This gorier, sexier take on the Creature from the Black Lagoon motif (a monster who is sexually attracted to human women and will kill any human men who stand in its way) is a underrated gem. Released back in the free-wheeling, no-holds-barred days of 1980, Humanoids from the Deep first found its fans in drive-ins and urban grindhouses. The eventual VHS release exposed this classic to audiences who hadn't made the trek to theaters to see it. Now, Shout! Factory gives us the definitive release of Humanoids from the Deep.
The town of Noyo, California (that's up in the northern half, in Mendocino County) plays host to this tale of hormonal monsters lusting after human women. When DNA-enhanced salmon escape into the ocean and are consumed by other, bigger species of fish, they transform into lustful beasts wanting to mate with human women. This sleepy village soon finds its populace at the mercy of these creatures. It's up to dedicated scientist Susan Drake (Ann Turkel), manly fisherman Jim Hill (Doug McClure, no stranger to fantastic cinema), and proud Native American Johnny Eagle (Anthony Penya) to end the monsters' reign of terror.
Let's start with the film's most effective facet: the monsters. The designs are so detailed (Check out those exposed bulging brains!) and lifelike, it's almost hard to believe that they were handiwork of a novice Rob Bottin (Then only 21 years old). These fearsome beasts are the things that nightmares are made of; they stalk their prey in the dark, underwater, and in the woods. One can almost sympathize with these monsters, as they simply want to continue their race by mating with human women.
Acting-wise, all the principals put their working shoes on and never fail to achieve what they set out to do. Ann Turkel is both pretty and precocious as the doctor determined to discover the source of the monsters and how to destroy them. Doug McClure makes for a commanding, take-no-prisoners hero. Vic Morrow is appropriately slimy as the bigoted human villain Hank Slattery. Pena does fine as the sympathetic Eagle, wrongly accused of slaughtering all the townspeople's dogs when we know the humanoids were responsible.
The supporting players account for themselves very well. Cindy Weintraub in particular is outstanding, as she develops from a maternalistic housewife into a raging defender of her home when the creatures invade. Denise Galik, Lynn Theel, Linda Shayne, Lisa Glaser, and Amy Barrett all satisfy the pulchritude department. It's always refreshing to see naturally beautiful women with few or no artificial enhancements so common in today's crop of manufactured screen sirens.
James Horner checks in on Humanoids from the Deep with one of his earliest scores. It's full of the ominous riffs and resounding cues that later became his trademarks. As with most Roger Corman productions, several notable behind-the-scenes personalities got their feet wet on Humanoids from the Deep. Besides Horner and Bottin, we've got contributions from editor Mark Goldblatt, SFX make-up assistants Shawn McEnroe, Kenny Myers, and Steve Johnson, first-unit/second-unit assistant director James Sbardellati, SFX designer Chris Walas, and production assistant Gale Anne Hurd.
The best part of Humanoids from the Deep is that it cuts right to the chase. We see the monsters regularly, either in head shots, full body shots, shadows, hand and arm shots, and medium shots. It doesn't take very long for the action to get rolling. The various explosions, monster attacks, and intimate interactions between the monsters and the human females are well placed. They neither overwhelm the viewer to the point of overkill nor take long to happen.
Finally, I must address the issue of the controversial monster-human sex scenes. Nothing is pornographic about them, although they're certainly not for young children, prudes, the heavily religious, or the overly feminist. As I said earlier, you can't help but feel sad for monsters who don't have females of their own to make some sexy time with. The sex and rape scenes are long enough to amp up the sleaze factor, but thankfully not to the degree that they become monotonous. I personally don't mind a helping of gore, sex, and nudity in movies, but it's got to be done effectively. Humanoids from the Deep succeeds in all these points.
I can't recommend Humanoids from the Deep highly enough. It's got badass monsters, buxom babes, a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes personnel, an unforgettable ending, and some credible performances. Feel free to dive in the ocean and soak up with this aquatic cinema delight. Just don't rile up the humanoids now!