It’s time once again to dig into the moldy vaults of slasher cinema and dust off another oddity, and I’ll freely admit this one’s a little moldier and dustier than most, so as a result it doesn’t get very much love. But… ya know what? I still have a teeny, tiny place in my heart saved for Paul Lynch’s rough and ragged Canadian backwoods monster/slasher flick HUMONGOUS, and I’m not afraid to say it, either.
First, a little film history: In the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were some pretty sweet tax incentives and federal subsidies for Canadian film productions, triggering a wave of low-budget fare from filmmakers looking to break big. Since horror films were a proven means of turning a quick profit from a brief theatrical run (a truism that holds up today), the market was quickly saturated with horror titles… and since HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH had proven the box-office potential of the slasher formula, many similar flicks came out of Canada over the next couple of years — including the very profitable PROM NIGHT, which benefited from Jamie Lee Curtis at the peak of her Scream Queen reign.
That film’s success didn’t exactly spill over into director Paul Lynch’s follow-up project HUMONGOUS, which went before the cameras almost immediately after PROM NIGHT’s impressive numbers came in. Maybe it was the rush to get more slasher product into theaters that led the backers to cut technical corners where they shouldn’t… like lighting and decent film stock, for example. One of the chief complaints about HUMONGOUS was that the night scenes were way too dark — and considering more than half of the story takes place after sundown, audiences spent more time squinting than screaming.
To make matters worse, the primary distribution outlets for movies like these were drive-in theaters and home video, both of which made the night scenes even… well, nightier. Worse still, much of the film’s graphic violence was snipped from release prints, spoiling it for audiences expecting the extreme mayhem hinted in this trailer (watch for the warning at the very end):
So, you ask, why am I even bothering to bring this film to your attention? Well, because about five years ago the folks at Scorpion Releasing managed to track down a pretty decent print, with the night-time scenes corrected and the censor-cut scenes finally restored. The result may not be a classic by any stretch, but it’s actually a very entertaining and sometimes genuinely scary old-school horror flick.
Opening in the late 1940s, the film’s prologue (which contains much of the trimmed footage) is remarkably chilling in its portrayal of young Ida Parsons (Shay Garner), as her innocence and sanity are suddenly destroyed by a vicious rapist — who meets a grisly comeuppance at the jaws of several guard dogs. After a creepy title montage of stills depicting the woman’s descent into madness, we finally arrive at the ‘80s, as a veritable Scooby Gang of well-heeled twentysomethings gathers for a yachting adventure. At night, our crew rescues a fisherman who claims his boat was smashed on the rocks of “Dog Island,” home to a lone crazy old woman, roaming packs of wild dogs… and, rumor has it, the woman’s deranged son.
After a completely WTF attack of macho posturing by a mulleted nutcase (basically a contrivance to put the kids in immediate danger), the yacht crashes into the rocks of — you guessed it — Dog Island, and promptly bursts into flames (represented by someone setting off fireworks on a model ship). Stranded, with the fisherman injured and the official Velma of the group (Janit Baldwin) missing, the rest make their way to the crumbling old house at the top of the hill. It’s a no-brainer what they eventually find there… or rather, what finds them.
As low-rent as HUMONGOUS may have been, the filmmakers managed to push their meager means as far as possible — throwing in plenty of blood, fire, boobs (courtesy of Joy Boushel, whom Geena Davis would later warn to “be very afraid” in THE FLY), and the title monstrosity — a roaring mutant cannibal (Garry Robbins) who resembles a papier-mâché Jason Voorhees sporting a beard made of pubic hair. Janet Julian does a decent job in the Final Girl role, though it takes her too much screen time to muster up the requisite courage. When she finally does, let’s just say fans of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 will feel a touch of déjà vu.
The aforementioned DVD of HUMONGOUS was released by Scorpion in 2011 as part of their “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” series, featuring well-done host segments by Katarina Leigh Waters (who also moderates a fun commentary track with Lynch, screenwriter William Gray and film journalist Nathaniel Thompson). It’s out of print and therefore a little pricey right now, but hopefully a new Blu-ray release is forthcoming.