Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

From the Ocean Depths They Strike … To Terrorize … To Mate … And To Kill!

Theatrical poster image of 1980's Humanoids from the Deep

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 finds himself deep in the mix, teaming up with Susan Drake, 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. Even some of the beachside attack scenes reminded me of his killer-babies-all-grown-up doing the same from IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (1987). 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.

Man vs. Monster, as seen in 1980's Humanoids from the Deep

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.

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.

Close-up of a monster from 1980's Humanoids from the Deep

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.

The script was written by William Martin under the pen name Frederick James. Whatever name he goes by, he only has one other credit to his filmography—he cowrote (and narrated) the documentary GEORGE WASHINGTON: THE MAN WHO WOULDN’T BE KING (1992) with Donald Sutherland.

Director Barbara Peeters has a relatively short, but massively intriguing, résumé. She directed the groundbreaking lesbian drama THE DARK SIDE OF TOMORROW (1970); the biker chick revenge flick BURY ME AN ANGEL (1972); the saucy SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS (1974); the sexy drive-in comedy STARHOPS (1978); and episodes of THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR (1983), CAGNEY & LACEY (1983), REMINGTON STEELE (1984), and MISFITS OF SCIENCE (1986). She wrote and even appeared in the X-rated exploitation film CAGED DESIRES (1970), of which very little information seems readily available, and may in fact be lost.

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.

Jimmy T. Murakami was the secret, uncredited director of the added footage of rape and general mayhem. He had only directed animation up until that point (including the never-aired THE MAD MAGAZINE TV SPECIAL from 1974). The same year as HUMANOIDS, he also directed Corman’s BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, scripted by John Sayles, before settling back into animation for the duration of his career.

Johnny Eagle was played by Anthony Pena, who had small parts in the critically derided MEGAFORCE (1982), THE RUNNING MAN (1987), and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (1989), but is most known for his impressive 20 year run as Miguel Rodriguez on the soap opera THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS (1986-2006). His nemesis in this movie, Hank Slattery, was played by Hollywood heavy Vic Morrow. Morrow got his start in BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955), and went on to appear in many films that will appeal to the genre fan: Elvis’s KING CREOLE (1958); as Dutch Schultz in PORTRAIT OF A MOBSTER (1961); the Corman-directed TARGET: HARRY (1969); DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY (1974), with Peter Fonda and Susan George; THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA (1975); the Dan Curtis TV movie CURSE OF THE BLACK WIDOW (1977); the Star Wars rip-off MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1978); Charles B. Pierce’s THE EVICTORS (1979); the Jaws-derivative THE LAST SHARK (1981); and the gangs-of-the-future flick 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS (1982). His final role was in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983), as he was unfortunately killed in the tragic helicopter crash that occurred during filming.

Dr. Susan Drake was portrayed by Ann Turkel, who started in stage plays, transitioned into modeling, and then settled into television and film with 99 AND 44/100% DEAD (1974)—though she did previously have a minor role in the sports comedy PAPER LION (1968). She later appeared in the outbreak-on-a-train epic THE CASSANDRA CROSSING (1976) with Sophia Loren, Martin Sheen, and O.J. Simpson; the hijack drama GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS (1977); the post-apocalyptic RAVAGERS (1979); Fred Olen Ray’s sci-fi horror flick DEEP SPACE (1988); and the poorly rated horror film THE FEAR (1995). She 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.

Cindy Weintraub filled the role of Jim’s wife Carol, and has only two further credits to her name: she appeared in the Joseph Zito horror film THE PROWLER (1981), and all six episodes of the short-lived police comedy BAKER’S DOZEN (1982). This series was created by former police officer Sonny Grosso, one-half of the NYPD partnership that inspired the film THE FRENCH CONNECTION, and her co-star in the series, Ron Silver, played a character loosely based on Grosso; so in some strange way, BAKER’S DOZEN is a sitcom continuation of THE FRENCH CONNECTION (complete with awkward laugh track).

Weintraub’s movie husband, Doug McClure (Jim Hill), has a filmography that is quite a bit more expansive. Aside from appearing in numerous westerns and crime dramas for television and cinema, he can also be found in GIDGET (1959); the car-based action flick THE LIVELY SET (1964); the airline thrillers TERROR IN THE SKY (1971) and SST: DEATH FLIGHT (1977); the TV movie SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975); the Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975), THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) and AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976); the fantasy adventure WARLORDS OF THE DEEP (1978); and the Americans-haunted-in-Japan movie THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS (1982), with Susan George. Children of the 1980s may remember him for his recurring role as the mayor in the sci-fi sitcom OUT OF THIS WORLD (1987-1991).

It’s nice to see that even a blue-collar fisherman can make his way into politics.

Panel from the comic book version of Humanoids from the Deep

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.

This film was released in some territories under the completely generic title MONSTER, which may have caused some confusion as there was another sea creature movie called MONSTER that was released the same year—though that one sometimes goes by the alternate title of MONSTROID, which is a bit too close to humanoid, if you ask me. You can call Corman’s production MONSTER, or CREATURE or even THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, it doesn’t matter.

It will always be HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP to me.


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