In late 1980, I was called out of the blue by the producers of Swamp Thing, and asked to bid on the makeup work.
Several others were bidding on it as well, although I do not know who they were. Having never heard of the comic book character, I
hustled over to a comic book collector's shop and bought the Premiere issue (#1) and a few others. And as soon as I saw the portrait
of him in that book, I immediately felt that if I got the job and was going to do this, I wanted to be faithful to the original artwork.
And I based my bid proposal on that consideration. I got the job.
Next step was to meet Wes Craven, and talk about the work.
He immediately told me up front he generally hated prosthetic body suits, because they always looked fake to him, and he raised an
additional concern, which was why creature suits were so falsely and conspicuously lacking in any gender or the anatomy suggesting
gender. Well, that was Hollywood tradition, but when he asked me point blank, "What's between Swamp Thing's legs?, the best answer
I could muster was "Whatever you want to be there." His concern, rightly, was that the human who is set on fire and runs flaming away
into the swamps to be resurected as Swamp Thing was, in his new appearance, essentially naked, and as such, we should see some remnant
of his masculine anatomy. So I assured him I would create a design that reflected this concern.
I had asked for 12 weeks prep
to build the suits, a stuntman named Bob Minor (I believe, it's been 28 years), who was 6' 2" and build like a linebacker, was hired
to tentatively play Swamp Thing and was sent to me for a full body cast. Then we got put on hold while the producers worked with United
Artists (who were backing the film) and had some things they wanted resolved before they actually gave us a "Go" and money to "go"
with. So I waited. Finally, we got the "Go" but my 12 weeks prep had been cut to 6 weeks. Not a good sign.
I sculpted the full Swamp Thing body on Bob's body cast. First order of business was for the director and producers
to sign off on the full sculpture. Because of Wes' concern about "What's between his legs" and the fact that the comic book design
had lots of narled roots wrapping around his body, I sculpted a body design that included a "root" that was between the legs and had
a masculine proportion, sort of like an uncircumsized Cypress knee (the Cypress tree roots that rise up above water in the swamps,
if you don't know).
So here we are, me, Wes, the producers, and a few extra people who tend to be stuck to producers and directors,
all looking at the full body sculpture, and everybody is trying to pretend they aren't staring at the "phallic root" as we called
it. After lengthy consideration (this is serious stuff in the movie business), the collective conclusion was that if we made the suit
this way, the movie might get an "X" rating, and the producers were under contract to deliver a PG-13 rating. So, with immense regret
on the director's part, he okayed the castration of the sculpture, and we concluded if there would even be a movie called "Son of
Swamp Thing", he'd have to be adopted.
That decided, I began to set up the sculpture for molds to actually cast the body suit
parts in foamed latex. When I told them I was fabricating suit parts and ready for the stuntman to come in for final assemply on him,
they told me Bob was unavailable and they cast Dick Durock instead. Dick was almost 4" taller and lean, so I had a body sculpture
designed for a football linebacker and had to fit it to a guy built like a basketball player.
Refitting the Suits
And because I had been assured the Arcane Monster would be played by a stuntman the same height as Swamp Thing,
and I thought Bob (at 6' 2") would be SW, I used a body cast I had made years ago for my Creature from the Black Lagoon replica (taken
from a slim man 6' 2") as my sculpting mannkien for the Arcane Monster suit. But once Dick Durock was cast, Ben Bates was also cast
as the Arcane Monster, and he was over 6' 6". So my sculpted 6' 2" Arcane suit had to be stretched 4", while my Swamp Thing suit had
to be literally remolded with chunks taken out and stretch parts added, to fit Dick Durock.
So now, in the six weeks where I
had asked for 12, I was now completely refitting both body suits for people they weren't designed to fit. So we were really
going downhill in terms of quality here.
Ray Wise was cast later, and they wanted an option of Ray doing closeups for Swamp Thing's
dialogue, so a mask was made from a face cast of him. Spare Swamp Thing suit parts were used to make him a partial (waist up) suit,
but he was never intended to wear a full suit, and none was designed for him.
Because of the short time and extra work refitting
the suits, I had Ken Horn and Esther Mercado (two of my crew) go to the location in South Carolina while I continued in Los Angeles
making more suit parts. I ended up flying out to the location four times during the shoot to deliver parts and do some of the other
effects makeup applications, as well as the second suit for the villian monster.
My Short Career as a Stuntman
I ended up working as a stuntman myself, doing the second half of the final fight in the Arcane Monster
suit because Ben Bates was grounded by on-set paramedics midway through the fight filming, and so I suited up (being 6' 3") and did
the last half of the stunt fight, including the death scene.
Ben Bates was the stuntman hired to play the Arcane Monster, and we fitted
the suit to him. He was a respected and professional stuntman. He was also 6' 6" tall (Dick Durock was 6' 5"). When he was grounded,
I stepped in because I was close to him in height , so the suit had a sort of chance to fit, and because I understood the dangers
one faces working in such a suit, so I could pace myself and hopefully survive the ordeal.
I wasn't credited for my "stuntwork"
(or paid) because I did it as a gesture of support for the need to get the film done. When Ben was grounded by the on set paramedics,
the stunt coordinator and Dick were talking about a young local guy, an athlete who was hoping to break into the stunt business, and
maybe putting him in the suit. I worried that he might be completely ignorant of the stress and try to "show off", in other words,
try to show how active he could be, and push his own body over the edge. Since I was 6' 3" then (seem to have lost an inch over the
years somewhere), and I knew the stress involved, and had grown up with a stuntman as a neightbor, I at least understood what needed
to be done, and the stress of wearing the suit.
Plus I just wanted the filming to go on quickly and smoothly, because it was
a very troubled shoot, and I had gotten a bad rap for the time it took to suit up the guys, so production delays were being blamed
on me and my crew (unfairly, as was later revealed, when a segment with no makeup effects was not filmed until 8 hours after crew
call, and all because of the camera crew's endless wasting of time, and the Exec in charge of production aopologized to me for the
way everybody had been blaming me for the delays).
So I just wanted to move things along, by getting in the suit and finishing
the fight. I could have demanded SAG pay as a stunt player, and screen credit, but I just let it slide as a gesture of "cooperation"
with the producers. Sadly, it was never appreciated.
Mis-Information about the Film
Interestingly, someone in the forum asked me about some person's online remarks about the filming,
which were as follows:
March 29th, 2007 at 11:10 pm
"Something to keep in mind with the original Swamp Thing costume
is the fact that it was made to be worn by Ray Wise. He suffered a broken leg during production and the Wes Craven tapped Dick Durock
(already onboard as a stuntman for the picture) to wear the rubber suit. Unfortunately for Dick, he is more than six inches taller
than Ray Wise, resulting in the characters stretched appearance.
Iím the first movies costume would have looked better if it fit properly
but the costume from the second file is a true work of art!"
I don't know who this person is, but he has been mis-informed. Not
much of what he says above is right. The suit was never designed for Ray Wise and Ray did not break his leg during filming. Dick was
not hired for some other reason first. But this person is correct in that the suits would have looked better if they were truly correctly
fitted to the person they were designed for.
Ultimately, it was a troubled shoot that was far from it's potential, but about
the best we could do under the chaotic circumstances.
The Cinefantastique magazine article about the shoot (it's the "Conan the
Barbarian" double issue) has an 8 page feature on the film and my work, a good article overall.
And if you are curious about
the "phallic root", the page here showing my work on Swamp Thing does show the full body sculpture, and that particular photo was
taken before the root was removed,