Humongously Underrated: Humongous (1982) – A 35th Anniversary Retrospective
Director Paul Lynch’s Humongous was lumped in with all the Canadian slashers that came out during the early ’80s, which included Lynch’s other contribution the rather good Prom Night (1980). 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 it has wallowed in obscurity ever since its release, while Anthropophagus has undeservedly achieved cult status. This is no classic but it does not deserve to be as under-seen as it has been these past thirty-five years, and it certainly does not deserve its current pitiful 4.4 rating on IMDB.
The pre-title sequence is a typical slasher troupe, in which the depiction of a past traumatic event has horrific repercussions on the future generation in the present day setting; tragedy begets tragedy. On Labor Day weekend in 1946, a drunken man rapes a young woman named 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. She then commands them to stop, picks up a rock, and bashes him in the head with it a couple of times killing him – END OF SPOILER.
After the somber 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 sister Carla (Janit Baldwin), and the brothers’ respective girlfriends – Sandy (Janet Julian, who would go on to star opposite Christopher Walken in Abel Ferrara’s underrated 1995 film King of New York) and Donna (Joy Boushel). They are all going out for the weekend on a yacht belonging to the father of the three siblings.
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 to live a reclusive life, only venturing out for two annual trips to the mainland to buy supplies she needs and does not talk to anyone, and that her savage dogs roam the island.
Nick is frightened by this story as he hears the cries of wild animals coming from the island. He 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 more monstrously dangerous for them to worry about than dogs.
After this first half hour, it is a little slow to get going in the second act as much time is spent with the kids just wondering the island, which is one of the film’s common criticisms. However, I think the director always finds ways to keep the story moving along at a suspenseful pace. Brian R.R. Hebb’s darkly lit cinematography, and the simple use of John Mills-Cockell’s effective minimalist synthesizer score, heightens the tension in scenes and encapsulates the proceedings in a fantastic creepy atmosphere.
The film is powerfully brutal in places. SPOILER ALERT – Especially in the aforementioned gruesome and disturbing rape and savaged by dogs opening sequence – END OF SPOILER. With the exception of moments like this, this is not an overly gory affair in the majority of it slasher set-pieces, so gorehounds will more likely be disappointed.
The Monster’s back-story is told to us by the teens discovering a diary, which as well as setting up the terror that’s in store for them and us, it has an underlying sadness 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.
The small group of young people features likable characters, including the final girl Sandy, but with the exception of Nick and Donna, who are a pair of obnoxious pains in the asses. The acting is adequate and is serviceable to the needs of the material; the cast achieves in what is asked of them.
When the film was released first in the US, it was badly cut for an R rated version, whereas the later domestic Canadian release was unrated. The picture of the VHS release was a little too dark and was barely watchable during crucial moments. Thankfully, this was fixed with the transfer for Scorpion’s Releasing’s full-uncut DVD.
Under-seen and unfairly maligned, there is not much to dislike about Humongous... aside from Nick and Donna. Atmospheric, brutal, sleazy, suspenseful and tense, a monstrous villain, and an energetic finale, this is an entertaining little slasher flick. Recommended.