Creature Features in Review: Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
[ BIG SPOILERS—like, skip-to-the-number-score-if-you’re-actually-worried level spoilers ]
Okay, two things right out of the gate: this movie is terrible… but I’m going to explain to you why I feel (if you enjoy a certain level of badbad = goodgood) you should still watch it.
Also, it’s basically about mutant fish people raping women (when they aren’t killing everyone else to get to that) but seeing as how I highly doubt there are going to be humanoid fish people waddling out of the sea and actually raping anyone anytime soon, I’m not going to address that further in any serious way after this intro. I also won’t make a joke out of it, though, and you can call me what you like for that.
Last thing I’ll say about it—I read in my research the film wasn’t rape-y enough for the producers as originally shot and they had to add more tit shots and actual rape using the second unit director to satisfy the grindhouse audience it was intended for. Many of the people who’d worked on it before then were horrified upon watching the finished product (for all the wrong reasons) and a few wanted their names taken off the picture completely.
And yeah, at the end of the day, that’s basically what The Shadow Over Innsmouth is about too if you’re paying attention—at least backstory-wise—but this movie ain’t that kind of ‘classy’, let’s say.
Once again—I felt the seedier aspects of the premise needed addressing in some form and I could not care less if that rustles your personal extremeness or horror hipster jimmies. My review.
From this point on I’m reviewing this film as a product of the grindhouse exploitation scene it came out of. Basically, as a fun, shitty horror movie.
Everybody who’s still with me ready? Good. Ikimashou…
The thin setup in the beginning is that a company called Canco is planning to build cannery near the fishing town of Noyo, California. There is a group of local men who are very supportive of the cannery coming and from the beginning they are borderline hostile toward Johnny Eagle (Anthony Pena), a local Native American who is concerned about the cannery affecting his tribal lands. This is very important to the film’s structure (as filler/artificial-tension-creation) and also almost completely unnecessary at the same time. It drives one character to be a total asshole the whole time, which sets up one of the limpest feel good payoff attempts ever late in the film.
The film actually starts when a fishing boat off the coast just outside the harbor catches what they think is a really big haul and while reeling their net in, the winch machine runs out of fuel. The main angler tells his young son to refill it. In a quick series of events that prepped me for what kind of cinematic experience this was going to be, the boy refills it, they start the winch again, call the boy over, who proceeds to set the gas can down practically upside-down, leaking the fuel all over the deck. The boy tries to help his father and the other fishermen, falls overboard, gets rekt by something mostly unseen (except in underwater POV shots of humanlike yet strange arms with webbed fingers), father grabs flare gun, fires it… Big ‘Splodey. Seriously. That’s the first major scene.
After that, the guy who’s basically the main character, Jim Hill (Doug McClure), and his wife Carol (Cindy Weintraub) find their dog’s body mangled on the beach in some seaweed. Then every other dog on the docks is killed except for Johnny Eagle’s, so Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow)—or Uncle Grumpy, as I like to think of him—kills Johnny’s dog off-screen.
That sets up a tit-for-tat thing that…
Alright, once again I fail at summarizing without reviewing, so on to the review itself.
So the escalating issues between Eagle and Uncle Grumpy are a good place to start the review proper because it’s one of things that makes this film (as anything approaching a serious attempt at quality) terrible. It is almost entirely unnecessary. Basically only there to create conflict for the decent chunks of the film the Humanoids aren’t actually doing anything on-screen. Also, could just be me but I watched the film twice and I still wasn’t clear on Slattery’s actual connection to Canco. He seems to just really want a cannery there, and strongly dislikes Johnny and the other ‘Indians’ (who are only in the film as voices off-screen as Slattery sneaks around spying on Johnny). Johnny convinces these others that the cannery is bad thing for their local tribal fishing grounds and such (which feels like a really weak ecological and/or tribal rights message maybe, but without even enough fleshing out to be more than simple character motivation fuel) so they should get a lawyer to halt the process of setting up the cannery, and Uncle Grumpy and his bros are incensed by this defiance. So much so that they plan to fucking kill Johnny. That leads one of the most hilariously bad moments in the movie.
While Johnny, Jim’s brother Tommy (Breck Costin; who looks eerily like very young Mark Hamill in this), and Tommy’s girlfriend are making a fish dinner that Johnny caught that day, Uncle Grumpy throws a big Molotov cocktail into Johnny’s shack. They are quick enough to dive out of the way—before that cocktail explodes like goddamn dynamite, destroying the shack completely.
Even makes a sound more like that than a Molotov. Then while Tommy is firing a rifle at the retreating Uncle Grumpy and his bros, a Humanoid pulls him off Johnny’s dock into the water. Johnny throws a tool or ax of some kind at the creature’s exposed brainmeats, gashing and busting its head open with a messy spray and saving Tommy.
Going forward, there’s an over-emphasis on exposition by a Canco scientist, Dr. Susan Drake (Ann Turkel)—who basically caused the whole problem but blames Canco for… I don’t know… funding her work?—and her experimental salmon growth whosawhatsit that—actually, it doesn’t matter. Her scenes in that chunk are the worst acting in the film—possibly not even the actress’s fault, since direction and editing aren’t stellar in the film in general—and don’t make a lot of sense. She seems to take Jim to Canco or one of their labs to tell him about how badly their (her?) experiments screwed the pooch, but there’s another scientist there telling her she shouldn’t say those things. He is there to be (badly) yelled at and then they just leave, no actual Canco problems had.
Without going into too much detail and just saying everything that happens, this is a genuinely bad movie, but mostly in charming ways that never really get old:
- Stock footage of a spooky owl in one scene when the sound alone would’ve worked.
- A truck driven off a bridge and landing upside down—and instantly exploding for no obvious reason.
A girl completely undressing due to the wooing power of a guy and his ventriloquist dummy in a tent on the beach. Humanoids attack these two of course and while the naked young woman runs off, the ventriloquist is attacked—and there’s a really odd shot where the dummy’s eyes are moving even after it’s been dropped, which just felt really out of place. The young woman runs away from the tent, head on a swivel—until she runs directly into another humanoid that is obviously in her path just out of frame to the right.
By the time the ‘epic’ climactic harbor battle happened, I was already pretty satisfied with the fun badness, but that whole part is non-stop stupid and totally brings it all together. Humanoids busting up out of docks, killing every human in sight they don’t feel like raping, a lecherous radio DJ who gives a play-by-play into his mic about all the death and mayhem happening at the docs while also defending a local beauty queen who has to run for her life as he’s savaged. There’s even a very forced and badly setup part where Johnny Eagle has to save Uncle Grumpy from the Humanoids after one injures him.
Also, the big climactic solution Jim and Dr. Susan Drake come up with to stop the creatures is to take his boat into the harbor and spray fuel everywhere… and set it on fire. It’s so poorly executed production-wise that I couldn’t help laughing at almost every shot of the fire. I mean, if it was a thick blanket of flame across the water surface, maybe the creatures would be a little annoyed… but the way it’s presented the creatures could easily avoid the flaming patches or like… dive under them? It’s possible there’s something I missed, but I don’t think so.
So the harbor silliness is crosscut with a much slower and seemingly unneeded scene with Jim’s wife putting their child to bed—unneeded until it becomes the single best part of the movie (for me, at least). As the radio DJ describes the scene at the harbor (while also fending off Humanoids and then dying) on the radio, Carol listens—then she’s stalked by Humanoids outside the house. She hides her child in a closet and grabs a big kitchen knife. Creatures bust in and one chases her through the house (overlong arms waving threateningly about; also, my wife described their long arms as sloth-like and after that I couldn’t unsee it; sloooooths…) and she gets cornered. It’s set up like she’s going to get owned, but she proceeds to fucking shred that scaly bastich. She goes ham on it and literally eviscerates it, guts spilling out and slapping down all around. Pure cinematic magic. I also dig that she saved herself, and did so just before her husband could get there. It’s like Frozen but… messier.
WHAT I LIKED:
-Pleasant badness of all kinds
-Rob Bottin’s actual creature work, even if their obviously skull-less brain areas seemed a little too easy to bust open (I could be wrong and I’m sure I’d be corrected if that was so, but it looked like the creatures in the added rape-y parts were much simpler and not the same suits; or just shot really badly)
-Carol fucking wrecking that fish man wannabe rapist piece of shit monster
-very ending, which is the natural conclusion of the Humanoids’ awful urges and activities
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
-Genuine badness of all kinds
-Almost totally unneeded Uncle Grumpy cannery vs. Native tribal lands subplot (even as lateral setup for ridiculous exposition of cannery experimentation accidental Humanoids creation)
-Radio DJ was so incredibly punchable
-I heard they remade this… and it wasn’t even this good
I’m going to give Humanoids from the Deep (1980)………6/10
[ based on enjoyment, not actual filmmaking quality ]
PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, was released June 2017 by April Moon Books. Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/ Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog: https://patrickloveland.com/
Pickup Patrick Loveland’s debut novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL for $14.99!!!
When Felix Brewer finally gets the video camera he has been coveting, he discovers a button on the lens housing that isn’t in the manual. Once that button is pressed, the viewfinder shows him glimpses of a nightmarish world living in symbiosis with ours, and reveals his girlfriend, Audrey, to be a frightening creature; her face a burning mass of melting light and distortion. Seemingly alone in his visions, Felix relies on the support of strangers both dubious and intriguing to make sense of it all… and hopefully protect him from the dark creatures that want to brutally silence him. Has Felix discovered a disturbing world no one else can see or is he barreling toward a tragic end through a haze of inherited insanity? A TEAR in the VEIL – the stunning debut novel from Patrick Loveland.