Some movies just have a — well, a reputation, you know? Sometimes those reputations are well-deserved, sometimes they’re not. And then there are flicks like Roger Corman’s 1980 production Humanoids From The Deep, released in a (very) slightly longer cut in certain overseas markets under the admittedly more lackluster title of Monster. This is one of those films that actually seems to have more than one reputation — depending on who you ask, it’s either a deeply misogynistic, mean-spirited little piece of business that positively oozes a perverse anti-female resentment from start to finish, or it’s a bit of stupid, harmless, campy fun. If you want my opinion (I assume that’s why you’re reading this), I think , strange as it may sound, that both views are correct. I’ll get back to this in a moment.
For now, though, let’s focus on what’s absolutely not debatable here — the plot’s “scientific” underpinning makes about as much sense as you’ve come to expect from anything with the Roger Corman name attached to it. Consider : a sleepy northern California (I think, at any rate) fishing town is considering adding a cannery to boost the moribund local economy. In fact, the cannery company’s already set up preliminary operations in the area, but of course there’s a potentially lethal secret they’re not letting the good-hearted townsfolk in on : cannery boss Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow, just a couple years away from dying for his art courtesy of Steven Spielberg) has hired a fetching young geneticist named Dr. Susan Drake (Ann Turkel) to play Frankenstein with the local salmon population in order to get them to reproduce in even greater numbers. Seems like a good plan to insure a steady stream of profits, right? The problem is, some unnamed “predator fish” that feeds on the salmon has begun to mutate after getting a taste of their newly-gene-spliced prey. They’ve grown arms, legs, learned to walk upright, and they’re headed upstream — and even on shore — to spawn.
So yeah — as with any flick of this nature, more or less complete and total suspension of disbelief is required from the outset here. “What if we made the Creature From The Black Lagoon horny?” seems to be the operative idea at the heart of this project, the script was just pieced together to facilitate the central plot contrivance. I kind of admire that, but then I would because if movies like that didn’t exist I wouldn’t have much to write about around here.
In any case, local semi-tough-guy Jim Hill (Doug McClure) takes it upon himself to get to the heart of the matter when a steady stream of his little oceanside community’s youthful perhaps-virgins starts getting raped by these muck-monsters from the depths (well, three muck-monsters from the depths, to be precise — only one of which actually fully functioned, the other two rubber-suit contraptions being of limited mobility at best), but Jim’s a lone voice in Idiotsville, and the town fathers decide to go ahead and hold their annual Salmon Festival anyway. And that, dear readers, is when the shit really hits the fan (insert obligatory “of course” at this point).
If one solitary monster-rape scene in Corman’s Galaxy Of Terror just wasn’t enough for ya, rest assured — Humanoids From The Deep has you covered (in slime and seaweed, no less). This really is a movie that positively revels in baring barely-legal female flesh and then sullying it at every turn. Our guy Roger employed one of his favorite criticism-deflecting tricks here, namely hiring a woman more or less right outta film school (Barbara Peeters) to direct the thing, but she took a pass on shooting several of the script’s more lurid scenes and has maintained a healthy distance from the finished product ever since, despite her name being on it.
In fairness to Peeters. I can’t say as I blame her given that this is a work that, if taken seriously, could set back the cause of female self-actualization and empowerment by decades at a minimum, but the key phrase there is, as you’d expect, if taken seriously. Fortunately for Humanoids From The Deep, it doesn’t go out of its own way to ever encourage us to do so. Sure, there are some actually surprisingly effective, even eerie, shots interspersed here and there, but at the end of the day we’re still talking about a flick where the “Salmon Queen” gets her top ripped off by a guy in a rubber sea-monster suit. You can give this work a political reading if you so wish — me, I have a soft spot for any story that portrays big out-of-town corporations as being soulless, evil bastards because, well, they are —but honestly this isn’t out to spread a message or reinforce and/or change any particular attitudes vis a vis the fairer sex. And that, perhaps somewhat perversely (apropos considering this movie positively reeks of perversion), might just be the most genuinely disturbing thing about it — this is a film that’s determined to present rape and misogyny as being all in good fun. Needless to say, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore! Whether that’s a good or bad thing I leave entirely up to you to decide.
The creatures themselves, obvious (and aforementioned) flaws aside, really aren’t too bad, and it’s pretty easy to see why Rob Bottin’s design and effects work here got him noticed (he went on to receive a few Oscar nominations for work that actually had a budget). In addition, composer James Horner, who became James Cameron’s regular soundtrack guy, contributes a surprisingly effective, at times even haunting, score. As with any Corman production, part of the fun is in spotting now-familiar names in the credits and feasting your eyes (and, in this case, ears) on their early work. All in all, the whole enterprise radiates a bit more professionalism than we might realistically expect — but it still is what it is.
And that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? Determining what this thing is, exactly. On the whole I think my initial summation holds up pretty well — it’s a dark, misogynistic, downright anti-women film that doesn’t take itself too damn seriously. That might sound like a hopelessly incongruous mess, and I suppose it is, but ya know, somehow it all works — even if it shouldn’t. Or doesn’t deserve to.
Humanoids From The Deep is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Shout! Factory as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series. The widescreen high-def transfer of the uncut international Monster version of the film looks incredible, the remastered mono sound is generally pretty effective, and there are extras aplenty including a selection of never-before-seen deleted scenes; the requisite theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots; an on-camera interview with Corman hosted by Leonard Maltin; a smattering of trailers for other titles in the series; and a genuinely quite interesting “making-of” featurette that doesn’t shy away from the controversy surrounding this film in the least. A commentary would have been nice, I suppose, but given that Peeters won’t go near this thing with a ten-foot pole I can certainly understand why there isn’t one included. As with pretty much any and every title in this line, it’s a very impressive package all told.
If you want to be offended, this is a movie that certainly gives you every reason to be — and if you don’t want to be offended, it just might do it to ya anyway. But whether you walk away from Humanoids From The Deep incensed, flabbergasted, or just plain bewildered, there’s no doubt that this is a movie that absolutely lives up to its reputation.
Both of its reputations, in fact.