Sunday, July 20, 2008

Slashback: The Brooding Brothers and Boushels of Blueberries of 'Humongous' (1982)

“It’s loose…It’s angry…and it’s getting hungry!”

No, it’s not a paparazzi caption describing Rosie O’Donnell headed downtown for lunch after getting the axe at The View; it’s actually the cheesy tagline from the obscure 1982 slasher flick Humongous.

Hot on the heels of their successful Prom Night, director Paul Lynch and screenwriter William Gray collaborated on this low-budget slasher that combines everything tolerant fans love and loathe in a slasher movie. Although the film suffered marvelously from the horrendous acting of the unlikeable twenty-something’s in peril and some of the most frustratingly murky cinematography ever that renders entire scenes impenetrably black, Humongous boasted a decent backstory and an appropriately creepy, isolated setting. Also of note, Humongous bucked the trendiness of the day and opted for plenty of spinal cord snapping and skull crushing instead of the hipper, more inventive kills with power tools and kitchen utensils that were the staples of other slasher films. John Mills-Cockell also gets props for his moody film score, especially the quick intensification and drop of synthesizer notes that he uses judiciously as a powerful audio effect during some of the stalking scenes.

In the pre-credit prologue, we’re informed that it’s Labor Day Weekend, 1946, and there’s a party in full swing. As couples kiss and canoodle on a giant wraparound porch, young Ida Parsons is admiring her pen of vicious-looking dogs and trying to rebuff the unwelcome advances of a drunken suitor. Fleeing her inebriated admirer, Ida inexplicably takes shelter behind a tree and – even more inexplicably - lights up a cigarette. The admirer follows, confrontation ensues, and soon Ida finds herself thrown to the ground and being raped by the intoxicated lothario. But Ida’s faithful pooches sense trouble, their doggie ESP goes into overdrive, and they escape their cage and proceed to viciously maul her attacker in that classic slasher sense of poetic justice. But before the guy’s throat is literally ripped out by one of the dogs, Ida commands them to stop, preferring to deliver two final blows to the head of her bloodied rapist herself. The scene ends with Ida staring all loony-like out at nothing – announcing to the audience that the poor gal has gone ‘round the proverbial bend.

Opening credits flash amidst a montage of old photos meant to convey more of Ida’s backstory and show her transformation from well-to-do society reveler to matronly-looking recluse.

Following are some post-prologue opening shots that provide the obligatory introductions to the cast of character-victims. There are three siblings – brooding brother Nick (John Wildman), do-gooder brother Eric (David Wallace), and nerdy sister Carla (Janit Baldwin) – and the brothers’ model-esque girlfriends Sandy (Janet Julian) and Donna (Joy Boushel). Surprisingly, the cast resembles the gang from Scooby Doo – from Wallace’s Fred-esque blond blandness, Wildman’s Shaggy-esque hair, and Baldwin’s ridiculously oversized Thelma-esque glasses. Note: Best to let Julian and Boushel fight it out for Daphne, although you’d be wise to put your money on the latter.

So the party of five sets out on a luxury cabin cruiser across an enormous unnamed lake somewhere in Canada. Boushel gyrates on the boat’s deck to corny Euro-disco, Wildman sulks; Wallace ogles Boushel before groping Julian’s ass. All in a day in the life of the vacationing and carefree American-by-way-of-Canadian young person of indeterminate college age.

That night, navigating the boat through the foggy night waters, the group picks up a stranded boater named Bert (Lane Coleman) who warns that they’re headed for the rocks and the ominous-sounding Dog Island. Cue the baleful dog howls. Bert’s the requisite outsider whose primary purpose is to connect the prologue to the film proper, since most horror filmmakers of the era assumed that slasher fans were notoriously stupid. So Bert tells the group about the mysterious island, once owned by the wealthy Parsons family who made their fortune in the lumber business. He mentions that a strange old woman, who only comes over to the mainland for supplies twice a year at change of season, still inhabits the island with her dogs. Jeepers! I think we’ve found a clue, Scooby.

For reasons of sibling rivalry not entirely made clear, the ever-rebellious Nick decides he can navigate the boat through the treacherous waters himself, despite the fretful protestations of the group. A brotherly scuffle ensues and - before you can say “Watch out for those rocks!” – the boat runs aground at high speed, catching fire and giving the passengers scarcely enough time to jump overboard before the fiery explosion. With little choice, the group – minus Carla who goes MIA for a bit – swims to the ill-reputed Dog Island where they find themselves wet, cold, and stranded with something that snarls and growls in the bushes. Old Ida’s faithfully vicious canine sentries or the hideously deformed byproduct of young Ida’s rape thirty years earlier? You do the math, but bet on both. And, while you’re making wagers, bet that it isn’t long before the group is split, stalked, and systematically slaughtered in tried-and-true slasher tradition.

By morning’s light, Nick has run afoul of the titular slasher in the boathouse (Wildman’s overacting
notwithstanding, he lets out one of the most convincing male slasher victim screams ever), while Donna hangs back on the beach with a broken-legged Bert. Boushel, put to far better use here than she was as Terror Train’s Pet, puts her Penthouse-worthy breasts to gratuitous good use – first using her ample bosom as a makeshift basket to transport blueberries(!) and then as an impromptu warming blanket when injured-but-horny Bert eventually slips into shock. Nudity for medicinal purposes, indeed.

Eventually, Eric, Sandy, and the recently-found Carla make their way to the dilapidated lodge of the pre-credit sequence for some requisite Clue Club exploration. Along the way, Sandy notes the absence of sound, astutely noting “like there’s nothing alive here.” (The profusion of bones and skulls of the island’s missing wildlife probably should have been her first clue, huh?) At the lodge, they find a nursery complete with broken toys and a diary that tells of a baby born with acromegaly, now confirming (Thank God! I couldn’t really follow along without these cinematic CliffsNotes!) that Ida did indeed find herself knocked up following her pre-credit attack and birthed a deformed young’un. The shrinking Scooby gang eventually finds both ‘ole Ida’s corpse and Humongo’s basement lair, where the bodies are hung from the rafters with care.

After a denouement that borrows heavily (read: rips off) from Friday the 13th Part 2’s final-girl-throws-on-a-shawl-and-pretends-to-be-mama shtick and a Halloween over-the-banister-and-down-the-staircase fall, the obligatory extended final chase scene ends in a boathouse conflagration that gives us our only decent look at ‘ole Humongo (and Brenda Kirk's creature make-up, to be differentiated from and not confused with Maureen Sweeney Donati's Humongous head creation) and the requisite false-sense-of-security-before-the-final-shock shot.

The film’s closing shot is of our final girl, battered and bloody, sitting on the end of the dock, quivering, humming, and staring all loony-like over the bleak piano score. Ida Parsons come full circle. This last frame – common in the films of the subhuman slasher sub-genre like The Funhouse and Hell Night - underscores the idea that although the final girl triumphs physically in the end, her survival comes at a hefty psychological price.

Derivative and poorly made, yes, but Humongous endures because it has heart. Even the bad acting can’t disguise the actors’ earnestness. And although Wallace is far too pretty to be taken seriously as the tough leading man, Julian makes a respectable final girl. In the end, Humongous earns its place alongside better made subhuman slasher outings like The Funhouse and Hell Night, if for nothing but its sincerity and its celebration of the genre it was trying to emulate.

Fun Fact: Garry Robbins, who played the film's titular creature and was credited as "Ida's Son," showed up playing another slasher heavy in 2003's Wrong Turn as the redneck-cannibal character of Saw-Tooth.

1 comment:

kindertrauma said...

I love that mutated mess! Too true that the dark cinematography cripples the film's impact. Hopefully a future DVD release will help this problem.

One of my favorite posters of all time and just like the film, it may be sloppy and amateurish but that's just what makes it so much sleazy fun.