The immediate response to a Roger Corman production, particularly in his heyday in the 70s and 80s when he stepped away from directing and instead shepherded a number of influential genre pictures through his cheap-ass pipeline, is to define it by what it was ripping off. This is, of course, because so many of the movies were blatant rip-offs. Often they were callous and sort of silly, but most of them were also ferociously entertaining, even surpassing the original. One could argue that 'Piranha,' which more fully gives into its hedonistic tendencies, is a better film than 'Jaws.' I'm not going to. But somebody could.
Which brings me, in an incredibly round-about way, to 'Humanoids from the Deep' aka 'Monster,' which is basically a really rough-and-tumble remake of Universal's classic monster film 'Creature from the Black Lagoon.' Except instead of a tropical isle, this story is set in a vaguely Pacific Northwest-y California town. And instead of one creature, looking for a bride, there's a whole army of ghouls who are, well, looking to get laid. (Sorry kids.)
The "plot" as much as I can identify what goes on in the movie as "plot," is about a town that is terrorized by these creatures who come up from the ocean depths and violate unsuspecting women. In fact, if I can just take a moment, the movie's most memorable scene involves a young couple who are canoodling in a tent on the beach. For some reason the young man has a ventriloquist dummy, which the young woman somehow finds arousing. She gets naked (completely naked – this was before movies became so chaste and boring) while the man and his dummy look on. Of course, a humanoid from the deep is patrolling nearby and tears into the tent, killing the young lovers (the humanoid has his way with the woman first, of course). But in the movie's most surreal moment, and it's only a few seconds long so you have to keep your eyes open, don't be distracted by all the bloodshed and ooze and full-frontal nudity, the wooden puppet REACTS to the murder of the two kids. It's really funny and weird and totally brilliant. Okay, we can move on now.
Okay, so these humanoids are attacking the townspeople. Doug McClure, as bland hero Jim Hill, is suspicious and worried and goodhearted. Vic Morrow is kind of an asshole as Hank Slattery, who pegs the murders and misdeeds on the local Native American community, led by Anthony Pena. But we'll forgive Vic Morrow because he died on the set of 'Twilight Zone: The Movie' and we're still very sad about that. Yes, I've taken on the collective "we." The humanoids made me do it.
Ann Turkel, as a mysterious doctor who has moved to town and is overseeing the local salmon farm, may hold the key to the mystery… And since it's not much of a mystery, I'll spoil it for you here! You see, the humanoids from the deep are actually mutated salmon! Gasp! Yes it's true. Finally, all the humanoids rise up during the local Salmon Festival (or something), a kind of town wide carnival. It's during these moments (and the final, hilariously phony-looking gotcha scare) that the movie reaches its gonzo, gore-filled peak. The rest of the movie is a handsome looking, if not exactly thrill-a-minute little horror movie. I liked the clash between the town folk and the Native Americans more this time, and was more bored with the nudity and violence than when I was ten and seeing boobs and pubic hair was probably the highlight of my year.
As a throwback to the kind of 1950s monster movies the filmmakers were emulating, it's pretty successful. It lacks the razor-sharp wit of 'Piranha' or 'Death Race 2000,' two certifiable Corman classics from this period, but it has a lot going for it, too, including inventive monsters courtesy of Rob Bottin (who would go on to do effects for John Carpenter's 'The Thing' and David Fincher's 'Seven'), a nicely atmospheric score by future Academy Award winning composer James Horner, and all those boobs. Plus, did I mention that bizarre ventriloquist dummy reaction shot?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Humanoids from the Deep' arrives via Shout! Film's 'Roger Corman's Cult Classics' banner. The 25GB disc is Region A locked. Like some of the other Roger Corman titles, it has a reversible cover. You can choose either the American cover with a sexy woman in a bikini menaced by a pair of hovering eyes for 'Humanoids for the Deep' or go with the sexy woman in a bikini being menaced by a more blatant monster creature for its international title 'Monster.' (On the poster gallery part of this disc you see the German poster, which features the same girl, but no bikini top!) The disc does not automatically play, and in a weird variation doesn't feature the same, easy-to-navigate menu that 'Forbidden World' used (where you could access special features via pop up menu at any time). This is a minor quibble, but still worth noting.
'Humanoids from the Deep' boasts a hearty, 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio: 1.85:1) of the uncut international version (also known as 'Monster'). It's not exactly going to blow your mind but it's undoubtedly the best the movie has ever looked.
The test for these cheap old movies is how well the make-up holds up in high definition. Things usually end up looking even cheaper and more rubbery, but amazingly, the high definition transfer for 'Humanoid' leaves you really, really impressed. The leathery, slippery skin of the humanoids looks quite real, and the make-up effects on a guy who has had half his face sheered off by the creatures is astounding. The high definition gives the phony wound an extra dimensionality that scratchy old videotapes lacked. It's like seeing the gore for the first time!
There is a fair-to-heavy amount of grain throughout, but that only adds to the movie's drive-in fun (and it never becomes unbearable). The skin tones look good. The black levels aren't exactly as bottomless as the deep that the humanoids hail from, but they're still pretty good. And there aren’t any glitchy technical issues I caught (although maybe I was too caught up in the sea monsters' reign of terror).
Overall, if you're a fan of this movie, or even a fan of this type of movie, you'll be impressed by 'Humanoids from the Deep' and its luscious, deeply atmospheric transfer here.
The LPCM 2.0 Audio track is pretty great too. (This stereo option is the disc's sole audio setting, and there aren't any subtitles or captions for the hard of hearing.)
There's a lot of splashing in 'Humanoids from the Deep' and for a stereo mix this sounds quite good. The humanoids make squishy sounds and kind of roar, too, which sounds mighty nice. There isn't a whole lot going on in the mix, up until the calamitous climax at the Salmon Festival, but it gets the job done: dialogue is crisp, clear, and always well prioritized. There are some nice atmospheric touches like the background noises at the small town's dive bar, and scenes generally seem fuller because of the mix.
Is it going to knock anybody's socks off? No. Not at all. But the humanoids have never sounded so good, scaring and being up to no good.
Again, Shout has rewarded a Roger Corman production, which many film purists would deem "iffy," with a host of exemplary special effects. As I noted in an earlier review, these titles have bounced around from distributor to distributor over the years, and I'm beyond thrilled that the good folks at Shout! have taken such good care of these movies. Despite what the snobs might think – they deserve this treatment!
Honestly, I had a blast with 'Humanoids from the Deep.' I hadn't seen it since I was knee-high to a grasshopper (growing up my criteria for what to rent was based on how garish and monster-filled the box art was) and it holds up surprisingly well. The small town politics are just as intriguing as the gooey beasts who rise from the depths to violate the affable, often naked young girls. If you're looking for stuff like "plot" and "character development," take a long walk off a short pier – there will be some humanoids waiting to gobble you up! For those of you that want a fun Friday night movie, this is Highly Recommended, especially because of the collection of superb special features and the nice A/V. Another great Shout Factory release of a Corman classic.