Thursday, 10 September 2015

Humongous (1982)

Director Paul Lynch’s ‘Humongous’ is usually lumped in with all the Canadian slashers that came out during the period of 1980 to 1983 including Lynch’s own '80 contribution the rather good ‘Prom Night’. However, I actually do not consider it part of the sub-genre, as it is more of a monster movie that just features some of the slasher's elements using its structure to tell its story. It is very similar plot wise to the earlier 1980 Italian film ‘Anthropophagus’ directed by Joe D'Amato… except this is actually decent and not a dreary plodding mess. Although, the title in review here has its detractors accusing it of being just as dull and has wallowed in obscurity ever since its release while ‘Anthropophagus’ has undeservedly achieved cult status when really it should be the other way around. This is no classic but it does not deserve to be as under-seen as it has been these last twenty-three years and it certainly does not deserve its current pitiful 4.2 rating on IMDB.

On Labor Day weekend in 1946, a drunken man rapes a young woman Ida Parsons in the woods outside of her island family home where her father is holding a party. SPOILER ALERT - When the family’s vicious guard dogs break out of their pen they attack and maul her rapist and when she commands her dogs to stop she then picks up a rock and bashes him in the head with it a couple of times killing him - END OF SPOILER. After the title sequence, there is a narrative jump of 36 years and we are introduced to a group of four teens. They are the squabbling preppy bothers Eric (David Wallace) and Nick (John Wildman), their respective girlfriends (Janet Julian who would go on to star opposite Christopher Walken in Abel Ferrara’s underrated 1995 movie ‘King of New York’) and Donna (Joy Boushel) and their sister Carla (Janit Baldwin). They are all going out on the three siblings father’s yacht for the weekend.

That night during the trip, a fog settles in and hearing cries out in the sea they rescue the shipwrecked fisherman Bert (Layne Coleman). Aboard the yacht, he tells the group how he was wrecked offshore of Dog Island the home of Ida. He tells them how she has used her family’s fortune that her father made from lumber to live a reclusive life only venturing out for two annual trips to the mainland to buy supplies she needs not speaking to anyone and how her savage dogs roam the island. Nick is frightened by the story and the cries of wild animals coming from the island and runs to the top of the yacht to turn it around to go back to the mainland but instead damages the fuel line causing it to explode. With the Yacht on fire, they all abandon ship except Carla who is still down in the cabin. The group wash up on Dog Island with Bert seriously wounded, Carla missing and there is something far more dangerous than growling dogs roaming the island for them to worry about.

After this first half hour, it is a little slow to get going as in the second act much time is spent with the kids just wondering the island, which is one of the common criticisms of the movie. I think though the director always finds ways to keep the story moving along at a suspenseful pace like employing the simple use of John Mills-Cockell’s effective minimalist synthesizer score to help heighten the tension in scenes that also along with Brian R.R. Hebb’s darkly lit cinematography helps to encapsulate the proceedings in a fantastic creepy atmosphere. When made available for home release on VHS in the ‘80s the picture was a little too dark though and was barely watchable during crucial moments and the US release is a badly cut R rated version whereas the domestic Canadian release is the unrated version. Thankfully, the darkness problem has been fixed with the transfer for Scorpion Releasing’s recent DVD release that is the full-uncut version.

The film is also powerfully brutal in places. SPOILER ALERT - Especially in the aforementioned gruesomely disturbing rape and savaged by dogs opening sequence - END OF SPOILER. This opening is a typical slasher troupe in which the depiction of a past traumatic event will have horrific repercussions on the future generation in the present day setting; tragedy begets tragedy. Despite the brutality, this is not an overly gory affair in its slasher-esque set-pieces with the exception of certain moments so gorehounds will more likely be disappointed.

The small group of young people feature likable characters including the final girl Sandy (nice arse) but with the exception of Nick and Donna (gets her boobs out a fair bit) who are a pair of obnoxious pains in the arses. The acting is adequate being serviceable to the needs of the material; the cast achieves in what is asked of them. The monster’s back-story told to us by the teens discovering a diary that as well as setting up the terror that’s in store for them and us has an underlying sadness to it that draws our sympathies. The director shows his monster only in parts during the second half hour and it is not until the third act in the exciting climax that we see his huge frame in full view but his grotesque deformed face is concealed in darkness until the final scenes. I think this was a smart play by Paul Lynch as it adds to the suspense and it makes his antagonist even more frightening for it.

Too under-seen and too unfairly maligned over the years there really is not too much to dislike about ‘Humongous’ except Nick and Donna. Atmospheric, brutal, sleazy, suspenseful and tense, a monstrous villain and an energetic finale this is an entertaining little monster flick and if it has to be classed as a slasher with its elements of the sub-genre then this is a better film than a lot of what was released at the time. Recommended.

*** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

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