HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still can not forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore….our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection. Here, Dr Lenera looks at a really obscure low budget semi-slasher from 1981 which has a really bad rep….but doesn’t at all deserve it!
HCF REWIND NO.28. HUMONGOUS 
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME:94 mins
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Labour Day 1946. A young woman, Ida Parsons, is horribly raped by the drunk Tom Rice; her Geman Shepherds, hearing her cries for help, break out of their pen and fatally maul the attacker, after which Ida beats him to death with a log. I982; brothers Erik and Nick, their girlfriends Sandy and Donna and Donna’s sister Carla, set out in a yacht on a weekend outing. As tension rise between Erin and Nick, who wants to be the “alpha male” of the trip, they rescue a shipwrecked fisherman who says they are near Dog Island, the home of a reclusive lady whose dogs prevent anyone else from landing on the island. A storm occurs and their yacht blows up. The group washes up on Dog Island, where something is watching them…………..
This rarely seen Canadian semi-slasher movie from the early 80s generally gets bad reviews from those few who have seen it, the main criticisms being that it’s boring, little happens and is too visually dark, but I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Though nowhere near being a classic, it’s oddly compelling and has many points of interest, especially for fans of this kind of movie. It also, in its own odd way, transmits the full horror and potential damage of rape more powerfully and more disturbingly than few other films. This is perhaps a strange statement to make about a supposedly cheap, tacky piece of exploitation, but read on and you will hopefully get some idea of what I mean! It was directed by Paul Lynch, who had just had a hit with the mediocre slasher Prom Night, and in fact since Humongous his career was very good for a while, with minor hits like The Philadelphia Experiment to his credit though after that he did mainly TV movies. Filmed on a fairly low budget with an almost no name cast, Humongous was badly handled by a studio which wanted a more conventional stalk and slash film and thrown out there with little advertising, resulting in hardly anyone going to see it. Most prints up to now have derived from the American ‘R’ rated cut which cut down the opening rape scene, and the film’s video version became notorious for having one of the worst transfers ever, being so dark that you couldn’t see what was going on half the time, but talk of certain TV versions over the years indicated that the movie, though obviously intended to look pretty dark, wasn’t intended to look entirely that way.
The beginning of Humongous really is harrowing even in the cut version, and I would imagine that it would have put many people off when it originally came out. Tom’s rape of Ida is nowhere near the most graphic of cinematic rapes and is quite short, but it’s really unpleasant. Ida’s murmours and cries as she realises what is about to happen to her are truly heartbreaking, and most of the actual rape is shot from Ida’s point of view, like The Stendahl Syndrome, really getting through the horror of the experience without actually being that graphic. I don’t know why more filmmakers don’t show a bit of responsibility and shoot rape scenes in this manner, because it removes much of the idea of the audience being in some way complicit in the attack. The dog attack is shot with very ‘modern’, and rather annoying, quick cuts so we can’t see very much, though the dog handler is actually being mauled for real in some shots. After a disturbing close up of Ida’s eyes, full of hate and agony, we get into the titles, and, while a really melancholy piece of saxophone and jazz music is played, we are shown photographs of Ida’s early life. We see her happy, on the beach, with her friends and with her dogs, then being embraced by a boyfriend, only she doesn’t look so relaxed and of course he became her attacker. Finally, we see stills of her with her dogs, who have now obviously become her only real friends, and the camera zooms into her sad, haunted face. The sense of a life ruined is so movingly, yet subtly, done. I almost want to cry after watching the first ten minutes of this movie.
Of course we now have to move onto the main part of the film, and the five teenagers certainly seem reasonable ‘real’. The best character is probably Janet [and not just because Joy Boushel is a stunner], who is looked down upon by the others because she is, as they say, ‘experienced’, and comes from a poorer background. She also had a novel way of warming someone up when they are shivering which any male viewer will enjoy! The teenagers also seem, and this is something that only occurred to me the other day, to parallel characters in Scooby-Doo. The clever girl with big glasses even loses them like Velma! So the film gradually progresses, moving slowly, and far too slowly for some, but a considerable amount of tension is built up. The boat scenes have some great shots, such as the fisherman’s boat looming out of the fog like the one in Nosferatu, and a gorgeous one of the fog on the right of the screen, the yacht on the left, its front resembling some kind of demonic face. Brian R.R. Hebb’s cinematography is shown up on the DVD release to actually be really good! Once we get on the island, most of the action takes place at night, and is still pretty dark, so that things are obscured, but I rather like it, because I get tired of night times scenes looking ludicrously over lit. If you are stumbling around at night in a wood, or a house with the lights off, you wouldn’t see very much, and I think it really helps create fear in films.
Sadly most of the kills are off screen, and sometimes look cut, such as an attack on two people on the beach where one person is thrown down and the camera cuts to the next scene, though no footage was actually removed from these scenes. The viciousness of the opening really leads one to believe that this will be a really brutal movie and it isn’t. Though we see bodies strung up in hooks, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre style, Humongous really could have benefitted from some nasty murder scenes. The monster does crush people to death in the climax, and great use is made of horror staples such as an eye looking through a spy hole and seeing an eye looking back at you, plus a great bit reused in Friday The 13th Part 2, where the heroine pretends to be the monster’s mother. This scene contains a fantastic shot of Donna on the left in the darkened room, facing the camera in the foreground, while the monster stands in the doorway on the right, silhouetted with the light streaming in. The monster itself is never seen in much detail and is therefore rather frightening, but is also a bit sympathetic. A scene of the monster raging in his cellar creates sympathy rather than fear, especially as there are hints he was mistreated by his mother [I am sure anyone reading this review will have worked out who the monster is by now!]. And every now and again, such as when people read bits of Ida’s diary and a few notes of the sad jazz theme are played, we get a feeling of the horror of the event, many years ago, that caused the dreadful state of affairs the teenagers run into.
There is no doubt that most of Humongous features the protagonists wandering around piecing together the back story which most viewers will already have worked out, and some more excitement would not have gone amiss, especially in the climax, which, while undeniably quite thrilling, is just too short and is over too quickly. The acting really isn’t bad though, as these things go, and the score by John Mills-Cockell is very atmospheric, the composer producing some quite unusual sounds and unsettling soundscapes with what was probably just a synthesiser. Viewers who want a fast paced, involved tale with lots of blood and gore really should look elsewhere, but it really is quite an effective little film that has a certain resonance. It may be mostly about teenagers on an island who encounter a monster, but at the centre of Humongous is an incredibly sad story of a life shattered by one destructive act, of one person living the majority of their existence in total despair, shame and fear, and of another person born into this really miserable life who becomes a monster through no fault of his own. It’s all quite affecting.
Humongous has had its long overdue DVD release curtesy of Scorpion Releasing, a new label specialising in sought after cult movies. Check their site out; www.scorpionreleasing.com. Of course I will gradually be obtaining and reviewing many of their releases.