If you have been watching creature-feature sci-fi series Swamp Thing, Saturdays on M-Net City (DStv 115) at 20:50, and it made your stomach turn, then the series is doing its magic. The gory horror theme of the series was intentionally created to make viewers (very) uncomfortable. “We’ve always set out to make Swamp Thing as hard-core as we could and go graphic-wise with the violence, with the adult themes and to make it as scary as possible,” reveals series creator Gary Dauberman, the horror master behind scary movies like the Annabelle franchise (2014, 2019), IT (2017) and The Nun (2018).
Gary and his team didn’t have to look far for inspiration for their scary theme of the TV series. “We really took our inspiration from the Alan Moore Swamp Thing comics of the 1980s. Fans of the series will know it gets pretty weird, extreme and scary. We really wanted to live up to that standard that Alan set.”
The Swamp Thing story is steeped in the dark backwaters of Louisiana. Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) returns to her hometown of Marais for the first time in a while. She works for the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the town is currently suffering from a swamp-related sickness that makes young girls faint and lose blood. The more Abby searches, the worse things she finds – like a corpse that’s infested with plants in an abandoned house. She meets up with disgraced scientist Alec Holland (Andy Bean), who is looking into the possible dumping of toxic chemicals in the swamp waters that he claims is mutating swamp plant life. However, Alec is shot during one field trip into the swamp to collect samples and he falls into the water, being born again in the chemically altered swamp as the monstrous “swamp thing” (now played by physically much bigger actor Derek Mears).
“I think certainly what begins to happen as the season goes on is that the chemical dumping that is occurring in the swamp and upsetting the balance of things, is unleashing a supernatural force on top of the devastation that is being brought to the swamp, that begins to affect the people of the town and our characters,” explains producer Mark Verheiden. “So, we have a supernatural component to this, while Abby, who is really trying to both work through her emotional stories with the people in the town, she has a very dark past as you’ll discover. But also trying to come to terms with the man she fell in love with, Alec, and the creature that he’s become.”
Beauty & the beast
The love story between Abby and Swamp Thing is something that is vital for the series. “We really wanted to play with the love story, as well as the Beauty and the Beast story between Abby and Swamp Thing,” says Mark. “How that evolves from the relationship she developed with Alec in the first episode, when that relationship de facto ends, it becomes something else completely, and how that evolves is a key storyline that we carry through the series.”
The one thing that draws them together is that Swamp Thing is fully connected to this entire new world which has horrific aspects, but also has incredibly beautiful aspects. “As the season goes on, that leads to a respects and affection for one another that maybe goes beyond where Abby was with Alec. But it takes time, because he is quite a different fellow,” quips Mark.
A character named Marais
Abby’s hometown is also perceived as a character in the series in its own right. “Everyone in Marais, they all have very dark secrets as the season unfolds,” explains Mark. “It’s a town that, on the one hand is plagued by the supernatural, but it’s also filled with people of diabolical intent. We wanted to create a feeling of a town that has seen better days and is trying to hold onto itself, and then finds itself plagued by a certain amount of darkness. The exploration of the reality of living in a small town was another vital thread. We wanted to play with the idea of a town that has been bypassed by modern life. It’s very relevant and a familiar theme in small towns. Marais is the town that had an interstate that probably bypassed it 40 years ago and left them high and dry, leaving people struggling.”
Beneath the skin
Behind the scenes, it was a different story to work on the series. “Early on we decided we weren’t going to do a CGI Swamp Thing,” says Mark. “We wanted a guy in that costume, to see a human being underneath, animating that suit. A big part of what we were able to accomplish was creating a suit that Derek Mears was able to perform through, so you could feel the humanity of this character as well as the horrific aspects of Swamp Thing.”
Derek adds, “The suit itself, and wearing full body prosthetics in general is difficult to do, especially when I go to the swamp set. The water has to be heated so the fog will stay on the water, and the actors and actresses who enter the water are safe and it’s not supper chilled. So anytime you see us in the swamp, it’s boiling inside, so the suit itself is hot, but then when you add the emotional performance behind it and your body doesn’t know the difference, that adds another level of stress. So, when you’re trying to hit the different scenes and hit the different points that you want to hit and the emotional peaks, it becomes very trying after a while, but also I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
For Crystal, the experience was fun, but also had its challenges. “Every day I would be waterlogged. I definitely had to prepare for it physically, because it’s tiring and cold, but our swamp that we built was on a sound stage. So, it was kept at a temperature that wasn’t unbearable, and I could go back to the comforts of my trailer if things got out of control, but I personally love doing physical acting. I love doing my own stunts and I love it. It adds to my performance, I think, and it just makes me feel like a child on a playground again. It was a magical experience for me.”
Watch Swamp Thing, Saturdays on M-Net City (DStv 115) at 20:50 or on Catch Up