Swamp Thing (1982) from Tuna

Swamp Thing (1982) - When this film was released on DVD, we were all thrilled to discover that it was not only a beautiful restoration job, but was the uncut version with the lovely extended topless bathing scene featuring Adrienne Barbeau. It was nice to see MGM do this one right, because this Wes Craven film is a comic book film classic, and the tasteful topless scene is gorgeous.

Unfortunately, if you don't already own this DVD, it looks like you will never have a chance. It seems one Mary Dorflinger of Dallas, Texas was looking for an electronic baby sitter for her 9 year old boys, and rented Swamp Thing at Blockbuster. I don't know which part of Parental Guidance she didn't understand, but she sat the kids in front of the boob tube, and started the DVD. Next thing she knew, the nine year olds, who up to that point had been prevented from even knowing that breasts exist, were staring at Barbeau's nearly perfect ones, and were impressed. The virgin Mary Dorfinger declared Jihad, and attacked both Blockbuster and MGM. As a result of this one woman's complaint, the DVD has been recalled, and has disappeared from every source I checked. The last of these $16.95 DVDs to sell at eBay went for over $36.

Mary, if you are reading, listen carefully. PG means you should screen the film, and then decide whether or not your boys should see it. If the human body is so evil in your estimation, complain to the manufacturer next Sunday morning in church.


My original comments about Swamp Thing evidently resonated with many of our readers, judging by the response I received. One reader found a copy still on the shelves, got it for a bargain $10.99, watched it, and is planning to sell it at eBay. As he said, "It's the American way." Another wrote with some very uncomplimentary comments about Mary Dorflinger, then went on to say that he was really more angry with MGM for caving in so easily. He has written them a nasty gram from their Web site, and hopes many others will follow suit. In answer to a reader who enjoyed my "rant" and agreed with it, I explained in some detail just why this upsets me so much.

This situation is even more amazing than I described. Reading between the lines, the MPAA theoretically is protecting parents by labeling films. Their bosses, so to speak, are the parents of America, but it is only the extreme right wing Christian elements that ever make their voices heard. The average person would never come out publicly in the US in support of nudity or sex in film, even though they like it, because everyone knows someone who would react badly. Thus, we get an MPAA rating system driven by a vocal minority, that abhors sex and nudity, but doesn't mind violence at all. Enter Blockbuster, who drives the US rental market, and, as policy, will not stock any UNRATED titles. It is not that they corporately care about film content, but they can blame the MPAA whenever there is a complaint, and survive the attacks with this plausible deniability.

Now MGM, had they released the US PG version of Swamp Thing, would have been reviled by nearly anyone who cares about film, but they didn't have an MPAA rating for the uncut version (it would probably get a fairly easy R), and couldn't release it unrated because loss of the Blockbuster market would destroy their profits on this release. Hence a decision that likely went like this. Let's release the real version, but with the PG rating. The nudity is not gratuitous, and  is no more than in other PG films from 10 years earlier like Barbarella. In the unlikely event that there is a complaint, we will just claim honest mistake. Now, with he recall, they will be much more reluctant to release other films in an uncut version. This recall has to be costing them a fortune.

My guess is that they will go for an MPAA R, and redistribute this time, but I am guessing it will be a long time before we see another Unrated release from them. Getting the rating from MPAA is not cheap. If MPAA complains and wants cuts, then they will probably just abandon the project completely. So, in a very real sense, this one twisted housewife has decided what all of us will be allowed to see in films. I am just as frustrated and angry as I sounded last night, and have not calmed down a whole lot today. I could get behind a rating system that labeled films based on content, such as:

Language: Heavy, light, none
Nudity: Male, female, both, none
Sex: Implied, artful, explicit, none
Violence: Strong, moderate, none
Drug Use: Tobacco, alcohol, narcotics, none
Controversial Themes: Hate Crimes, non-traditional sexuality, sexual violence, none

Scoop's notes in yellow:

MGM and Blockbuster acted correctly in this instance. Well, to be technical, MGM made a mistake at first, then acted correctly to amend it. The studio had at one time received a PG rating for a version of the film without the topless scene, but that is not the version on the DVD. After restoring that scene, they had not submitted the film to be re-rated. Therefore, the version of the film on the DVD had never been rated, but they labeled it PG on the box. Therefore, the boxes were all labeled incorrectly. MGM just messed up somehow when they issued the DVD. We don't know why, but we can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it was an innocent mistake.  MGM is a member of MPAA, and has agreed to comply with the system, so when they caught the error, they corrected it. End of story,

Blockbuster's policy forbids unrated films, so when they realized they had an unrated film mistakenly labeled PG, they quite correctly pulled it. You may not agree with their policy, but they followed it consistently. Of course, there is a massive inconsistency in Blockbuster's policy. Many, many films say "extra features not rated." In fact it seems that virtually every DVD includes unrated extra features, yet Blockbuster carries those products, perhaps without noticing, or perhaps in a "don't ask, don't tell" mode. The incongruous result is that if the Swamp Thing DVD had included the topless scene in the bonus features and not in the film proper, everybody would have saved face. The film itself would have been a legit PG, as advertised, and the bonus features would have been unrated, as so many on Blockbuster's shelves already are.

This contradictory situation can't last, can it? As soon as someone publicly confronts Blockbuster with this inconsistency, they will have to do something, and whatever decision they make will affect a vast number of films now on their shelves. Let's hope it is something sensible. Blockbuster's CEO, John Antioco, is a long-time associate of mine from our days with 7-Eleven in Dallas, and I'm sure you can count on him to keep a cool head.

As for ol' Mary Dorflinger, her expectations were NOT reasonable, despite what I wrote above. If Mary had expected a 1985 PG film to be breast-free, her logic would have been sound, but Swamp Thing was a 1982 film. There was no PG-13 rating until 1984, so there are many pre-1984 films with PG ratings and naked breasts. (If you think about it, you'll realize that the situation hasn't changed. Today's PG-13 movies, which are PG movies under the 1982 system, sometimes include nudity. Titanic obviously would have been rated PG if it were issued in 1982, so ol' Mary could have been outraged by Kate Winslet's naughty bits. )

A brief history of the ratings system:

  • The rating system started in 1968, with only four rating categories: G, M, R, and X.
  • The PG rating was originally called M, then changed almost immediately to GP, because research showed that most people thought M ("Mature") sounded like a more restrictive rating than R. Just a year later, the GP was flipped to PG.
  • For the 15 years from 1969 to 1984, the four rating categories were G, PG, R, and X.
  • The PG rating was split into PG and PG-13 in 1984. Thus, PG films from 1969-1984 can not be compared to PG films after that period, because the old PG encompassed films now rated either PG or PG-13.
  • The X rating was replaced by NC-17 in 1990.

I would like to see the entire system replaced by a simple recitation of facts. Tuna's suggestion above is too general. The term "Nudity: female" could apply equally to Deep Throat or Titanic, and thus helps nobody because insufficient information is provided. If it were my decision, the labels would read something like this: "this film has a brief exposure of non-erect male genitals, as well as repeated instances of exposed female breasts," or "this film includes prolonged anal intercourse between males and females, including graphic portrayal of erection and penetration," or "this sucker includes some SERIOUS real-time sheep-fuckin'." That would actually be a huge help to everyone, including some who avoid particular content, and some (like me) who seek it, especially the hot barnyard action. Of course, that would require people to read several words to make a decision, rather than a single letter, which might be an intellectual stretch for the very people who are making enough noise to influence the MPAA.


DVD info from Amazon

  • Full-screen format, plus a widescreen anamorphic 1.85



Adriene Barbeau shows her breasts in a bathing scene. That's what this article is about.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C.

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