DVD Review: Swamp Devil (2008)

The Festival Award-Winning
13th Installment in the
Maneater Films Franchise
Rises from the Swamp onto DVD 4/7

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When you're running from the law and accused of a crime you swear you didn't commit, it probably doesn't help matters when your last name is Blaime. Of course, in the case of David Winning’s multiple film festival award-winning monster movie Swamp Devil-- the last thing viewers are tuning in for is a plot-line that harkens back to the blockbuster 60s TV series The Fugitive and its subsequent 90s cinematic counterpart starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones.

No, instead the main attraction in the 13th entry into the horror sub-genre Maneater Franchise is the titular Swamp Devil itself as we ascertain right from the start in the film's opening flashback which occurs 17 years ago as a young girl is somehow snatched up in the woods of Gibbington, Vermont.

When we cut to present day, we're faced with one of the genre’s most instinctively identifiable images as a beautiful blonde seventeen year old girl-- typically dressed in short shorts and a low cut shirt-- runs screaming bloody murder from the same dangerous creature in the woods. And sure enough, soon the homecoming queen is inevitably found deader than disco in that damn swamp.

However, as the town's Beethoven enthusiast Sheriff Nelson Bois (James Kidnie) later states, “Every swamp has its legend. There is no monster out there. But there's something out there. Your old man.”

The old man to whom he's referring is the farmer law man turned Swamp Devil spouting kook—the unfortunately named Howard Blaime (Bruce Dern)-- whom everyone in town including the police, the homecoming queen's father, and his posse of vigilantes has decided is responsible for the girl's death.

Hoping to intervene and catch up with the old man before the local poster children for the NRA do, Jimmy Fuller (Nicholas Wright) makes the decision to call Howard's estranged, beautiful daughter Melanie (Cindy Sampson). Having relocated to the city and cut off all ties with her father after the mysterious death of her mother when she was just a little girl, Melanie is hesitant to return to Gibbington so instead of owning up to the real reason he is calling, Jimmy plays the "next of kin" card by telling her that her father is close to death.

While on one hand, Jimmy’s lie does foreshadow what would happen if the town managed to get hold of the elusive recluse but when Melanie surmises the truth, she's all set to turn around until she's told that he's now wanted for brutal murder. Although she does not remember Jimmy from the youth she's tried to block out-- nonetheless the two bond fairly quickly and their rapport is sped up considerably when he introduces her to his mother-- a diner owner who moonlights as a medical healer of sorts, managing to rid Melanie of her perpetual headaches that are introduced immediately into the script as a major character trait but are then never referenced again.

It’s the dropping of this thread along with a few others as well as providing viewers with a final, far-too-quick conclusion that stitches things together overly easily that threatens to take away from the success of an admitted B-movie which shockingly was far more engrossing and entertaining than a few of the recent faux horror films I’ve screened such as The Haunting in Connecticut and House.

Nicely it fills out the 90 minute running time with some excellent character based suspicion and plot twists as predictably we realize that one of the major characters isn't perhaps the person we first assumed. In fact the strength of David Winning’s work is evidenced whenever it relies on mood, mystery, and evolving character back stories as opposed to when we see the initially Harry and the Hendersons meets Bigfoot meets The Incredible Hulk-like CGI Swamp Devil and even more so as the Swamp Devil uses its vines later on to string people up and lasso ‘em together like a nefarious green version of evil cowboys in old John Wayne westerns or Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.

However, the target audience of those tuning into Swamp Devil are in it simply to see that man-eating monster. It’s this same group who gave it the “Audience Favorite Award” at the Philadelphia 2008 Terror Film Festival (who also rewarded the legendary Bruce Dern who first struck my attention as a kid starring as “Yo Rumsfield, Dude” in The 'Burbs opposite Tom Hanks and Corey Feldman).

Admirably, though—in pleasing both the die-hard terror fans and those just giving it a whirl-- David Winning manages to elevate his work penned by Gary L. Dauberman and Ethlie Ann Vare in a way that this decidedly non-horror buff fan could appreciate. In fact, having been sent RHI Entertainment and Genius Products’ Swamp Devil out of the blue, I'm not ashamed to say that just looking at the box, it seemed like the type of film I would have immediately passed by at the video store or skipped at the multiplex.

Doing the old screenplay format test of “I’ll just watch the first act and see," I was genuinely-- the word "pleasantly" seems quite out of place when talking about a Swamp Devil-- surprised by the film that also scored director David Winning a 2008 WorldFest Houston Platinum Award as the Best Director. And following its post-film festival life on TV prior to the DVD release, it also received the Gold World Medal for Best Direction from 2009’s New York Festival’s Television Programming Awards.

Despite some problems with the sound quality near the beginning, the transfer to this Region 1 DVD is excellent-- retaining the same Widescreen aspect ratio as it continues, growing in strength audibly as the tension ratchets up in Dolby Digital surround. Thereby, it makes this modern day B movie release much crisper and sharper than the heyday of the B sub-genre decades ago but boy, will you be glad you don’t live in Gibbington by the time the final credits roll. Oh yeah... and it also helps, if your last name isn’t Blaime.