80 minutes of ‘schlock & awe’ from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and director Barbara Peeters (well, for some of the time… more of that in a minute!). HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP is an environmentally aware monster movie that tells of how attempts to modify the local salmon stock to supercharge a new fish cannery have gone horribly wrong… The test site was destroyed in a storm, polluting the local waters and giving rise to the mutant fishmen who, it turns out, have their eyes set on mating with female humans to amplify their already accelerated evolution. Some local racism and a battle for indigenous land rights aside, the film spends the majority of its runtime documenting what happens when the sex-crazed amphibians head to shore.
“A battle for the survival of the fittest where man is the endangered species and woman the ultimate prize.“ (Theatrical trailer).
HUMANOIDS… is a film I love and one that repays repeat viewings with its dedication to the craft of being, well, an entertainingly silly, late night monster movie. Unexpectedly popular at the box office, it’s one of the endlessly spawning CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON ripoffs (my favourite of the Universal ‘classic’ monsters), but its brief run time gives you more than enough of the titular fishmen – designed, built and worn by future Academy Award winner (for TOTAL RECALL), Rob Bottin – and an epic finale that, according to the script at least, was to see hordes of monsters rise from the waves to further their species. Ultimately these scenes were achieved with a maximum of three monsters which, according to 88 Films’ Blu-ray, were assembled from two full suits plus various body parts… . Ok, so having the humans fight back by setting fire to the water with diesel from their fishing boats makes little sense when all of the (available…) amphibians are on land, but you don’t come to this kind of picture for the realism of its naval battle tactics.
HUMANOIDS… is also a film that still courts considerable controversy. Some of this hails, as reported by critic Kim Newman in his seminal book Nightmare Movies (pp147), from a contemporaneous feminist backlash against the 80s psycho killer/slasher craze, leading Newman to brand HUMANOIDS… as “the most offensive of the bunch… in which naked girls are clawed and raped by scaley monsters”.
Stories differ, but Barbara Peeters’ footage for HUMANOIDS… did not match producer Roger Corman’s vision of a film where “the monsters kill the men and rape the women”, and she was sacked from post production. Her request to remove her name from the finished film was also declined. Editor Mark Goldblatt and second unit director James Sbardellati then sexed up the dossier, resulting in an uncredited body double giving Cynthia Weintraub a shower scene that she had refused to film herself, and the new addition of festival beauty queen Miss Salmon (Linda Shayne) losing her bikini top as she drives back the ‘noids. The notorious sequences where we see monsters raping their female victims on the beaches ultimately gave Corman the effect he wanted. Goldblatt and Sbardellati also added a final sting to the tale that was shot in Rob Bottin’s garage.
Peeters’ voice has been missing from much of the ensuing critical debate of this title, but it’s worth noting this was her last feature film (the rest of her IMDb credited career was spent in TV as outlined below). What endures, in addition to the behind the scenes controversy, is the feistiness of her female characters, particularly in the home-invasion set piece finale which sees Carol (Weintraub) fighting off the monsters as she protects her child with the use of domestic cleaning products. These scenes are intercut with a full-blown amphibious assault on the town, the creatures attacking the population as they enjoy a festival on the boardwalk, which is an epic gory delight on such a modest budget. What also endures is the casting of Hispanic actor Anthony Pena as Native American ‘Jonny Eagle’. Common for the time – see also Armand Assante in PROPHECY (1979) – it is only partly assuaged, as noted by critic Samm Deighan in her excellent Blu-ray commentary, by the character’s eventual status as the default hero of the film (Doug McClure is more often centre stage but his homely character remains largely impotent…).
What to make of these various challenges? I generally avoid horror titles that objectify (aka ‘hack away at’) women’s bodies, but my feeling is HUMANOIDS… is an obvious make-believe and, whilst the rapes remain problematic, they are not lingered over. The deleted scenes of extra kills included in the Blu-ray are more fetishised and remain reassuringly absent from the final cut. In his own commentary track for the film, Kim Newman acknowledges that worse celluloid crimes have been committed and I can think of many more films that leave me feeling much more uncomfortable. I’d still want to screen the film with trigger warnings, and remain concerned that Peeters’ name is forever attached to a title she hates to be associated with. Whilst this raises significant issues of authorship and power in studio film production, she should be freed of it.
ABOUT BARBARA PEETERS
After an early career in various behind the scenes roles in the (s)exploitation film business, Peeters directed 4 other feature films before HUMANOIDS… (all of which she also wrote or co-wrote), including psycho lesbian soft-core drama THE DARK SIDE OF TOMORROW (1970), biker movie BURY ME AN ANGEL (1971), SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS (1975), and a film I really want to see, STARHOPS (1978) where “three carhops try to help save a failing drive-in restaurant”. After HUMANOIDS…, the rest of her IMDb credited career was spent directing for TV, including episodes of CAGNEY & LACEY (1983), REMINGTON STEELE (1984), and 7 episodes of FALCON CREST (1984-5).
In brief: 80 minutes of ‘schlock & awe’ from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and director Barbara Peeters (well, for some of the time…).
Strapline: “From the ocean depths they strike… to terrorise… to mate… and to kill!”