Scorpion Releasing takes us back to “Dog Island” with the long-awaited “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” special edition DVD release of PROM NIGHT director Paul Lynch’s Canuck slasher HUMONGOUS.
On Labor Day Weekend of 1946 at a party at the Parsons island lodge retreat, debutante Ida (Mary Sullivan) is viciously raped by her rejected drunken suitor Tom (Page Fletcher, host of the long-running 1980s horror anthology THE HITCHHIKER), who is then savagely torn to shreds by her father’s watchdogs. Thirty-odd years later, five twenty-somethings – bland Eric (David Wallace, MORTUARY), his bespectacled kid sister Carla (Janit Baldwin, RUBY), bemulleted proto-douche bag brother Nick (John Wildman, SKULLDUGGERY), slutty model Donna (Joy Boushel, TERROR TRAIN) and Eric’s girlfriend Sandy (Janet Julian, CHOKE CANYON) – hop on the cabin cruiser for a weekend jaunt. In the foggy night, they nearly collide with the broken-down boat belonging to fisherman Bert (Lane Coleman, GATE 2: THE TRESPASSERS) who warns them away from the jagged rocks near Dog Island. They dock some ways off the other side of the island and Bert informs them that the island is inhabited by a pack of vicious dogs belonging to the island’s sole inhabitant: an old woman living in the Parson family lodge who only comes into the mainland twice a year for supplies. Nick – who resents the general lack of respect he gets for his utter unlikability (as well as Donna’s interest in Eric) – can no longer stand the distant sound of howling dogs from the island and decides to commandeer the boat and the ensuing struggle causes an explosion throwing all overboard except for Carla who is presumed dead. The others manage to make it to the shores of Dog Island. Bert has a broken leg and the others are reticent to trek up to the house in the dark with the dogs roaming the woods; that is, except for Nick who is still all bravado after blowing up the boat and likely killing his little sister (fortunately he runs into the hulking presence that we know is actually roaming the island). The next day, Eric and Sandy decide to go up to the house to get help, leaving Donna to care for Bert. Climbing up towards the house, Eric and Sandy notice that there are no sign of the dogs they heard the night before. A visit to the boathouse reveals that the boats have been destroyed; however, Carla was able to make her way to land and take shelter there (amidst the decaying remains of… something). The three search the house and discover the desiccated remains of the old woman and hear strange sounds emanating from the locked basement. When they discover the corpses of two of their own number, they realize that there’s something more dangerous than wild dogs on Dog Island.
Director Paul Lynch’s follow-up to the popular (if ordinary) slasher PROM NIGHT, HUMONGOUS is in no way original. The story recalls TOWER OF EVIL with a side of ANTHROPOPHAGUS, while the effectively creepy silhouetted presence of the killer recalls the heavies of both the former film and Tom DeSimone’s HELL NIGHT. What the film has going for it its eerie and atmospheric setting, slick photography (with some neat Dutch angles and split-diopter foreground/background compositions), some neat production design by Cronenberg regular Carole Spier and an effective score by John Mills-Cockell (TERROR TRAIN). There is not much gore, but a body-snapping and head-squishing are greatly helped by grisly sound effects; however, nothing that happens in the body of the film is as nasty as the film’s opening rape scene – heavily trimmed in the film’s R-rated cut – even though it is played almost entirely in sweaty close-ups of the actors’ faces (the bloody dog attack almost comes as a relief to the audience). Once the attractive-if-dull main cast has been whittled away, final girl Sandy’s dealings with the monster (including dressing up as its mother a la FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II – although it is uncertain who copied whom since they were made the same year – and a nightmarish chase through the woods) are the suspenseful highlight of the film, even if one can predict every jump scare, stumble, and trip along the way. Lynch followed up HUMONGOUS by producing AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (also with Fletcher, and also forthcoming from Scorpion Releasing). Writer William Gray also penned Lynch’s PROM NIGHT, as well as Peter Medak’s THE CHANGELING, and was one of the series producers of the 1990s DARK SHADOWS miniseries (for which Lynch directed an episode). Producer Anthony Kramreither also co-produced AMERICAN NIGHTMARE, as well as MARK OF CAIN and THRILLKILL (the latter two are due out in a double feature disc from Scorpion).
Scorpion Releasing’s progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer of the uncut version is not without its flaws. It was anamorphically reframed from a tape master. Blacks are ever so slightly gray, detail isn’t always strong, there are sawtooth artifacts along the edges of objects (which are more apparent against contrasty backgrounds), and chroma noise around the opening credits (which have been stretched to 16:9, whereas the rest of the film has been vertically cropped); but the dark mess of the film’s previous Embassy and Nelson tape releases is delineated into sculpted areas of darkness and shafts of light. The Dolby Digital mono audio is fine, with the monster’s various grunts and shrieks (as well as the simplistic, though unsettling, electronic bits of Mills-Cockell’s score – coming through nicely).
The major extra is an audio commentary featuring director Paul Lynch, writer William Gray, and film journalist Nathaniel Thompson, moderated by hostess Katarina Leigh Waters. Lynch and Gray express surprise at the amount of unintentional PSYCHO references in the story and visual, although Lynch admits a heavy influence from TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE that viewers may be less likely to notice amidst the more obvious ones for the former film. The filmmakers also express their displeasure at Avco-Embassy’s poster artwork (Norman Lear had just taken over the company and was not fond of its horror output), and Gray expresses his preference for the title DOG ISLAND. Lynch also relates an anecdote about HALLOWEEN producer Irwin Yablans’ connection to Lynch and Gray’s PROM NIGHT, and his thoughts on the remake to that film. Lynch and Gray have a back-and-forth banter that at times almost seems like it might become combative, but they are obviously fond of one another and proud of the film, and the participants share some titters over the unintentional “Scooby Doo” aspect of the film’s characters (Wallace’s hair, Baldwin’s big glasses, and Wildman’s pot-smoker). Lynch is also very pleased with the titles, which he designed (and for which Gray rags him for giving himself a credit). Thompson frames the film within the context of Canadian filmmaking (including tax shelter productions) and Canadian horror cinema, and makes the connection to HELL NIGHT (and THE FOG in regards to the visually similar boat scenes). The trimmed R-rated version of the opening sequence is also included as an extra (6:34), the quality of which is a handy demonstration of the difference between a tape master and a digitized VHS tape. Besides the film’s theatrical trailer (1:12), there are also trailers for FINAL EXAM, NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, THE DEVIL WITHIN HER, THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, THE INCUBUS, and THE PYX (as well as the “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” clip reel that precedes the end credits of the Katarina segment following the feature). (Eric Cotenas)
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