By my reckoning, it’s been at least a month since we set our sights north of the border around these parts, so you know what that means — time to look at another ’80s Canadian slasher flick lest we don’t make our entirely unofficial quota. And one that I’ve definitely been remiss in not covering previously is director Paul (Prom Night) Lynch’s reasonably-regarded 1982 effort Humongous, a film that certainly isn’t hailed as a classic by any means, but definitely has its partisans out there and seems to have generated a bit more buzz around it within the last year or so given its first official — and uncut — DVD release from Scorpion at part of their “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” series. But more on that in a minute, let’s have a gander at the movie itself first —
So, the story goes — and we’ve got the opening flashback scene to “prove” it! — that back in the late 1940s, a wealthy young socialite-in-training was savagely raped outside a party her family was throwing on their private island. Eventually one of the family’s rabid-looking dogs shooed her attacker off, but by then it was far too late to save our damsel’s virtue — but not too late for the island to get itself a new name out of the deal, and it’s been referred to as “Dog Island” ever since. Fast-forward to the then-present day and five completely obnoxious asshole rich kids, who are staying on another island nearby, are out getting wasted on one of their daddy’s boats when said boat runs aground on the other island where the (surprisingly quite long and brutal) earlier sexual assault took place. What’s it called again? Oh yeah, Dog Island! Needless to say, the scions of privilege soon begin disappearing one by one under mysterious circumstances even though the mansion and all other grounds as far as the eye can see look to be, for all intents and purposes, completely abandoned. They sure do hear a hell of a lot of barking and wailing though —
Okay, if all of this sounds more than a touch derivative, I guess it is, but Humongous definitely has more in common, both thematically and stylistically, with exploitation fare from its own country — Rituals in particular — than it does with, say, Halloween or Friday The 13th, and it’s not afraid to bend — or even break! — some of the standard slasher tropes, such as with its decision to portray all of its principal characters, even “final girl” Sandy Ralston (Janet Julian, who turns in a far more credible acting performance than her peers, who struggle mightily in the credibility department almost from start to finish) as completely unlikable, unsympathetic, spoiled-beyond-belief brats, and Lynch makes a curious about-face maneuver when, after a pretty harrowing opening sequence, he opts to go the essentially bloodless route when the story shifts to the here and now ( again,circa 1982, mind you).
As you can not-so-plainly see from the image above, though, one of the aspects of this flick that actually isn’t all that interesting — in fact, it gets pretty old pretty fast — is how goddamn dark everything is. It’s almost as if the lighting was handled by a crew of hopeless amateurs (which, for all I know, maybe it was). It works out okay at first in terms of establishing a foreboding atmosphere and all, but when it comes time for heads to roll and limbs to break, it would be nice to at least partially be able to see what the hell is going on, and this aggravation is compounded by the fact that when we can tell what’s happening, cinematographer Brian R.R. (no, that’s not a typo) Hebb’s camerawork is actually quite moody and effective. Who knows what cool stuff we’re missing out on?
Needless to say, it turns out that it’s not wild dogs doing in the rich little shits, but something far worse — what that “something” is I won’t spell out too explicitly in case any of you haven’t seen this thing, but again, once the killer is (semi)-revealed, it really is a shame we can’t see more of it/him, because it/him seems to be pretty decently realized, especially for a two-million-Canadian-dollars feature.
Still, as far as gripes go, that’s about it — on the whole Humongous is surprisingly entertaining slasher fare that manages to stick to the rules closely enough to be credible, while breaking them with enough frequency to genuinely keep you guessing. I’m not planning a trip to rural Ontario anytime soon, but if I were this film packs just enough of a punch that I might think twice about it. No mean feat for a story marred by some pretty lame performances and that’s so dimly lit you can barely make out what’s going on half the time.
Now, about that Scorpion Releasing DVD hosted by Katarina Leigh Watters I mentioned at the outset. It’s pretty damn good. The widescreen transfer seems fairly solid given the, shall we say, challenging source material, the mono sound does the job just fine, a rather worse-for-wear original theatrical trailer is included, we’re graced with Watters’ standard intro/outro bits, and the former WWE “diva” hosts a very lively and entertaining full-length commentary track with Lynch, screenwriter William Gray, and DVD Delirium author (and Mondo Digital webmaster) Nathaniel Thompson. A brief alternate version of the pre-title sequence rounds out a fairly comprehensive little package.
I certainly wasn’t blown away by Humongous or taken aback by its unexpected awesomeness or anything of the sort, but I did find myself silently nodding my head in appreciation on several occasions and certainly never got bored even if the pacing is a bit on the deliberate side. It’s definitely one I can see myself popping in the player every once in awhile when the right mood strikes me, and that’s a solid — if modest —accomplishment in and of itself, so there ya go.