Movies from the shallow end.
If Humanoids from the Deep is famous for anything, it’s got to be that memorable poster/cover image. There’s a bikini-clad girl on a beach, striking a salacious pose, looking seductive but also dazed, maybe even dead, as a pair of menacing, inhuman eyes are imposed in the sky over her. This is one of those covers that always stood out among the crowd, back in the glory of days of mom n’ pop video rental stores.
Produced by B-movie god Roger Corman (Not of This Earth), and featuring early work by composer James Horner (Titanic) and special effects whiz Rob Bottin (The Thing), the movie has now resurfaced on DVD courtesy of Shout! Factory’s new Roger Corman’s Cult Classics label. It’s finally time to pry our eyes away from that cover image, if we can, and watch the movie itself.
The sleepy fishing town of Noyo is about to welcome a new cannery, owned by a huge corporation. Some people, such as hard-drinkin’ tough guy Jim Hill (Doug McClure, The Land that Time Forgot) believe this will mean an increase in jobs and a boost to the local economy. Others, such as Native American tough guy Johnny Eagle (Anthony Pena, The Young and the Restless), worry the cannery will destroy their humble small town way of life. Nearby, giant slime-covered monsters are walking out of the ocean, wreaking havoc. They’re killing men, children, and dogs, and they are, uh, taking advantage of local women. Jim and Johnny must set aside their differences and investigate, with the help of scientist Susan Drake (Ann Turkel, Modesty Blaise).
The extras on this DVD compare Humanoids from the Deep to genre classics Jaws and Aliens. In my eyes, though, it seems to have a lot more in common with the Friday the 13th series. Watch the big jump-scare turn out to be just a cat. Watch the horny teens have sex, and then get killed seconds later in gory fashion by the slow shambling monster. Watch as a girl flees from the slow shambling monster, only to have it somehow appear right in front of her, even though it was way behind her a few shots earlier. The Humanoids do differ from good ol’ Voorhees in other ways, notably in that there are several of them. This makes for an exciting finale in which they all attack a crowded carnival en masse. Also, instead of killing the screaming scantily-clad girls, the Humanoids, uh, have their way with the ladies. This considerably increases the movie’s squirm factor, but when you sit down to watch a Roger Corman movie called Humanoids from the Deep you should already know that this will be some serious exploitation cheese.
As you might guess, the movie doesn’t have much of a story. It’s more like a series of vignettes starring the Humanoids than a cohesive thriller. Characters are introduced, have their one scene, and disappear for the rest of the run time (the ones that aren’t viciously slaughtered by the monsters, that is). There’s a reason for this, as a number of changes occurred behind the scenes. Director Barbara Peeters (Cagney and Lacey) filmed what she thought was a serious science fiction thriller. Later, Corman and assistant director James Sbardellati (Deathstalker) went and shot a number of new scenes with new characters, containing the movie’s most extreme nudity and gore sequences. The new footage was then spliced into the original film, making it feel like a couple of different movies mashed together.
How much of the movie is Peeters and how much is Sbardellati, I can’t say. There are trash and exploitation elements throughout. One of the first things that happens is a little kid getting killed. If that doesn’t upset enough people watching, just wait until the next scene, in which they kill a dog. Are the filmmakers trying to tick off the audience? There’s a lot of gore, in the “blood that’s way too red” style of most B-movies, and, yes, there are a lot of bikini girls who lose their bikinis. For the really kinky among you, one scene even features ventriloquist dummy sex (you heard me). Corman and company even throw in some sweet explosions for the action movie crowd. Corman must have really liked the shot of the exploding cabin, because he reused it in a number of his other productions throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
Don’t expect a whole lot of character development. The most interesting person is Johnny, who is initially accused of the killings by a local hothead named Hank (Vic Morrow, Message From Space). Johnny then has to prove his innocence by searching for and confronting the Humanoids. McClure and Turkel bring enough earnestness to their hero characters, and Cindy Weintraub (The Prowler), as Jim’s wife, gets some nice fear-becomes-courage moments when she’s confronted a Humanoid. The rest of the cast is pretty much monster fodder, here to get killed and/or get naked as the story demands it.
How about those monsters? In the classic creature feature tradition, the first half of the movie hides the Humanoids, with them lurking in the shadows, with only a glimpse here and there of claws or fangs. When they make their big debut, they actually look pretty cool. OK, so part of your brain already knows that it’s a dude in a rubber suit, but as far as rubber-suited beasties go, you could do a lot worse. They’re all wet and slimy, which adds to the creep quotient, and you can buy their gangly, stumbly walk when you remember that these critters are used to spending their lives in the water and not on land. The gore isn’t limited to the humans, either, in that Humanoids receive as much blood-splattered damage as they dish out.
When Humanoids from the Deep was released in Europe, it was under the name Monster, and it was a longer cut with additional scenes. That’s the version that’s on this DVD, right down to the name Monster in the opening credits. I don’t know what the other differences are, because there’s no option to watch the original Humanoids of the Deep on this disc. This might upset you if you’re a purist, but Shout! Factory has the purists in mind. Thanks to the handy reversible cover art, you can display this disc as Monster, complete with the European poster as its cover art. Sweet.
Ahh, Shout! Factory, the coolest of the cool. Not only are they releasing these fun old Corman flicks, but they’ve added all kinds of rockin’ bonus features as well. This one has a lengthy featurette containing interviews with a number of people involved with the production, with a lot of frank talk about what happened behind the scenes. These folks seem appreciative of their work, but have no problem pointing out that they shamelessly used nudity and sleaze to sell the movie to audiences. Another featurette has film critic Leonard Maltin interviewing Corman about this movie and about horror films in general. Corman’s comments are fascinating, and it’s too bad this one is so short. From there, we get some rough never-before-seen deleted scenes, as well as trailers, TV and radio ads. A booklet contains additional trivia about the movie and photos from the production.
Audio and video are a mixed bag. Daytime scenes are at times bright and clear, but sometimes with a haze over the picture. Some nighttime shots are incredibly grainy, so much that they’ll distract you from the action at hand. Other night scenes, though, are clearer, with deeper, more solid black levels. The audio does its job adequately, but is not the booming, immersive experience provided by better, more beefed up tracks. It’s safe to assume that this was the best they could do with the film, considering its age and miniscule budget.
Seriously, ventriloquist dummy sex?
I’ve said a lot of negative things about the movie above, but the truth is that I got a real kick out of it. It’s a low-budget exploitation monster movie, but all it ever aspires to be is a low-budget exploitation monster movie. If that’s your thing, check it out.