FANTASTIC FISH: HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (A.K.A MONSTER) (1980)
Starring Doug McClure, Ann Turkel and Vic Morrow
Directed by Barbara Peeters
Written by Frederick James
Humanoids from the Deep was one of those films whose giant clamshell package on the shelf of my local video store always caught my eye as a kid. The combination of a nubile woman and inhuman eyes on the cover tweaked my growing brain’s twin interests: girls and monsters. But the film’s R-rating meant I wouldn’t be seeing it anytime soon, no matter my protestations to whichever parent held the video club card.
Some thirty years later, Shout! Factory has done us geeks the honour of putting out Humanoids on DVD and Blu-ray, and the excitement I felt inserting the disc into my player was almost sexual. Finally, after all these years, I was going to get to see if the movie of my adolescent imagination would live up to the promise of its cover art.
And Humanoids of the Deep, thankfully, is really fun. It’s set in the small, economically-depressed town of Noyo whose hope for survival looks up when a big cannery decides to set up shop. This means jobs and the locals want it. The only thing standing in the cannery’s way is the protests of the local Indian tribe who are asserting their treaty rights in a bid to protect the river from overfishing. Oh, and a series of sudden deaths and disappearances at the hands (claws, actually) of a mutated race of river monsters determined to advance their evolution by raping the local women.
Shout! Factory presents the uncut international version of the film (called Monsters) which restores all the gore and sexual violence cut from domestic prints upon its initial release. A fun making-of featurette explains how director Barbara Peeters had the film taken away from her when producer Roger Corman discovered that she had filmed the deaths of the men in a bloody enough style no problem, but had almost literally turned the camera away when it came to the rapes. (Corman had second unit director James Sbardellati re-shoot these sequences and add more T&A.)
As usual with a Corman film, the plot is derivative of larger, more successful films (in this case Alien and Jaws), but the actors take the material seriously enough to get us to care. Vic Morrow (The Twilight Zone) is especially intriguing as the local troublemaker who might not be such an ass after all.
Most importantly to horror fans, though, we get to see the creatures, and they don’t look too bad. Actually, they look pretty terrifying, even though creature designer Rob Bottin (a couple of years removed from making his mark with Joe Dante’s The Howling and John Carpenter’s The Thing) probably had $20 to work with. Peeters keeps the beasts hidden just long enough to intrigue us before unleashing an onslaught of them, or what seems like an onslaught as only three creature suits were ever made.
The 10-year-old me would have loved to see this as a kid. The 40-year-old me is glad I had to wait so long to do so.