Monday, October 8, 2012

Humongous (1982) dir. Paul Lynch

Logline: A bunch of dumb teens vacationing on a motor boat pick up a stranded sailor who warns them to stay away from the mysterious Dog Island, so of course the teens crash their boat on the rocks surrounding Dog Island and are forced to swim to shore. Thank goodness, because something on the island was getting hungry...

Crime in the Past: Labor Day, 1946: A woman is violently raped outside a party, and while her helpful canine companions save the day by ripping out her attacker's throat, their timing fails to prevent her from becoming pregnant with her rapist's child.  The woman, along with her child and her dogs, retreats to an island sanctuary, to live away from the cruelty and judgement of civilization.

Bodycount: 7, some eaten now, some sealed in tupperware in case he wants to nip at them later.

Themes/Moral Code: The most troubling and complicated theme here is that the victim of rape seems to become a social pariah in the community. After being raped, Ida Parsons (Shay Garner) absconds to Dog Island with her son (himself the product of the rape) to escape the evils of the civilized world. While living there as a relative hermit, she garners the label of a loony eccentric from the community she left behind. The fact of her sexual violation becomes lost to the legend and the desire to make her into an outcast, to bury the community's shame.

Ida's actions become questionable when we scrutinize them closely. In one way, she is protecting society: her son is born deformed and monstrous, as if he were the hate of men made flesh, and to keep him away from society is to both preserve his essential innocence and prevent society from having to confront its own evil nature incarnate. That innocence doesn't last forever, though. The fact that Ida raises her son as if he were one of her dogs, forcing him to live in the basement, doesn't do any favors to her cause. (She even refers to him as her "curse"). Left on his own on Dog Island, Ida's deformed child becomes symbolic of a primal hunger for what one is denied, akin to the lustful hunger of her rapist. It's a cruel fate for an innocent child of horrible circumstances far beyond his control.

But the film is ultimately sympathetic towards Ida, rather than condemning of her actions, however unfortunate they may be. We can discern this sympathy by way of the clear dichotomy of female and male perspectives that the film presents through its characters and the fates bestowed upon them. In a discussion the teens have after reading through Ida's diary, Sandy (Janet Julian), the final girl, states that "men were hateful to her," while her boyfriend, Eric (David Wallace), spouts to the contrary that Ida "birthed a freak and then spent her whole life blaming society to justify it." Sandy understands Ida's isolation by circumstance, but Eric participates in the same disavowal of Ida's status as victim as her community has-- to him, Ida becomes solely responsible for the birth of her monster, rather than an unwilling host. It is David's logic that allows society to guilt and blame the victim of rape rather than care for her. The fact that Sandy lives and Eric dies is some sort of clue as to which side of the debate the film falls on.

Killer's Motivation: Here's a case where a simplistic motivation actually turns out to be a little bit heartbreaking, if you take a moment to think about it. Our killer is the spawn of rape, born monstrous and deformed, raised without any outward signs of his mother's love to be basically like any other of the nearly wild attack dogs on Dog Island. He's a trained animal dependent on his master. (His mother's diary makes it clear that she wished to atone for her poor, cold treatment of him by providing for him and establishing him as a sort of Caliban figure on Dog Island when she died--one surmises that her sudden death prevented this). When his mother dies, he's forced to fend for himself-- at first he kills and eats the dogs for sustenance, but at a certain point he runs out of food and those well-groomed teenagers who pop up on the island start looking mighty tasty. Unlike many slasher villains, Humongous' lumbering brute, with all his pitiful Karloff Frankenstein's Creature moans, has no obvious malice in his evil deeds. He's a frightened and hungry animal, turned feral by instinct.

Final Girl: We have a decent enough final girl in Sandy. She's interesting in that she's a good deal more stereotypically "feminine" than the typical virginal tomboy who evades the blade in these situations. She's a tall, graceful fashion model, and she's also not too hesitant to get randy on the boat with her boyfriend, Eric. This makes it all the more pleasant of a surprise when she also proves herself as a clever and resourceful heroine by pulling the same trick Amy Steele does in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)-- dressing up and playacting as the infantile killer's dead mother in order to confuse and delay him through commands for him to stop his insubordination. (How about that: a model and an actress). Unique among final girls (and among those few who have witnessed their friends being brutally murdered), Sandy also exhibits some obvious sympathy for the beastly killer and his unfortunate mother. She expresses this sympathy verbally about midway through the film, once she and her comrades have unraveled the island's horrible mystery, but she does so more pointedly through her performance after vanquishing the beast: he may have been a beast, but she also knows that he was a loyal beast who only missed his mother. It's this emotional sensitivity that saves her-- and makes her an a-ok final gal in my estimation.

The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese:  Director Paul Lynch rolled out the original Prom Night (1980) a year or so before beginning work on Humongous, and there's a discernible dip in quality between them. By no means a perfect film, Prom Night's disco slashing still presents a form of professionalism that's all but missing from the rougher Humongous. The latter film is plodding and plotless, which perhaps wouldn't be too damning a complaint (we are talking slashers here) if we could see any of the action. The cinematography is abnormally muddled, and the frame is bathed in an array of shadows that while obviously intentional (imperative to cover up the killer's limp monster prosthetics) also hint at a degree of sloppiness and lack of effort on the filmmakers' parts. (I noted exactly one clever filmmaking moment: immediately after a character is murdered, the scene hard cuts to another in which Eric has lifted up a phone receiver to his ear and reports, stolidly, "Dead." That sort of deliciously well-done dark humor could have elevated the film out of its, well, darkness). These production-level quibbles aside, Humongous is fine. It didn't offend my sensibilities, nor did it manage to stimulate them. I was hoping the bleakness of its opening, period-set prologue (reminiscent of the similar 1940s setting at the start of Joseph Zito's The Prowler (1981)) was foretelling the tone that was to persist throughout the film, as sleazy as it was-- alas, this was not to be. Instead, we're gifted goofy teenagers and their brainless foibles. Not that I can't appreciate a good foible-- like, say, the wild and carefree Rick driving their boat full-steam ahead into rocks after being told to watch out for the rocks ahead of him; or Donna, the requisite airhead, deciding to take care of the injured sailor by walking around the island and placing blueberries into the cleavage of her tied off shirt, squishing most of them in the process (producing the best line of dialogue I've ever heard: "Look, I'm leaking!"), before figuring that the only way to save him from hypothermia is to warm him with her exposed breasts. But enjoyable foibles can't obscure mediocrity, and this is a thoroughly mediocre film. Its title describes  the size of my shrug.

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