture was produced on a
shoestring budget, but Friedkin managed to employ several outstanding British
actors—many of whom were already a part of Pinter’s unofficial “repertory
those familiar with Pinter, the results are outstanding. For everyone else—The Birthday Party could very well be a
Shaw stars as Stanley, a nervous boarder in a seaside village rooming house run
by Meg (Dandy Nichols) and Petey (Moultrie Kelsall). It may—or may not
be!—Stanley’s birthday. Enter two mysterious new boarders, Goldberg (Sydney
Tafler) and McCann (Patrick Magee), whom we know have an agenda with Stanley
but we’re never sure what it really is. We just know it’s a threat, and they
make things very uncomfortable for him… and the audience. Shaw and Magee,
especially, deliver riveting performances.
say more would be a disservice to the viewer and to Pinter, for much of the
power of The Birthday Party is its
mystery and ambiguity. Just know that by embarking on this journey you will be
entering a heightened realism in which characters never say what they mean and what
they don’t say means more. As an adaptation of Pinter’s play, Friedkin’s The Birthday Party is quite faithful and
Lorber’s new Blu-ray presents a 1080p transfer that looks fair enough for its
age and intentionally drab cinematography and setting. The nearly half-hour supplemental
interview with director Friedkin is fascinating—he relates the entire history
of how he got involved with Pinter and the film, and he throws in anecdotes
about the playwright and a few other characters (like Joseph Losey). Theatrical
trailers for this and other Kino Lorber releases—many related to Pinter—are
The Birthday Party will certainly be
appreciated by those of us who were theatre majors many years ago, and by the
art house cinema crowd. For others, the picture might be an acquired taste.
a new Tomb Raider in town and she’s not… well…she’s not your older brother’s Tomb
Raider.Gone is the statuesque,
pistol-packing Angelina Jolie of the iconic video game character’s first movie incarnation.Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft is pared down to
the essentials - a dangerous tomboy who is smart, feisty and tough as nails.
we meet this Lara Croft she’s broke,
toiling as a London bicycle messenger, getting her ass kicked in MMA training
and still reeling from the disappearance of her father (Dominic West) seven
years ago.He had vanished exploring a
mysterious island off the coast of Japan. When she discovers the key to his
hidden workroom, she becomes hooked on his quest and decides to follow his
trail all the way to the jungle tomb he was desperately trying to keep from
ever being opened.
by the aptly named Finnish director, Roar Uthaug, the film starts off at a breakneck
pace and rarely slows.The action moves like
a bullet train from a bike chase in Central London to a Hong Kong dock melee
and then on to a remote island as forbidding and dangerous as the one King Kong
calls home.There, Croft encounters her
father’s nemesis – a shadowy organization called Trinity which is laser-focused
on finding the final resting place of an ancient Queen known as “The Mother of
Death.”Their archaeological dig is run
by a psychotic thug played with real verve by Walton Goggins (Justified), who could clearly give
Hannibal Lecter a run for his money.When he steals Croft’s father’s journal, the path to the tomb and its
hideous contents is revealed and the final battle begins.
is fit and relentless, yet vulnerable for an action hero – when she takes a
beating, you feel it.The amount of
training Ms. Vikander had to endure for the role must have been epic.As the New York Times’ review pithily noted,
she has “a washboard stomach you could play the blues on.”(Sorry, that was too sweet not to reuse!) Cinematographer
George Richmond makes great use of the lush South African scenery, and his zooming
camerawork flies through jungle canopies and ancient tombs with equal finesse.
Vikander’s Lara Croft isn’t as snide or as sexualized as her predecessor, hers
is a strong debut and like Daniel Craig’s Bond, she’ll make this iconic
character her own.
RAIDER is released by Warner Bros. and MGM. The film makes its North American debut on Friday, March 16.
hindsight, the most enjoyable thing about Manhattan
Murder Mystery was Diane Keaton’s return to co-star with Woody Allen in what
will most likely be their last screen appearance together. Released in 1993, Murder Mystery was Allen’s obvious
attempt to regain public favor after an acrimonious split with Mia Farrow and
the surrounding uproar of allegations and custody battles. Keaton’s presence
served to remind us that the old chemistry between the two actors could still
generate sparks, and it did.
critics at the time commented that the pair could have been playing the characters
of Annie and Alvy (from Annie Hall) sixteen
years later, now settled in an imperfect, but comfortable, marriage. In fact,
much of the plot of Manhattan Murder
Mystery was originally a part of Annie
Hall! That 1977 classic, co-written by Allen and Marshall Brickman,
contained not only the Annie/Alvy love story but also a murder mystery the
couple attempts to solve. Eventually that was all thrown out of Annie Hall (thank goodness!). Years
later, Allen and Brickman decided to resurrect the discarded plot elements and
fashion a brand-new script in which a couple like Annie and Alvy—now middle-aged—get themselves embroiled in
(Allen) and Carol (Keaton) live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (where
else?) and meet their apartment building neighbors, Paul (Jerry Adler) and
Lillian (Lynn Cohen). The next day, Lillian has died of a heart attack. Larry
and Carol notice that Paul doesn’t seem too broken up about it. Furthermore,
Carol discovers an urn full of ashes in Paul’s kitchen, even after Paul has
said that Lillian was buried in their “twin cemetery plots.” Enter Larry and
Carol’s friend Ted (Alan Alda), who encourages Carol’s imaginative speculation
that Paul murdered his wife. Larry’s client, Marcia (Anjelica Huston), gets into
the act as well, and the foursome embark on exposing Paul’s nefarious scheme
that involves a series of lies, a mistress, and his wife’s twin sister.
plot is far-fetched, but Allen treats the material as a farce anyway. It works well
enough. Much of the fun of the picture is watching Allen and Keaton as their
characters do astonishingly stupid things, such as when Carol, thinking Paul is
out of the building for a while, sneaks into his apartment to snoop. Of course,
Paul returns, forcing her to hide under the bed and lose her glasses at the
has included references to cinema history that are a lot of fun—clips from
Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944)
and Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1947)—inform
the story with thematic and visual motifs. There are laughs, to be sure, but Manhattan Murder Mystery does not rank
among Allen’s best comedies. It’s enjoyable fluff, and perhaps that was all it
was meant to be.
Time’s limited-edition Blu-ray (only 3000 units) looks very nice in its 1080p
High Definition transfer, showing off Carlo Di Palma’s colorful cinematography
and New York City landmarks that are always a treat in a Woody Allen film. The
audio is 1.0 DTS-HD MA, with an isolated score and effects track. The
theatrical trailer is the only supplement.
for a lightweight romp around the Big Apple, Manhattan Murder Mystery will please fans of Allen and, especially,
was the film that convinced audiences and critics alike that Jane Fonda could
act. After appearing throughout the Sixties in glamour-girl and comic roles (Cat Ballou, Barbarella) that barely scratched the surface of what this talented
actress could do, along came They Shoot
Horses, Don’t They?, which featured a tough, cynical, mean-spirited, and
take-no-prisoners Jane Fonda as Gloria, a down-on-her-luck contestant in a
Depression-era marathon dance contest. The showy role resulted in her first
Best Actress Oscar nomination.
picture also awarded Sydney Pollack his first Directing nomination; in fact,
the film received a total of nine Oscar nominations, including Adapted
Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Susannah York), and Supporting Actor (Gig
Young, who won); but it did not, curiously, land a Best Picture nod. It
dance marathon contests in the early 1930s were an American display of
spectacle and madness. On the one hand, they provided cheap entertainment for
audiences who wanted to watch the progression of misery as dancers remained on
their feet (aside from occasional ten-minute breaks for food and very rare
longer breaks) for hours, days, weeks… until one couple was left standing. On
the other hand, it provided some kind hope for the contestants themselves, as
the payout was a whopping $1500—a big chunk of change in Depression-stricken
(Fonda) matches up with Robert (Michael Sarrazin) by default. There’s also
Alice (York), a Jean Harlow wannabe, aging former Navy man Harry (Red Buttons),
and married couple James and pregnant Ruby (Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia). The
proceedings are MC’d with ringmaster showmanship and a canny sense of sardonicism
by Rocky (Young, who is marvelous in his award-winning role). “Yowza, yowza,
yowza!” he calls into the microphone, as the contestants go through hell in the
guise of showbiz.
the picture was released in 1969, it provided a social commentary that was a
metaphor for life itself—that we’re competing in a never-ending marathon of
hardship until you either drop out, drop dead, or win the big prize. The final
irony is that the big prize isn’t such a big prize after all. Not a feel-good
movie, to be sure, but certainly a thoughtful statement on the human condition.
Pollack’s direction is superb, an early indication of the long career he would
have in Hollywood.
Husbands and Wives was released in
September 1992, the news was full of the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow/Soon-Yi Previn
scandal, which had recently broken. The studio, Tri-Star, seemingly rushed the
release of the film to capitalize on the gossip, and, as a result, the picture
did pretty good box office (better than Allen’s previous two films). Although
the public found out about Allen’s dalliance with Farrow’s adopted daughter a
little later, Farrow discovered it at some point during the filming of Husbands and Wives. Talk about what must
have been a tense set...!
so this is a case in which a reviewer can’t look at a movie without the
real-life baggage encroaching on the evaluation. In fact, I’ll argue that it’s
impossible not to do so.
said, Husbands and Wives is one of
Woody Allen’s greatest—albeit darkest—works. It might be his most insightful,
honest, and disturbingly analytical treatise on affairs of the heart,
especially as they apply to American—and specifically New York City—upper and
upper-middle-class men and women.
a “reality TV” approach to the way it’s shot and directed, with hand-held
cameras and a narrator/interviewer (the voice of Jeffrey Kurland, the costume designer of the film!), who elicits
commentary from the characters outside the main action of the story. This was a
revelation at the time, since the concept of reality television had been only teased
on MTV during the 1980s and had not fully developed as a primetime phenomenon.
Allen’s regular director of photography, Carlo Di Palma, provides a gritty,
jerky, documentary feel to the proceedings, and it works beautifully.
(Allen) and Judy (Farrow) are married with no children. He’s a college
professor in literature. Their best friends Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally
(Judy Davis) are a couple that announces at the beginning of the film that they
are getting divorced. They’re both ostensibly okay with that, but Judy and Gabe
are shocked and upset. Jack and Sally, throughout the film, begin to date
others. Jack sees Sam (Lysette Anthony), a much younger aerobics teacher who is
intellectually incompatible with him. Judy matches Sally with Michael (Liam
Neeson), although Judy has the hots for Michael herself. Sally is too neurotic
and so-not-ready for dating again that it doesn’t work out with Michael.
Meanwhile, Gabe becomes infatuated with a very
young college student, Rain (Juliette Lewis), who has a history of dating
this a film fraught with art-imitating-life syndrome, or what? Without
revealing how these romantic and not-romantic liaisons work out, let’s just say
that Allen consistently shows us ugly truths about lies, trust, and compromise.
Is it a comedy? Yes and no. There are laughs, but mostly this is a biting, dark
satire that is more akin to the works of, say, Jules Feiffer, than Woody Allen.
There are moments of sheer brilliance, and others that are too close to the
headlines for comfort.
the most revelatory statement in Husbands
and Wives is that Gabe, Allen’s character, refuses to take his involvement
with student Rain any further after one kiss (that she asks for on her birthday) because it’s “not right.” It’s
amazing that Allen’s character
performs with wiser moral integrity than Allen himself did in his personal
life, considering that the movie was written and made while he was courting a
much younger woman. Ironic, if anything.
Davis received a much-deserved Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actress
for her performance. Pollack (director of such works as Tootsie and Out of Africa),
too, is exceptional, and it’s a wonder why he never got more recognition for
his occasional acting stints. Jack and Sally’s story is the most engaging piece
of the film. Allen’s script, a striking piece of work, was nominated for
Time’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds exemplary, with its 1080p High
Definition transfer and 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The only
supplements are the theatrical trailer and an isolated music and effects track.
The essay in the booklet is by critic Julie Kirbo.
to only 3000 units, Husbands and Wives is
a collectors’ item that explores the hurricane that can exist within a relationship,
and one that blew up in the tabloids.