Monday, September 09, 2019

Humanoids From the Deep (1980)

Back when I was a teenager, there were many movies, mainly low budget horror flicks, which seemed to inflame the tabloid press, who happily condemned them while simultaneously devoting copiously illustrated two page spreads to them, in order to show us how horrible they were.  The age of home video had barely dawned - VHS players were still just a dream for most households (mine was only an early adopter thanks to my father working for Radio Rentals and renting one at a staff discount) - so these films could only be seen at the local cinema.  Which, in turn, meant that I was unlikely to see them as they inevitably carried X certificates (the then equivalent to the current 18 certificate), which made me too young to gain admittance.  Consequently, it has taken me years, decades even, to catch up with many of them - usually to find that it really wasn't worth the wait. Anyway, this past weekend I finally watched Humanoids From the Deep (1980).  Or rather I saw Monster!, as the version I saw was a European release print, which carried that title.  I recall that when the film was originally released in the UK, there was quite a furore surrounding it, mainly manufactured by the press.

The supposed controversy focused on the film's sexual content, principally the fact that the title monsters didn't just kill the men folk of a small Californian fishing village, but also raped the women.  But only the young, attractive ones who run around the beach in bikinis, (which, naturally, get ripped off during the assault to expose some naked breasts).  In response, distributors New World pointed to the fact that the film had been directed by a woman - Barbara Peeters, who had already directed a number of low budget exploitation films for Roger Corman -  and actually reflected some kind of female empowerment.  This 'empowerment' was embodied in the form of a tough, intelligent and resourceful female scientist - played by Ann Turkel - as one of the film's leads.  Unfortunately, these claims to the film having some kind of feminist sub-text were seriously undermined, not just by its content, but by the fact that both Peeters and Turkel tried to have their names removed from the finished film.  The source of their anger being the fact that Peeters hadn't actually shot the rape scenes seen in the film, nor had Turkel seen them before the film was completed.  These scenes had, in fact, been shot later by the second unit director and inserted into the film to replace the versions filmed by Peeters.  Her versions of the sequences were, reportedly, far less graphic. with less bare flesh and shrouded in shadows.  Uncredited executive producer Corman felt that, as shot by Peeters, this aspect of the film was simply not exploitable enough and authorised the reshoots.  (Actually, I'm pretty sure that one of the sequences was filmed later in its entirety and inserted into the film, as it doesn't seem to be referenced anywhere else within the movie).

The fact is that, having finally seen Humanoids From the Deep, it is clear that it badly needed the controversy generated by the rape scenes in order to get noticed.  Without them, its is a pretty standard monster movie, a throwback to fifties B-movies like Creature From the Black Lagoon. Indeed, with its meagre production values, ropey looking monsters,small town setting and stock characters, it feels more like a seventies TV movie than a cinema release.  A feeling reinforced by the presence of Doug McClure and Vic Morrow in leading roles.  In fact, every cliche of the 'TV movie of the Week' is present:  the big corporation planning to build a cannery in the town, the conflict between those fishermen who welcome the jobs it will bring and the local Native American population who argue it will infringe upon their traditional hunting lands.  It's all there, including the big corporation's dark secret.  The script is terribly clunky, particularly with regard to the origins of the titular monsters which, according to Turkel in some barely digestible expository dialogue, are the result of the big corporation's experiments to create giant sized salmon.  Sadly, they aren't mutated salmon, but the result of primitive fish like coeleocanths eating hormone-packed salmon which escaped from the corporate fish farms.  The hormones triggered mutations resulting in these scaly humanoid amphibians which, incredibly, are driven to mate with human women in order to advance their evolution!

It doesn't help that the film moves forward in fits and starts, with plot elements and individual scenes apparently inserted arbitrarily, with little regard for any idea of plot development.  It also moves very sluggishly for its first half or so, before decsending into a welter of confusing action with the discovery of the creatures by McClure and Turkel, before the monsters suddenly attack the town's annual salmon festival.  On the plus side, most of Rob Bottin's gore effects are very well done.  Unfortunately, his monsters are pretty dire, their general shabbiness exposed by the fact that we see far too much of them far too soon.  In fact, the first 'reveal' of an entire humanoid is laughable - it is seen as it sexually assaults an unfortunate young woman and gives the impression that she is being pounced on by a man wrapped in a tarpaulin.  While the film relentlessly portrays women as victims for most of its length, there is one sequence, at the film's climax, which does reverse this.   McClure's wife, (a character who, hitherto, has been largely sidelined in favour of Turkel's scientist), finds herself beseiged, with their infant son, in the family home by a pair of creatures, during which, refusing to be victimised, she takes the fight to them and hacks them to death with a big knife.  This, of course, also represents a reversal of the usual scenarios of then popular slasher movies, where women would be menaced and hacked to death by men wielding large knives.  I'd like to think this was one of Peeters' scenes, left unadulterated, hinting at the direction she perhaps wanted to take the film.

As it stands, Humanoids From the Deep remains basically a B-movie, enjoyable in a schlocky way, but frustratingly unsatisfying as a whole.  It all too clearly displays evidence of having been re-shot and re-dited by multiple hands.  (As well as James Sbardeletti, the second unit director, Jimmy Murakami, who had been directing Battle Beyond the Stars for Corman apparently also shot several scenes uncredited).  Seen at this distance in time, the rape sequences which caused all the fuss no longer seem shocking - they are fairly ineptly done are their inclusion is obviously opportunistic, designed to add notoriety to an otherwise routine monster movie.  Undoubtedly, Corman realised that the tide was turning in the world of cheap horror movies, with teen-orientated slasher movies with copious lashings of gore and nudity rapidly becoming the default format.  Old fashioned monster flicks like Humanoids From the Deep just wouldn't cut it with the slasher movie audience unless it could offer some of the same features.  Hence the re-shoots, which clearly borrow from the slasher template.  The film ends with another sequence which seems to have been opportunistically added at the last minute, inspired perhaps by the recently released Alien, showing one of the raped girls in labour, with her monstrous offspring bursting out of her abdomen, thereby threatening a sequel which, thankfully, never came. 



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