It’s not too surprising that Humanoids from the Deep would prove to be one of the bigger hits of producer Roger Corman’s prolific career. Like Joe Dante’s Piranha (another Corman production released a year earlier in 1979), Humanoids from the Deep contained all the elements that brought kids and young adults to the drive-in and suburban cinemas in droves during those last few glorious years of the grindhouse, before the burgeoning home video market exploded and enabled many of us to indulge our cinematic perversions in the comfort and privacy of our own lounge room.
And paramount among these elements was, of course, the melding of sex and horror, precariously balanced so that the women averted their eyes in terror and revulsion while the male sitting beside them try to desperately hide (or relieve) their hard-ons.
Inspired by The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Jaws (1975) and the aforementioned Piranha, as well as Del Tenny’s fun 1964 romp The Horror of Party Beach, Humanoids from the Deep follows a similar plot device used in many of the ecological horror films of the 1970s. In the small Californian fishing village of Noyo, a conglomerate planning to build a huge canning factory nearby has been experimenting with a growth serum designed to increase the size of the local salmon, but instead succeeds only in creating a school of green, humanoid-like creatures who rise out of the ocean to tear apart the men and (surprise) mate with the women. Naturally, by the time our hero (fisherman Doug McClure) and heroine (scientist Ann Turkel) figure what is going on, it’s too late to stop the creatures from going on a rape and kill rampage during the opening night of the annual village carnival.
While it’s an overall enjoyable romp that hits all the exploitation targets, Humanoids from the Deep unfortunately stops short of being a genuine cult pleasure. Joe Dante’s Piranha worked so well because it combined the director’s genuine love for the genre with John Sayle’s witty screenplay and a roster of actors who bought the characters to life - including Bradford Dillman, Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Kevin McCarthy and Heather Menzies. In Humanoids from the Deep, the cast seem to be mostly going through the motions, alternately looking bored and confused, with only Vic Morrow as a gruff, booze-swilling fisherman providing any real frisson.
When director Barbara Peeters handed in her finished cut of the film, Executive Producer Corman felt the film was lacking in the required exploitative elements, and had second unit director James Sbardellati beef-up the sex and blood quota, including some explicit shots of the humanoids raping bikini-clad beach gals which left Peeters very unimpressed.
Highlights of Humanoids from the Deep include the creature costumes designed by future make-up/FX superstar Rob Bottin, James Horner’s music score, the sight of young ventriloquist David Strassman getting torn apart just as he (and his dummy) are about to score with a young nubile nude in a tent (this will please those who found Strassman’s frequent appearance on Hey Hey It’s Saturday throughout the 90s to be extremely grating), and an all too brief appearance by bubbly blonde (and criminally underused and underrated) Linda Shayne as the Salmon Queen.
Shout! Factory’s 30th anniversary DVD release of Humanoids from the Deep gives the film the full treatment, including a new anamorphic widescreen transfer of the uncut international version of the film (which bore the simple title of Monster), deleted scenes, making-of featurette, trailers and radio/TV ad spots, a short clip of Leonard Maltin discussing the film with Corman, and a color booklet.
Copyright John Harrison 2011
Sunday, January 2, 2011
1980/USA/Directed by Barbara Peeters