Humongous. 1982. Directed by Paul Lynch. Screenplay by William Gray.
Starring Janet Julian, David Wysocki, John Wildman, Janit Baldwin, Joy Boushel, Layne Coleman, Shay Garner, Page Sletcher, John McFadyen, Garry Robbins, & Mary Sullivan.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Loving a good slasher can be unrequited at the best of times, particularly considering 1980s. There were so many great slashers during that decade, then nearly as many, if not more sub-standard ones trying to cash in off the success of their much better peers. After thirty-two years I’ve managed to see the majority of those great slashers, still a few rare titles to knock off my list, and likewise I’ve seen plenty of those bombs.
Humongous is a frustrating slasher, because underneath its skeleton lies a potentially fascinating film. Except that the exterior, the skin, is rough, from a lack of proper lighting to awfully written and acted characters. Its strengths aren’t enough to outshine all the missteps. Frustration sets in with the ineffective handling of what could’ve been a powerful statement on male violence and the cycle of brutality women must endure at the hands of men.
There are a few gruesome kills and creepy moments, enough to make you sit through this once. Although likely never again. Humongous isn’t the worst slasher I’ve seen, not at all. But it’s endlessly frustrating how the story sets up a poignant look at the strength of women under terrifying circumstances, only to squander any hope of it having any power. There’s bad directing, even worse cinematography. Bottom line, this would’ve been so much more if only it lived up to the potential of its themes.
“Men are hateful to her“
You don’t have to read into a slasher deeply to enjoy it, not at all, though it’s perpetually interesting when one takes on a deeper meaning. I love the hacking and slashing as much as any horror hound; the name of the site’s Father Son Holy Gore, for Christ’s sake. An additional element, another thematic layer can’t hurt a film. Look at Craven’s Scream, or most recently Get Out from Jordan Peele (among others) – these are horror films with lots of other things going on respectively. This sort of horror has the ability to reach beyond genre, to touch the world.
Unless, of course, these added themes don’t amount to a hill of beans, Ilsa! Humongous starts with a vicious rape-revenge moment at a party by the water, as a woman named Ida (Mary Sullivan) is raped; afterwards, she murders the man who did it. Cut to a couple decades later, Ida’s had a child, who grew from the seed of a misogynist, a rapist, into a killer man-creature, and it’s murdering people in the same location where his mother was assaulted all those years ago.
There’s a setup concerning the rape, one of many products of male violence. The man-creature, Ida’s son, is the metaphorical havoc a sexual assault wreaks on a woman, in turn the world around her, as she spawns this monster which perpetuates anger, brutality, and certainly death. We see the literal idea that animalistic behaviour – i.e. rape – breeds an animal, an inhuman beast. Even the other men in the film are mostly chauvinists, inattentive to women and their needs or their autonomy, they’re perverts, a bit violent themselves, and so on. With so much going on, seemingly pointed in the right direction, it has the potential to be good, right?
This is a film populated with toxic men, the most toxic being the psychopathic man-thing which Sandy (Janet Julian) – our story’s protagonist – must overcome. Just as Ida does in the beginning, Sandy is forced to assert her violent power, in order to survive the horrific abuse of the male gender. In a way, the themes setup early on do play out in the course of the plot.
But it’s how they play out which leaves a lot to be desired.
First, the atmosphere. In the film’s best moments, there’s a definite atmosphere of dread, of suspense, a foreboding sense that any moments might bring true horror. Yet the problem is the cinematography. Shot on 35 mm, you’d hope for that gritty, classic ’80s feel to its look. What we’re given is a sloppy mess of too-dark scenes, so dark you’ll absolutely want to jack up the brightness; there are times you can’t pick anything out, the lighting’s non-existent. No contrast of light and shadow, just a whole lot of shoddy darkness. So, while the atmosphere works to a point, there are too many times when it doesn’t, only serving to piss the viewer off. Does nothing for the scares, either.
Second, the exposition in the second half of the film is a touch too heavy. Visual flashbacks, even more of the killer himself would’ve benefited the film greatly. As is, the pacing clogs up the further time wears on. There are some solid slasher kills here, particularly one head-crushing, eye-popping, skull-cracking scene with gnarly practical effects. But if they cut a lot of exposition, went with a flashback, more of the killer murdering victims, Humongous would be a better genre film.
Finally it’s the screenplay where the problem truly lies. All those themes are in place, William Gray just can’t bring them together. It doesn’t help that Paul Lynch and cinematographer Brian R.R. Hebb muddle the look, as well. The biggest issue is that Gray doesn’t give us any nuance. We can all see how the film works in a circular, return to the beginning-type of technique, when Sandy confronts the spawn of Ida’s rape, faced with either killing or being killed. In between all that there’s a garbled tale about the evil men do to women, and how those repercussions last a lifetime.
At its heart, Humongous is a slasher specifically centred on male violence, it’s also got a drop of modern American Gothic with the small island as a setting, the old house, its skeleton and other things hidden inside. There are many things happening under the surface once you scratch away. Too bad it doesn’t come out a better product.
The ’80s were filled with horror, of all sub-genres. Slashers were the big ticket, after John Carpenter’s Halloween in ’78 made the sub-genre massively popular, carrying on into Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, as well as the lesser known though awesome stuff like Waxwork and others. Stuff like Humongous lies hanging in the middle somewhere, lost in the pack, a coulda-woulda-shoulda film that will forever anger me in its waste of powerful themes.
Definitely check this out, if only to say you did. Even the best copies out there seem to be dark and murky, the Blu ray’s picture is decent, it simply can’t change the lighting itself which is brutal. But throw this one in closer to Halloween, because it’ll still give you a jump or two. And that head crush is worth the price of admission. Enjoy; or don’t.