Film Torments: Humanoids From the Deep (1980)

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THIS week on Film Torments, we take a look at one of Roger Corman’s lower moments. Oh dear. It’s 1980’s Humanoids From the Deep.

WARNING: This review will make several references to scenes of sexual assault within the film. Discretion is advised.

I won’t mince my words here: Humanoids From the Deep is a wretched piece of shit. It is, if you can believe it, exploitation cinema at its basest and skeeziest. It is humourless, misogynist trash, desperate to revel in the squalor of its Stone Age beliefs, desperate to ratify the Neanderthal attitudes of its apparent target audience, and frantic in its need to steal the ideas of superior genre outings and bastardise them. It has no budget, it has no class, it has no redeeming features. It’s an excruciating crawl through the gutter of trash that lasts 80 minutes but seems to be double that length.

And it’s not as if there’s no talent involved here. James Horner composed the score; prolific character actor Vic Morrow was one of its stars, and Jimmy T. Murakami, director of The Snowman and When the Wind Blows, provided some uncredited work. It was edited by Oscar-nominated Mark Goldblatt, and, crucially, it was distributed by New World Pictures, a company founded by the Roger Corman, the greatest of all B-movie filmmakers/producers.

But for all the ability and clout of its crew, the fact remains that Humanoids From the Deep is a singularly unpleasant experience, borne out primarily by its rancid attitudes toward women. This is surprising, considering the gender of its credited director. Barbara Peeters had already worked under Corman, both in front of and behind the camera; her Summer School Teachers, indeed, was noted (by Corman, at least) for its strong slant on female liberation and expression.

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There’s none of that to be found in Humanoids From the Deep (A.K.A. Monster in Europe and Japan). What women there are in the film, all blonde and nubile, are raped. There are no exceptions, and no concessions made to the act. The titular humanoids – Black Lagoon frog-sludge-men (designed by Rob Bottin, later a collaborator of John Carpenter and Paul Verhoeven) – emerge from their aquatic abodes and proceed to rape every woman they encounter, all to accelerate their already speedy evolution.

They do this because they ate genetically-modified salmon. This coincides with the peaceful angling town’s annual salmon festival. They kill so many men and rape so many women – some off-screen, most on-screen – because they ate genetically modified fish. This is pure B-movie trash fodder: a flimsy, borderline non-existent narrative justification for there to be giant fish men roaming the land and preying on our women folk. It’s the kind of ridiculous nonsense that, in another film, might have provided a ton of laughs, in the vein of, say, American Ninja 2’s army of genetically modified super ninjas.

The problem here is that Humanoids… is depressingly straight-faced, even when the carnage ramps up to an implausible, explosive climax on the day of the salmon festival, when the fish-men attack en masse. Fireballs and screaming and gasoline lakes can’t surmount the cloying boredom of the preceding 70 minutes, most of which is either graphic sexual assault or underwritten debates about ecological upheaval.

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Most of the former, it turns out, was inserted in post-production by second-unit director James Sbardellati. (Some sources say Murakami was the culprit.) If you’re not familiar with that name, you may be familiar with the film he directed under Corman’s wing: Deathstalker, a film with a similar predilection for molestation (amidst unrelated hilarity). Peeters, who had originally filmed most of the obligatory assault scenes with some semblance of tact – in shadows or otherwise obscured– was unaware of the extra scenes until the film released, and she had no hesitation in requesting her name be taken off the credits. It didn’t work.

Beyond the rank unpleasantness of the aforementioned, Humanoids… crawls through a familiar genre narrative centred on the infiltration of the fish-men into said town. If you’ve seen Jaws, you know the score: obstinate town elders refuse to acknowledge a looming threat and do not close the damn beach. Chaos ensues. There’s also a brief, almost random interlude where tensions spark between the local hicks and a group of Natives over a few dead dogs and environmental pollution. It disappears as suddenly as it arrives.

Vic Morrow is the only remotely convincing performer amidst a sea of embarrassment, imbuing his racist arsehat with a heart of gold, fighting off the fish-men with a shotgun and a rasping growl. But he’s fighting a losing battle against clumsy, split-second editing decisions and the real stars of the show: the fish-men themselves. Rob Bottin’s costumes are suitably intimidating and swampy, dripping with weeds and encrusted with both hair and scales. In another movie, I might have cheered their appearances. Not here.

Normally I’d be the first to defend such ventures in the name of campy, B-movie cheese, as something fully aware of its failings and revelling in its setbacks. This was an era of exploitation film-making where cinemagoers were clamouring for the next genre classic, something that would enter cultdom immediately and thrive in a rarefied sphere of midnight screenings. But Humanoids From the Deep is a video nasty in every sense of the word; a repugnant gasp of craven bullshit with the poe-faced cheek to aim higher. It’s repellent, grasping bollocks, and you shouldn’t watch it. Except for some of the dubbing around 27 minutes in. Gold, I tell you.

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