October Horrorshow: Humanoids from the Deep, aka Monster

A viewer won’t find his name in the credits, but Humanoids from the Deep, an exploitative schlockfest from 1980, was produced by Roger Corman. He didn’t direct it and he didn’t write it, either. Barbara Peeters did the directing (with reshoots handled by an uncredited Jimmy T. Murakami), and Frederick James did the writing. But Corman’s hand is all over this film. It fits his demands at the time that cheap horror should be bloody, and feature some rape. Bloody is fine. Bloody is fun. Rape is really only useful in a horror flick if the mood a filmmaker is going for is revulsion. In a stupid monster flick, it’s overkill. Still, it doesn’t ruin too much of the fun of this putrid mess. Other stuff is responsible for that.

Humanoids from the Deep tells of the plight of the residents of a small fishing town in Northern California. The catch has been declining, but a fish cannery, called, I shit you not, Canco, is set to open a cannery in town, and also use shady science to increase the size of stock in the local fisheries.

Doug McClure plays the film’s hero, Jim Hill. He’s a local fisherman, along with Vic Morrow as gruff and bigoted Hank Slattery, and Anthony Pena as native fisherman Johnny Eagle. Before folks in this film know there are monsters lurking around, Hank and Johnny are at personal war with each other over the cannery, and their respective cultures.

But, it turns out Canco really is a problem. Their scientific experiments have resulted in the accidental release of genetically-altered fish into the waters around the town. One of their scientists, Dr. Susan Drake (Ann Turkel), tried to warn them, but to no avail. Marine creatures that fed on these fish have now mutated into the nasties of the title.

And nasty they are. The makeup effects were handled by Rob Bottin, whose work is legendarily gross. He almost stole the show in The Thing. In this movie, his creatures are a slimy update to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The monsters are fish-like, but there’s less fishiness to them and more monster, if that makes any sense. Humanoids from the DeepEither way, they’re disgusting creatures. There are a couple places where how the creatures were shot strains the authenticity of the effect, but most of the time these creature effects are quite good for such a modest production.

But the acting. My goodness. To give one an idea of how bad it was, there was a lengthy stretch in the middle where the monsters went on a killing spree. Doug McClure, otherwise known as the star of the film, wasn’t anywhere to be seen during this sequence, and the movie got better. Vic Morrow went too psychotic with his mean-spirited character. As for Turkel, it looked as if she could barely contain her loathing for this production. Being even slightly engaged with the role would have vastly improved her performance.

The biggest sin with this movie, however, isn’t the poor acting, or the useless and oddly-placed nudity. It’s the lack of tension. Peeters relied on jump scares to keep her audience on edge, rather than true tension. Tension is not the easiest of skills for a filmmaker to master, but there is a minimum level of competence required for a horror film, and Peeters didn’t have it.

In one sequence, a young, lithe, and buxom teen played by former Playmate Lynn Schiller is startled, in the time it takes her to walk from her back door to her kitchen, by a blouse and hangar falling off a clothes rack, a couple of dishes settling in a dish rack, and a ringing telephone. That is profoundly lazy filmmaking, and is typical of the rest of the film. There are bright spots, especially when the monsters get to some of their work, but poor technique is so common in this flick that it becomes a drag.

During the climax, the Foley team looped the same tracks of panicked screams over and over again so many times that it started to annoy me, like being awakened by a car alarm in the middle of the night. Every second it goes on one seethes, wondering when the noise will cease. That’s not a good thing for the most important part of a film.

But that’s the kind of film this is. It’s a cheap piece of shit. As for its quality, it sits right about in the middle when it comes to shitty films. It’s kind of watchable, but also kind of not. Which means Humanoids from the Deep is about as bad as Alien: Resurrection.