On Sympathetic Movie Monsters: “Humongous” (1982)

humongousThe 1982 Canadian Horror movie, Humongous, concerns a small group of young people shipwrecked on an island between the U.S. and Canada after their pleasure boat hits some rocks, catches fire and explodes.

The remote island, once home to a wealthy man and his spinster daughter, is now abandoned, save for the spinster’s hulking, deformed, animalistic son, a product of a brutal rape perpetrated by a friend of the family thirty some years earlier.

Initially unaware of the threat, the young people soon realize they’re being picked off one by one by the son. He’s relentless, ripping them apart with his bare hands (we see the aftermath of these murders, not a graphic depiction of them occurring).

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The title character never speaks, just yells and growls. We never really see his face until the very end of the story, after he’s been badly burned, but the glimpses we are given indicate he’d fit right in with The Hills Have Eyes clan. Seems to share their dining habits, too.

Now, I would have never guessed the film’s writer and director had intended for the audience to come away with sympathy for this ‘humongous’ creature that’s tearing these unfortunate kids apart.

However, on the audio commentary of the movie’s DVD, which I purchased recently, both the writer and director pat themselves on the back for achieving that lofty, self-imposed goal. I didn’t feel they quite got there with the finished movie, which…honestly, is not that hot.

The movie has a great setting, the monster and his killings are well-directed, but the script’s a bit thin, the synth-driven score’s not very effective and quite often characters behave unnaturally, as if the screenwriter had no rational idea how to get them from Point A to Point B.

And, overall, the movie’s just not that interesting or scary.

What really set me off, though, was an interlude during the DVD’s audio commentary. The director, Paul Lynch, makes a remark drawing a direct comparison between the plot of his 1982 Horror movie and, in his words, “Americans in Iraq”, with the monster, according to Lynch, standing in for the Iraqi people (which is actually pretty offensive, when you stop and think about it).

The characters in the movie, according to Lynch, are only being slaughtered by the creature because they “invaded” his island home. Wrong. The characters in the movie were shipwrecked in the middle of nowhere after their boat exploded. They arrived there only by random chance. Not quite the same thing.

During this flight of fancy during the commentary, the screenwriter cuts Lynch off with a mildly annoyed “Alright, let’s…” and the retroactive Iraq War metaphor is dropped.

(At another point in the commentary, Lynch recounts a near-miss opportunity he’d had to work with Charlton Heston in the early ’80s, concluding his anecdote by referring to Heston as a right-wing fascist. Not the most endearing chap, this director).

Back to my main complaint, though: I’ve never understood certain Horror directors and their insistence on depicting “sympathetic” monsters. Most fail, since by their generally destructive/depraved onscreen behavior, the majority of Horror movie monsters are overwhelmingly (and appropriately, considering the genre) “monstrous”.

For instance, you can’t really blame the shark in Jaws for eating people. It’s just doing what comes naturally. However, a shark’s natural inclination to eat doesn’t exactly generate sympathy for the shark.

When the shark in Jaws does what it does, it’s still scary as hell. Steven Spielberg was under no illusions he was making anything but, yes, a good old-fashioned, white-knuckle-inducing monster movie. No added attempts at social relevance by playing up some sympathetic monster nonsense.

As a longtime Horror movie fan, I prefer scary monsters over sympathetic attempts. Sympathy for the monster detracts from the scares, especially if the monster’s victims are depicted as somehow deserving of their fate.

But I suppose if you’re a serious filmmaker frustrated to be working in a genre too many critics refuse to take seriously, this is how you delude or console yourself, by turning your exploitation flick into a Serious Statement, via confounding or undermining the expectations of your film’s primary audience.

‘Cause, hey, cannibalistic, sadistic, maniacal, butchering psychotics/inhuman creatures are no worse than the victims they consume. Or something like that.

What a load of pretentious, wrong-headed crap.

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