Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
Humanoids from the Deep (1980) – W: William Martin; D: Barbara Peeters, Jimmy T. Murakami
In the modest coastal town of Noyo, the local cannery has been pumping salmon full of chemicals in order to increase their size. The recently-discovered prehistoric Titan fish have been consuming their chemically-enhanced brethren, inadvertently causing accelerated evolution which turns the Titans from relatively-harmless sea dwellers into murderous humanoids (from the deep, naturally). When these ghastly beasts make their way to shore and start raping the women and murdering everyone else, local tough-but-nice-guy angler Jim Hill (Doug McClure) finds himself deep in the mix, teaming up with Susan Drake (Ann Turkel), the scientist who is working closely with the cannery. If Larry Cohen had directed CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, it probably would have been something like this. Cohen was nowhere to be found in this production, but another low-budget auteur did have his hands all over this piece of cinema: producer Roger Corman. With lots of gore and surprisingly good special effects, it’s obvious that Corman had come a long way since the days of MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR and DAY THE WORLD ENDED. There are exploitative elements here that will not appeal to all viewers, but a little gratuitous nudity every now and then never hurt anyone; and the rape scenes, while tasteless, are brief and not truly graphic, though many people seem to think otherwise. They are more implied than anything, a far cry from controversial but critically acclaimed films like BAISE MOI or IRREVERSIBLE—the difference, of course, being the grindhouse versus the arthouse. Still, it was a little surprising to see that this movie was directed by a woman, Barbara Peeters,…until I learned that Corman hired a second (male) director to spice things up after he was less-than-impressed with the initial cut of the film. Even with the new material, this down-and-dirty ditty still runs a mere 80 minutes or so—it’s a brief ride, but also one of Corman’s most sleazily entertaining. The cast also includes Anthony Pena, Vic Morrow, and Cindy Weintraub.
Beneath the Surface
HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP takes the unspoken sexuality inherent in Universal’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and turns it up to eleven, without worry of good taste. This is an exploitation film, after all, and if you’re looking for good taste, you probably shouldn’t be looking in this particular neighborhood. It pretends to be something more—hence the shallow commentary on blue collar struggles, the perilous economy, ecological conditions, corporate America, racism and the Native American plight—but it’s obvious that most (if not all) of this is just a front, an excuse to showcase the girls, gills and kills that the audience was putting down money to see. There was, perhaps, a small lesson learned at the end of the film when the reviled bigot Slattery goes against character to jeopardize his own life to save a child, and Native American nemesis Johnny Eagle in turn has to save him, but that’s a long way to go for a brief moment of tolerance.
For a movie about horny fish people, it sure does follow a lot of the tenets of the slasher film: the killer begins in the shadows, slowly exposing more and more of his visage; characters (mostly young) are introduced only to be killed off moments later, mere fodder for the slaughter; sex equals death; and just when you think the killer is dead, he pops back up again for one final scare. In this instance, though, it is not a solitary killer but rather a whole race of them. But still, you may as well slap hockey masks over their faces for all the difference that makes.
The humanoids themselves look pretty good, with their slimy, seaweed-strewn bodies and large fishy heads full of tiny sharp teeth. Their arms are absurdly long, though, which I imagine is meant to assist in their swimming…or their abduction of buxom beauties with which to procreate. Their skulls are apparently quite thin, as their brains are nearly visible right through their head, which makes them susceptible to headshots, much like zombies. The humanoids were created and designed by Rob Bottin, who also designed the look of Robocop, and worked on films such as PIRANHA (1978), THE FOG (1980), THE HOWLING (1981), THE THING (1982), TOTAL RECALL (1990), SEVEN (1995), FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998), and FIGHT CLUB (1999). One hell of a filmography, if you ask me.
Peeters was reportedly very upset with the changes that Corman had made to the picture, which he is said to have done without her knowledge. In 1987, she and Tony Bongiovi started pre-production on a movie entitled MUTANT MANIA, which sounds as if it was intended to be the film that Peters thought she was making with HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP. According to the News-Journal, MUTANT MANIA was going to be “a horror beach film that will receive an R rating but contains no nudity, no obscene language, and no references to drugs.” Apparently, nobody wanted to see that in the 1980s, either, as the movie never came to fruition.
Actress Ann Turkel, who played Dr. Susan Drake, was furious that HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP’s title had been changed from its original Beneath the Darkness, and she refused to partake in the publicity campaign that she was contractually obligated to participate in—at least, she didn’t partake in the manner that Corman & Co. had hoped. She still appeared on television talk shows to promote the film, but only referred to it by its old title. She tried to kickstart a campaign of theater owners demanding that the former title be reinstated, and petitioned the Screen Actors Guild to force Corman to halt release all together. “I’m humiliated by the new title,” she told the United Press. “It could change my reputation from a serious actress to someone who will take any film that comes along.” A few months later, she changed the source of her outrage from the title to the fact that she was not aware of the monster-rape subplot during principal shooting, and took the studio to court in an attempt to have her name removed from the credits (for what little good that would do). Her name is still up there on the screen, so it seems the lawsuit did not work out to her advantage.
Sequels and Spin-Offs
There was apparently talk of a sequel to HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP that never panned out, however indie publisher Bluewater Productions scored the licensing rights to the film, and released their own one-shot comic book sequel in 2010.
It was remade for cable channel Showtime by Corman’s Concorde-New Horizons in 1996. This remake curiously removed much of the gratuitous gore and nudity, perhaps becoming closer to what Barbara Peeters had initially envisioned. Doing so, though, also removed much of the teeth that the original had, and is an infinitely less interesting film because of it—which is amusing, as this movie is basically an uncredited remake of THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, and it added teeth to that product.
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© 2018 T Sapp