Swamp Thing: Delta Heat (1992)

Dave heads to the swamps of Louisiana to check out a TV pilot that evolved into a feature that’s quirky with a capital ‘Q’.

After achieving a degree of success with the riotously entertaining Demonwarp (1988), producer Richard L. Albert took screenwriter Bruce Akiyama – who co-wrote it with Jim Bertges and John Carl Buechler – to one side and tasked him with writing a television pilot for his newly formed production company, Sawmill Entertainment.

Albert’s new venture was already experiencing a modicum of success with the profitable, if critically lambasted, Greydon Clark twofer of The Forbidden Dance (1990) and Out of Sight, Out of Mind (1990), and the wily mogul was keen to approach a variety of small screen networks with a pitch. Alas, he couldn’t arouse a satisfactory level of interest – and with Akiyama otherwise occupied, it fell to first time scribe Sam A. Scribner [1] to expand what that they had into the feature-length project that would become DELTA HEAT.

Set in the sweat-spewing swamps of deepest Louisiana, in Delta Heat we find Mike Bishop (Anthony Edwards): a Los Angeles cop who’s down in the South in order to work out who killed his partner, Bill Kagen (John P. Fertitta). The murder has all the hallmarks of notorious crime lord Antoine Forbes. However, he died in a shoot-out years ago. And with a local police department that are less than cooperative, Bishop is forced to enlist the help of cantankerous ex-cop Jackson Rivers (Lance Henriksen) if he’s ever going to bring Kagen’s killer to justice.

Director Michael Fischa had recently shot the rightfully beloved spandex-slasher Death Spa (1989), and although Delta Heat fails to carve itself into cult film history in the same way, it remains a memorable frolic thanks to two gaudily conceived lead characters. Edwards, replete with dangling handcuff earring and balding mullet, is bedecked in a wardrobe so alarming that Jared Leto would feel underdressed, while Henriksen is introduced to us dreadlocked, hook-handed, and balancing a live raccoon on his shoulder. Think Captain Jack Sparrow, but cooler. Add to this a delightfully jaunty score from Christopher Tyng, and the backbone of this eyebrow-raising curiosity adds up to a very enticing proposition.

Sadly, Delta Heat stumbles on the minutiae. The narrative is never really as compelling as it needs to be, and its frequent trips to Goofy-land mean that it see-saws between buddy comedy and Southern gothic with wayward abandon. Filmed in the summer of 1991, Delta Heat took an age to reach video stores, debuting in late December ’92 – four months after Edwards appeared Pet Sematary 2 (1992), despite Mary Lambert’s Stephen King-based shocker shooting a full six months later. Mind you, Edwards is a lot of fun in this. His rapport with Henriksen alone makes Delta Heat warrant your attention, and a final reel riff on The Defiant Ones (1958) ensures it’s worth persevering with.

USA ● 1992 ● Thriller ● 91mins

Anthony Edwards, Lance Henriksen, Betsy Russell, Linda Dona ● Dir. Michael Fischa ● Wri. Sam A. Scribner

[1] Scribner died of cancer in 2003 at the tragically young age of fifty-four. He was in the middle of writing a book titled ‘I Can Write a Better Screenplay Than That: and How to Do It from a Barca Lounger’.

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