Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

Directed by Barbara Peeters
Starring Doug Maclure, Vic Morrow, Ann Turkel
Rated R

"She's a great little scientist."

The tiny fishing town of Noyo is having a run of bad luck. The salmon that once kept Noyo's coffers full have stopped breeding, and now bigoted white fisherman are warring with the town's Native American community for the last few scraps of fish in the lake. Into this powderkeg of economic misery and racial tension arrives a corporate shill for a major-market cannery who promises salvation for Noyo if they just allow the company to dump massive doses of growth hormone into the lake. The yokels spend a couple days bashing each other's brains in over the matter - fistfights and arson count as political debate in Noyo - but before they decide what do next, they are besieged by prehistoric sea monsters, who invade their shores to rape the women (!) and kill the men. And so it's up to one skeptical scientist, one bashed-up American Indian, and a handful of racist goons to fend off the slimy, horny beasts.

Sturdy character actor Doug McClure and Cindy Weintraub star as Jim and Carol Hill, Noyo's resident peace keepers. They are the first to sense that there's something strange in the neighborhood when their dog goes missing, and they find a slimy trail leading away from his doghouse. But the monster hunting is put on hold when a creep from the mega-cannery shows up in town to hold a barn dance and assure the local rubes that prosperity is just around the corner. He also introduces the town to Dr. Susan Drake (Ann Turkel), the skeptical scientist working with the cannery on their new growth hormone program.

So all that's going on, but unfortunately the dosey-doe-ing is interrupted when Johnny Eagle (Anthony Pena) shows up and tosses his dead, bloody dog onto the dance floor. Naturally, he assumes it was the work of town asshole Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow, RIP) and his cronies. There's a whole racial tension thing going on with these two. It's actually monsters killing everybody's dogs, but you know, you always suspect monsters last.

After the dance, the citizens of Noyo go back to doing what they always do - fishing. But this time, they start getting bites from something much bigger than a salmon.Dr. Drake suspects that there's bad trouble brewing beneath the water. And she is correct.

These particular sea monsters enjoy a little lady lovin' with their murder and mutilation, so we are introduced to them in exactly the way we are introduced to every slasher movie villain you can think of - via sexually active young people.

And because this movie is bananas, ventriloquism is also thrown into the blood and boobs mix.

After a rash of attacks from various sea-beasties (including one with long, Freddy Krueger-esque arms, and one that's only about 4 feet tall), Jim, Slattery, Johnny Eagle and various townfolk realize they've got a major problem on their hands. Nobody wants to call it a monster problem. But that's what it fuckin' is, man.

Because they are pretty macho, Jim and Johnny Eagle head out on one of the fishing boats with the expressed intention of fishing the monsters out of the water. Sadly, they fail at this brave and reckless mission, and the monsters' rape rampage continues unabated. One of 'em even hitches a ride in the back of a girl's truck, and she is so startled she drives off a bridge, killing them both in a fiery explosion. Which is still probably better than getting boned by a sea monster.

Eventually, Dr Drake figures out what's up, and gives everybody a lesson in goofy science. It turns out that a bunch of prehistoric fish at the hormone-enhanced salmon, and now they are evolving at an escalated rate. Therefore, they need to breed with human women to evolve further. Seems valid.

So now that they know exactly what they're dealing with, all they have to do is warn the townfolk to stay inside. Unfortunately, it's time for the annual Salmonfest, and everybody in town is down there already, even Sandy (Bootsy Goodhead herself, Linda Shayne), Miss Salmon 1980.  If those Humanoids get loose in that crowd, it's going to be mayhem!

And so it is. Glorious, splattery, ridiculous mayhem.

Outrageous, alarming, funny, gross and gooey, Humanoids takes a very creaky 50's monster movie premise and updates it for the splatter era. While you are never unaware that the filmmakers were dealing with a barebones budget - there's clearly only three Humanoids, tops, no matter how many reverse angles they splice in - it's still great fun to watch the slobbery rubber suits run amuck while the local townspeople do their best to suppress their laughter. Originally slated to be a brooding chiller with minimal exploitative content, Roger Corman wisely added some comedy, globs of gore, and a smattering of skin midway through, saving the day and providing us with one of the very first drive-in classics of the 80's. It's still slow in places - the small-town drama that eats up the first third of the film is glacial - but there's enough good stuff crammed in to keep sleaze-beasts happy, and the shocking climax should have everyone except for hardcore splatterheads scrambling for the exits. Just keep in mind that after watching this fun slice of 80's junkfilm, you may never look at a plate of salmon the same way again.

- Ken McIntyre

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