Well, here we are again, back in Corman waters. Why do we keep coming back? What is the pull of a Roger Corman production that calls to us like a syphilitic siren wailing from the rocks, beckoning us home? My guess is quality chafing the walls of quantity. There are a lot of exploitation movies out there, and most were justified their position on the lower rung of a double bill on a Tuesday night at the drive-in. But un film du Corman is different – he’s always had an innate gift for corralling talent on the rise, and kind enough to foster it on the way down. His turn of the decade monster mash Humanoids from the Deep (1980) is a perfect storm of his wondrous cinematic sensibilities.

And of course I mean ‘wondrous’ as it applies to our station, the gloriously trashy and deliciously weird.  Humanoids fits neatly into the former category – it’s practically a mission statement* for Corman’s dream factory at the time, New World Pictures. Released in May in North America and then rolled out around the globe (sometimes as the no name brand title Monster), Humanoids turned a tidy profit for Corman (all in accordance with said mission statement) before hitting the home video circuit the following year. How it was critically received? Oh don’t start. Critics lashed out when not being outright dismissive, with many up in arms regarding the exploitive elements on display (had they never seen any of his films?). For me, this is precisely why it does work – you will not find a more distilled, pure version of Corman from this time period.

Welcome to Noyo, a tiny fishing village bereft of salmon, and unattractive women. As our film opens, we meet several of the local fishermen – Jim (Doug McClure) and his brother Tommy (Breck Costin), Hank (Vic Morrow), local motormouth and requisite racist, and Johnny Eagle (Anthony Pena), a Native-American who would act as the film’s social conscience if he wasn’t upstaged by Humanoid’s propensity for bloodshed and boobs. Everyone’s off for another round of fishing, with renewed hope and promise of a full day’s catch. After a fisherman and his son have an explosive encounter with a titular humanoid upon the water, the locals start to suspect something’s up as several young adults go missing at the hands of our amphibious friends mere days before the annual Salmon Festival (let’s hope that goes off without a hitch).

On to the scene come reps from Canco, a corporation looking to open a cannery in Noyo. Their promise of bigger and plentiful salmon (due to genetic tampering by Ann Turkel’s Dr. Susan Drake) is met with a mixed response from the locals – some are enthusiastic about the economic boost it would provide to their withering little town, others concerned about the ecological impact on the area. Come to think of it, it’s really only Johnny Eagle who adopts the anti – cannery stance, as his people’s land would be greatly impacted by the new venture. Oh well, people have to eat, environment be damned. Eventually even Dr. Blake admits that tampering with Mother Nature is a bad idea, as her, Jim and Johnny race to save the townsfolk from an attack at the Salmon Festival by the Humanoids from the Deep.

Corman’s instructions to director Barbara Peeters were simple: the humanoids must kill the men, and rape the women (to further their species, not for titillation – this is science, people). When he saw the footage, she delivered on the gory goods alright but was a little too tasteful with the sexual assaults. Second Unit Director James Sbardellati (Deathstalker) shot additional footage showing two female victims being thrown to the ground and attacked by anthropomorphic wads of seaweed. Congrats, Roger, Art has been saved!

Listen, New World Pictures was synonymous with gratuitous, even beyond the nudity and violence. For instance: the environmental angle, aka OOPS, WE DID IT TO OURSELVES. Of course in the ’50 and ‘60s it was Atomic energy, switching gears in the ‘70s to our current situation, culminating in such eco friendly horrors as Frogs, Food of the Gods, and Empire of the Ants. This cycle hit its nadir with Prophecy (1979), a mostly tedious romp in which mercury poisons the water, causing bears to mutate and Armand Assante to act like a Native-American. None of this matters; Corman throws it in to make it seem current, but only brief lip service is paid through Dr. Blake’s exposition (DNA experiments, mixing with the salmon, creating the humanoids – you’ve heard this tune before, yes?) and some conflict between Johnny and Hank. I’m not sure it really fooled anyone, as the humanoids’ presence is felt early (and often), either killing or raping – there’s not a lot of room for social commentary on a beach riddled with The Creature from the Black Lagoon’s cousins.

But according to some of the actors, they never got that memo. Originally filmed under the title Beneath the Darkness, they balked when the movie came out under a different title and an emphasis on mayhem and mammaries. Ann Turkel was the biggest propagator of the outrage, taking it to the talk show circuit, and Peeters petitioned to have her own name removed from the credits. One can only assume that they were embarrassed by the end result, because surely they can’t deny they were being chased around by green gilled monsters, as it’s roughly 70% of the movie. And Peeters came up through the ranks making sex comedies such as Summer School Teachers and Starhops, so it’s not like she wasn’t familiar with anatomy. Again, an assumption can be made that the specific outrage was directed towards the rape of the women, but we’re not talking about I Spit on your Grave here; possibly 20 seconds total is spent between the two victims. Of course the intent, the why of showing is a valid complaint – but as with New World’s sci-fi/horror combo Galaxy of Terror and its worm attack, it isn’t titillating , and it’s over much quicker than you may remember.

Regarding our walkin’ guacamole, Rob Bottin (The Fog) was brought in for designs, and the suits are pretty nifty. Looking like a cross between Universal’s Gill-Man and a brussel sprout with teeth, the humanoids retain that old school feel which is essential to fully embracing Corman’s carnival hucksterism. It’s definitely nothing more than a few guys in rubber suits, but when they’re done as well as this, you ignore the fact and embrace the craft. As for the kills, Chris Walas (The Fly) and Roger George (Night of the Creeps) get in some colorful early work including a righteous beheading, a mangled face, and an unplanned C-section to close out the show. At this phase in his career, Mr. Corman never shied away from giving up the goods; as the effects got better, it only made sense to show them off like a proud papa.

Despite her deep reservations regarding the handling of her material, Peeters does a solid job of conveying the sense of defeat often present in a small community, and creates some moments of unease. Helping immeasurably is stellar work by composer James Horner, far away from the Titanic, but classing up the joint nevertheless with an evocative score.

Doug McClure was certainly a movie hero of mine as a child, particularly in such kid friendly, weird adventures as The Land That Time Forgot, and, uh, The People That Time Forgot (he got forgot, a lot). This was certainly a more adult setting for him than I was used to, but his broad smile and broader exterior were always like B movie comfort food to me, and his Jim is just another damn fine variation on the McClure persona. Acting honors however, go to Vic Morrow, whose life was tragically cut short two years later during filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie. His Hank is a fascinating byproduct of the small town trap: his view is so myopic that he’ll stop at nothing to protect his piece of turf with a strong disregard for anyone who doesn’t share his vision, however short term the solution.

So at the end of the day, what are we left with? Don’t come by looking for laughs, it’s not built that way. While a more creative director may have seen the ridiculousness of the premise as an in to parody the Universal monster tropes, enough of New World Pictures’ values flood the screen that the viewer will gladly heed the siren’s call.

*New World Pictures Mission Statement: It is our vision to provide as much nudity and violence as the ratings board will allow (and then hopefully a little more), in the hopes of always providing complete satisfaction to our customers, depraved and twisted as they may be.

Humanoids from the Deep is available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory under the Roger Corman Cult Classics banner.

Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: WAXWORK (1988)
  • Scott Drebit
    About the Author - Scott Drebit

    Scott Drebit lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is happily married (back off ladies) with 2 grown kids. He has had a life-long, torrid, love affair with Horror films. He grew up watching Horror on VHS, and still tries to rewind his Blu-rays. Some of his favourite horror films include Phantasm, Alien, Burnt Offerings, Phantasm, Zombie, Halloween, and Black Christmas. Oh, and Phantasm.