From the Pleasant Diversion Dept., I thought I’d take a break from the relentless pace of my D&D campaign posts and kick back for a bit, while also reminded of a piece I’d been remiss to write for some time now. Shout! Factory‘s series of Roger Corman’s films from the late ’70s and early ’80s (which I first mentioned here ) have been a well to which I’ve returned several times, bringing back memories of those first films seen on late-night excursions into the premium cable abyss. Before the likes of Humanoids from the Deep, my tender eyes had never witnessed such nudity, violence or gratuitous Doug McClure (well, not since the Amicus and EMI pics he’d done, loosely based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs such as At the Earth’s Core, The People That Time Forgot and Warlords of Atlantis).
For the unwashed (no obvious pun intended), Humanoids is at its heart a tale of both economic and evolutionary turmoil. The populace of Noyo, California make their living from the sea, which has of late been less than giving. The town wants to have a cannery to ensure stable work conditions for its residents, and cooperation with a corporation called Canco (not to be confused with their derivitive entities Bottleco or Boxco) seems to be the answer to their prayers. In addition, Canco and Dr. Susan Drake (played by perennial ’70s tough-chick Ann Turkel, who’s nonetheless referred to as a “great little scientist” by the town’s mayor) have introduced an experimental growth hormone into the local waters to likewise ensure plenty of fish.
Of course, we wouldn’t have a Corman movie if all this didn’t go to batshit. Turns out the genetically-altered sea life have been on the menu for a long-forgotten strain of coelacanth, or prehistoric fish. In doing so, they’ve taken full benefit of the situation and managed to become the aforementioned humanoid beasts. As the original hormone was based on that of frogs, these monsters have gone amphibious and started taking to the land. After first trying out the local canines (with disastrous results, just ask local fisherman hero Jim Hill (McClure) about his dog), the humanoids find their next evolutionary partners with human females. If this isn’t quality entertainment, I don’t know what is.
Almost as fascinating as this initial concept is the history of the film, which is quite bi-polar. Initially entitled Beneath the Darkness and helmed by Barbara Peeters, the production attracted the required level of star-power (which includes the late great Vic Morrow as local heavy Hank Slattery) and included what could be considered “principal photography”. This is due to the fact that when Corman saw the finished product, he was dismayed by the lack of female nudity. It turned out that Peeters, while sparing no expense of film when it came to the gruesome demise of male characters, often reverted to portraying those of the female characters offscreen. As a result, the producer had another, separate crew shoot additional scenes, with the specific purpose of adding a good dose of simulated rape, as well as comedic sex scenes (featuring ventriloquist David Strassman and “Chuck Wood”) and nude body doubles for those actresses who declined to shed their clothes during the initial shoot. It was this film that took the title Humanoids from the Deep, or simply MONSTER in some venues.
If that wasn’t impressive enough for one of Corman’s tightly-funded affairs, he also managed to get the likes of Rob Bottin (who basically re-defined what was possible with practical effects with John Carpenter’s The Thing) and Chris Walas (whose work has run the gamut from those adorable Gremlins to the uber-disturbing Brundlefly in Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly) to design our favorite land-walking fishmen and their more unfortunate victims. Mind you, this was early in careers, when both were eager to work for next to nothing (knowing Corman’s history, it was more likely closer to nothing). Nonetheless, their work is effective and imaginative, especially when paired with editor Mark Goldblatt’s skill at making us think that three guys in humanoid suits were actually hordes of such baddies terrorizing Noyo’s annual festival parade. Throw in a sensitive, moving score from none other than James Horner (who would go on to supply the music for Braveheart and “Big Jim” Cameron’s Titanic, although his Krull score will always be my personal fave), and you’ve got one of the more quality products from the era (which seemed to begin after 1979’s Alien, and continued until such low-budget affairs were given the blank checkbook treatment once the likes of Schwartzenegger and Stallone were involved).
No, this isn’t a review. I’ve decided to not slap numeric values on films anymore, but rather to bring forth what I feel is awesome and (by some amount of perspective) not so great about them. Am I a fan of Humanoids of the Deep? Hell yes, even though it is something of a guilty pleasure of sorts. It’s the stunted stepchild of the more forward-thinking horrors and the exploitative drive-in features of years past, but a unique blend of unintentional humor and “mature content” which will always appeal to me. If that sort of thing even makes you curious, you should by all means check it out.