Sunday, February 13, 2011
Humanoids From the Deep (1980)
The Movie: A small fishing town is having problems; namely, it’s getting harder and harder to find any fish. This is impacting the local economy and therefore bad all around. There is some hope, the corporation Canco wants to set up a cannery in town; and in return promises needed jobs as well as a refurbishing of the fish population. Of course, this is met enthusiastically by most of the town, especially by the fisherman Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow from 1990 Bronx Warriors).
But one of the citizens is completely opposed: Johnny Eagle (Anthony Penya), our local Indian/Native American. Johnny is convinced that the cannery will only make things worse, and he’s determined to prevent it from being built. This puts him at odds with Hank, who is determined to prevent Johnny from spoiling the business deal.
And there have been strange happenings around as of late to ramp up Hank’s hatred and paranoia. Happenings such as a fishing boat mysteriously blowing up with all on board, or all of the dogs near the water (except, ironically, Johnny’s) getting mysteriously killed one night. Hank is convinced that Johnny is doing this in order to sabotage the cannery deal, and he and his redneck thugs are resolute that he learns a lesson.
Fortunately, Johnny has some friends in Jim Hill (Doug McClure) and his brother, Tommy (Breck Costin). Jim is in favor of the cannery, but he’s also an intelligent and reasonable man. He’s seen enough of the events himself to determine that a lone saboteur would be unlikely to accomplish it all. Besides, Johnny would rather fight Canco through the legal system.
With all the political games going on, nobody notices the monstrous fish-mutants that are really behind the problems. Not only are they killing dogs and attacking boats, they also attack some couples who happen to be on the beach by themselves. The men are killed gruesomely, of course, but the women are in for a worse fate.
The answers lie with Doctor Susan Drake (Ann Turkel), the Canco scientist who has come with its representatives. Remember how Canco promised to refurbish the fish population? Well their solution was a genetic treatment Doctor Drake developed. Unfortunately, some of the treated salmon were accidently released. It turns out that they were eaten by coelacanths (consistently mispronounced ko-al-i-canth instead of see-la-canth throughout the movie), and the genetic treatment kick started their evolution. The result is the creatures that have been causing the trouble, and a subconscious desire to evolve further has invested them with the desire to mate with human women. Unfortunately, by the time our heroes discover it the town’s annual Salmon Festival is underway, and it provides the fish men with plenty of walking targets…
In most ways, Humanoids from the Deep is an exploitation film pure and simple. There’s the impossible science and the caricatures, the extensive gore and nudity, the rubber suited monsters at the center of the mess. In fact, Humanoids somehow manages to shoehorn in almost every B-movie trope of the previous few decades.
At the same time, there are a lot of little touches that help it rise a little above the status of just another piece of sleazy trash. A large part of it was probably due to how it was put together. The original director Roger Corman hired was Barbara Peeter, who put together a serious, non-exploitative take on the script. However, after it was filmed Corman determined that it lacked what the intended audience desired; namely, gratuitous gore and female nudity. He brought in director James Sbardellati, later to direct Deathstalker, to shoot the more exploitation friendly elements.
The end result is not a schizophrenic mess, as one might expect, but a competent blending of the two approaches. On the serious side, the characters aren’t all one-dimensional cutouts. There is actually some fairly thoughtful interaction between them. Our main hero, Jim, is actually for the cannery, but he is not going to allow opposing opinions to be beaten down. What’s more, he is willing to keep an open enough mind about the subject that he immediately takes notice when something isn’t right.
The conflict between Johnny and Hank is also a little bit more nuanced than it might be. Hank is the spitting image of a lot of public figures I have born witness to. Likewise, having lived in small towns a large portion of my life, I can say that this movie nails small-town politics near perfectly. However, while Hank is obviously an antagonist and an asshole, he’s not irredeemable. He and Johnny wind up working together to save some kids in the climactic attack on the Salmon Festival. What’s more, in another thoughtful touch Johnny winds up saving Hank’s life, and Hank is clearly conflicted over being at the mercy of the man who he’s been persecuting, not to mention Johnny’s willingness to do the right thing regardless.
On the exploitation side of things; there’s some decent stuff too. As another reviewer points out, it’s doubtful that it’s a coincidence that a single movie can incorporate all of the B-movie tropes it does and still maintain a brisk 82-minute running time. Not only that, but there are a lot of fun little touches throughout. As an example, one of my favorites is two of the victims; a couple in a tent on the beach. The guy is using a ventriloquist dummy to seduce his girlfriend, I kid you not, and succeeding. Not only that, but the dummy is funny as all hell.
Humanoids from the Deep has been facing charges of misogyny since it came out. I can see where one would get that impression, but I don’t believe this is the case. If nothing else, it features some rather strong, competent female characters. Jim’s wife Carol (Cindy Weintraub) certainly does an extremely good job at fighting off the fishmen attacking her and her toddler son. Or, in another one of my favorite parts there is Sandy, aka Miss Salmon (Linda Shayne, who later went on to direct, herself). On the one hand she initially seems like just another beauty queen bimbo. Then there’s the obvious jiggle factor when one of the humanoids chases her; she’s only wearing a skimpy bikini, and she gets her top torn off. However, when she is cornered, her reaction is to pick up a rock and apply it to her attacker’s skull. And she wins, too.
I only have two things about this movie that bother me. First is the rapes. On the one hand, the guys in the rubber suits make it look just ridiculous enough that it’s not as unpleasant as it could be; but the scenes are still a bit graphic and rape always bothers me. The other is the killing of the dogs. Admittedly, it’s not at all graphic, but I really don’t like it when animals get killed in these movies. Even (maybe I should say especially) when I’m actively hoping for all of the human characters to meet gruesome deaths, I really don’t like it when animals get killed, whether or not it actually shows it. What’s that? Misanthropic? Moi? Well, maybe just a little.
In the end, I would say that Humanoids from the Deep is a well made, if sleazy, little B-movie with just enough brains to raise it above being merely that. If nothing else it’s good, cheap sleazy fun; and sometimes that’s all we’re after.