Roger Corman is one of the most successful independent film producers in history. He’s produced 400 films in a career spanning nearly 60 years and he’s done this primarily by making very low budget exploitation movies. By their very nature, exploitation movies exist to exploit both the audience and their fascination with a thing. The bulk of his movies are action, horror, or science fiction, and over the years, he’s launched the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest players, including Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, and Jack Nicholson. But it can never be said that Corman isn’t a shrewd businessman, and he definitely knows how to make a buck. In 1980, he produced a little monster movie, inspired by Jaws and his own production Piranha, that would become one of the more controversial of his career: Humanoids from the Deep, a movie about fish monsters who come ashore to impregnate nubile young women. It’s laughably sexist and incredibly gratuitous, and yet there’s something really intriguing about it.
Like most good exploitation movie trailers, the above is NSFW.
The film, which for some reason was released in some markets simply as the completely uninventive Monster, concerns a small fishing community in northern California whose livelihood is threatened by the depleted population of salmon in the rivers. A large canning company is moving to town and has promised a return of salmon larger than before, thanks to its chief scientist, Dr. Susan Drake (Ann Turkel). Unfortunately, the specimens on which she was experimenting got into the water and rapidly evolved into man-sized amphibious fish creatures who attempt to prolong their species’ existence by killing off the town’s men (and dogs) and mating with the women. It’s up to a small group of fishermen, including Doug McClure and Vic Morrow, with personal grudges of their own, to stop what is surely a plight upon mankind.
An infestation of amorous fish creatures is not something most small communities think to plan for, but they should. Fish people can pop up anywhere, and not even dry land is safe, though if you live on or about the water, your chances of fish attack raise by, I’m gonna say, a thousand percent. According to this movie, there’s really no escaping their slimy, gilly clutches, and attractive young women with a penchant for beach sex are the most vulnerable to attack. I would suggest equipping yourself with a hatchet at all times, maybe a portable grill and paring knife, and try not to be fertile.
Apparently, being accused of misogyny didn’t sit well with Mr. Corman, so he decided to put a woman, Barbara Peeters, on as director of the film. To be fair, the direction is quite good, considering it’s a movie with men in rubber fish monster suits in it. It seems, though, that Peeters didn’t include enough gore or nudity in the film, which was a New World Pictures must, so Corman had the first assistant director shoot new scenes to heighten the blood and boob quota. As a result, there are several scenes in the film wherein characters we’ve never seen before are about to have sex only to have a Humanoid show up and murder the guy and tear the woman’s clothes off. The scenes don’t get too graphic, but they definitely only exist so another pretty, young actress can get naked onscreen.
One particularly silly/unnecessary scene involves a tent, a buxom young lass, and a ventriloquist. A ventriloquist? Yes. With a dummy and everything? Yes. David Strassman, who was a staple of late-night talk shows and variety hours in the ‘80s, is in the film playing Billy, another victim of the titular humanoids. He has his signature dummy, Chuck Wood, with him as well, which seems a bit odd considering he’s about to have sex with a hot brunette. This scene is so weird and unrelated to plot in any way that it’s only upon learning about Corman’s scene-adding policy does its very existence become clear. It’s a fairly well-directed scene, and tense when it has to be, but adding a creepy puppet on top of the titillation-turned-carnage makes it easily the most unsettling in the film.
Despite these rather silly moments, however, it must be said that the action and effects are surprisingly good. Great, in fact. Rob Bottin, who would later go on to create the creature effects in John Carpenter’s The Thing and Joe Dante’s The Howling, designed the Humanoids as well as the gory aftermath of their killings, and both are quite convincing, if slightly crude. A well-designed creature can make all the difference in a schlocky horror flick. The final sequence, in which the town’s annual carnival is besieged by a half-dozen or so humanoids, is actually very exciting and looks like money was spent to get the chaos and carnage just right. There’s a crane shot during this sequence that is a thing of beauty and offers a bird’s eye view of everything going to hell.
The film is a brisk 79 minutes, and the bulk of that is monsters, but the fiery final battle, in which a dozen Humanoids attack a carnival on a pier, is exciting and impressive. This is Corman’s way: make the trashiest sounding movie you can, with the best undiscovered directors around, and occasionally something enjoyable might shine through. Humanoids from the Deep is not a great movie by any stretch, but if you enjoy monster movies and laughing at the ridiculous ways ‘80s filmmakers tried to shoehorn nudity into them, you’ll have an enjoyable hour and nineteen.