Posts Tagged ‘Janet Julian’

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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 —

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Back in the halcyon days of 1981, you’d have been hard-pressed to find two more popular slang terms in the English language than “Smokey” — a  catch-all euphemism for  any and all members of our nation’s law enforcement community  — and “bites the dust” — which meant, of course, to get killed. The first was popularized, at least on a mass scale, by Burt Reynolds, the second by Freddie Mercury. Both guys sported the kind of mustaches that would be considered pretty fucking cheesy by today’s standards but were thought to embody the hairy apex of machismo at the time, and  near as I can determine — unless you know some salacious details about Burt’s personal life that I’m not privy to — that’s where any similarities between the two end.

Leave it to Roger Corman to come up with the idea of mashing up these two then-current reigning champions of populist vernacular and figuring he could make a movie out of it somehow. The problem, however, with Smokey Bites The Dust is that, beyond the title itself, nobody bothered to put any thought into it at all.

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The stills accompanying this review really tell you all you need to know about what’s going on here, but for those of you who absolutely must read a plot recap of some sort in any piece of — and I’m being generous with my own writing here, I admit — “critical analysis,” here’s the deal : backwoods Ozark knuckle-draggin’ hick Roscoe Wilton (Jimmy McNichol) has a thing for stealing cars and smashing ’em up cuz’ it shore is a durn good time. Just a good ol’ boy never meanin’ no harm, right? Unfortunately for him, the ball-busting Sheriff Tuner (Walter Barnes) is out to ruin his fun whenever and wherever possible. Fortunately for him, Turner is, of course, a complete idiot, a bungling nincompoop of a predator can never catch up with his prey. To further complicate matters — not that the word “complicated” really applies to this flick in any way, shape, or form — Roscoe’s got the hots for the sheriff’s daughter, Peggy Sue (Janet Julian), and he figgers it’d be  a real holler to kidnap her on homecoming day at the local high school. Again — all in good fun, innit?

Needless to say, slack-jawed yokel sheriff doesn’t take well to the idea of  the town hooligan making off with his precious lil’ angel, and soon — for reasons that make even less sense than those offered in the average Corman production — cops from not only all over the country, but apparently all over the world (watch for a couple of “comic relief” Arabs) are brought in to rescue darling Peggy Sue (who — shocker! — finds herself falling for the “charms” of her abductor) and drag Roscoe, kickin’ and screamin’, into the county lock-up once an’ fer all.

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Really, though, this movie’s raison d’etre is to show a bunch of junked-out old cars getting smashed up and, when that gets too predictable (which takes all of about five minutes), exploding in flame. If that sounds like your idea of a good night in front of the tube, then I guess you’ll find Smokey Bites The Dust to be a reasonably amusing little time-waster, but honestly — you’d be much better off watching old demolition derby-type footage, and that would probably offer more by way of an involving plot, to boot.

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Still, if there’s one thing — and I should stress here it’s one thing — I found rather charming about this idiotic mess of a film, it’s that director Charles B. Griffith takes the “idiot cop” stereotype so popular at the time to absurd, self-parodying heights, and God help me if that doesn’t fill this reviewer with a warm dose of nostalgia. Today, of course, the boys in blue are pretty much always portrayed as “heroes” in the popular media, and even the most flagrant excesses and abominations these guys commit on screen are shown in a sympathetic light — after all, these are the good guys, and sometimes you gotta go to extremes to protect “us” ( meaning God-fearin’ middle-class Christian white folks) from “them” (everybody else). If they gotta cut a few corners, bust a few heads, and wipe their asses with the US Constitution along the way, well — it may not be pretty, but  it’s all in a day’s work, and it’s all for our own good.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but fuck that. Ever since the days of the Keystone Kops, the most common representation of “the fuzz” in movies and TV was one of a bunch of bumbling morons who couldn’t even tie their shoelaces, much less catch the guys they were after. It was a comedic distillation of the all-American anti-authoritarian spirit in its purest form, and it really did reach its zenith with the “CB craze” films of the late ’70s such as Smokey And The Bandit and Convoy. So what happened? Well, it’s hard to put a finger on any one event in particular, but I would say that the hard turn to the right ushered in by the election of Ronald Reagan  effected a none-too-subtle transition in how not just how our popular media, but our national culture in general, viewed all forms of police officers. Sure, there were always guys like Dirty Harry, but there were a dozen movies that made fun of the cops for every one of those back in the day. By the mid-’80s, however, that ratio was completely reversed — and I would argue that we’re definitely worse off for the change. Still, I guess that’s another topic for another time — suffice to say, it makes for a fun trip down memory lane to see a movie in which the cops are openly targeted as figures worthy of ridicule and disdain.

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Honestly, though, that really is all Smokey Bites The Dust (which is available on DVD from Shout! Factory, packaged together with Georgia Peaches and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase in something called the “Action Packed Collection,” part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series — no extras, but the remastered widescreen transfer and mono sound are both perfectly serviceable) has going for it. Not even an early appearance from William Forsythe and cameos from always-terrific Corman stalwarts Dick Miller and Mel Welles can save this jumbled mess of pointless, plotless garbage, so I’ll leave you with this thought to ponder over just for the sake of establishing myself as the first critic in history to ever extrapolate a philosophical question from this flick : Smokey Bites The Dust, translated into actual, Oxford Dictionary-approved English, literally means A Cop Gets Killed. To the extent that the American public even noticed this movie at all, they viewed it as being harmless, stupid, goofy fun — yet 15 years after it came out they crucified Ice-T (in his “dangerous,” pre-reality show incarnation) for saying exactly the same thing. Why the difference?