Mom takes on 'Swamp Thing,' gets racy DVD pulled off shelves

Blockbuster removes PG-rated flick that has footage unfit for kids

05/04/2002

By NANCY CHURNIN / The Dallas Morning News

Mary Dorflinger found something even stranger than a swamp creature on the DVD version of Swamp Thing that she rented from Blockbuster Video last month for her 9-year-old son and his friend.

The North Dallas mom discovered the kids staring, stunned, at scenes of nudity and fondling that didn't appear in the VHS version of the 1982 live-action campy classic starring Adrienne Barbeau and Louis Jourdan. It belied the PG rating. And she was angry.

"Their eyes were wide as saucers," she said of the boys, who were watching men fondle women's breasts. And they had already seen more than expected of Ms. Barbeau's torso.

"It was so upsetting," she said. "I've spent nine years making sure my kid doesn't see stuff like that. I've spent nine years making sure other moms know they can trust me not to show their kids stuff like that."

Now, because of her personal crusade, the Swamp Thing DVDs are off most of the Blockbuster shelves in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and will be coming off shelves across the country as well, at least temporarily.

"Clearly a mistake was made," an MGM spokeswoman said in a conference call that included a Blockbuster spokesman this week. MGM sold the DVD to Blockbuster. "It's going to be corrected. The version that this customer used will not be out there with the PG label."

MGM says it made an error when it used an international version of the film as the master copy for the DVD, rather than the national version of the film, when it acquired the domestic rights for the movie two years ago. International versions of American movies often contain more explicit material, and the international version of Swamp Thing wasn't rated. The national version, without the full view of Ms. Barbeau and the later fondling scene, earned the PG rating.

The Internet Movie Database at www.imdb.com notes the additional scenes on its Web site under the heading "alternate versions." It specifically mentions that the international version has additional footage of Ms. Barbeau during a swamp bathing scene. Also, online comments at Amazon.com note the difference between the international and U.S. versions.

MGM says it is drafting a statement to all the rental and retail stores that bought the DVD, which sells for $14.95. A spokeswoman added that because this isn't a new title, she doesn't know how many copies are out there. She also said she didn't know how much it would cost to recall the DVDs or simply slap an amended, possibly R, rating on the film.

"We'll set the DVD versions aside while we work with the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] on the rating," she said. "We've placed the picture on moratorium, and we don't plan to make any future copies available until we can rectify the problem."

Customers who have already bought the DVD and have concerns about the content may call MGM Home Entertainment's customer service line at 310-449-3381 for assistance.

The matter came to the MGM spokeswoman's attention only Wednesday, when Blockbuster officials alerted her to Ms. Dorflinger's concerns. She hasn't heard from anyone who has bought the DVD, she said.

Ms. Dorflinger, who rented the DVD from the Blockbuster at Northwest Highway and Midway Road, said she was upset because she takes such pains to protect her child from suggestive, violent or scary material. Before renting Swamp Thing, she checked the rating and watched the first 30 minutes with the kids to make sure the swamp creature wasn't too scary.

A few minutes after she left the room, her husband walked in to check on the boys and caught the scene in question. He called her, and she came running.

Ms. Dorflinger was especially upset after her son's friend said, " 'My mother is never going to trust you again.' ... I'd just as soon not live in Dallas as have that reputation."

She said she was also upset with a clerk who had assured her that the movie was "pretty stupid, but the boys will like it."

Afterward, she made numerous telephone calls to Blockbuster officials, asking how she could be sure something like this wouldn't happen again with another film. She also called The Dallas Morning News.

Blockbuster has been an industry leader in monitoring video content and refuses to carry NC-17 movies. But Ms. Dorflinger's concerns echo growing doubts among the American public about the ratings system and how to monitor what children see.

While the spokesmen from MGM and Blockbuster said they cannot promise there will never be another mistake, they have pledged to increase their vigilance.

"It's our job to make sure that everything that is distributed is rated appropriately," said the Blockbuster spokesman. "And we'll be looking very carefully at international versions from now on."

E-mail: nchurnin@dallasnews.com