The secret strength of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures is that he ran his operation like a proper Hollywood studio. It didn’t matter to him that he was dealing with schlocky subject matter and low budgets – he was determined to be as thorough and meticulous in his productions as the big studio honchos. He put an emphasis on professionalism and instilled that in all his filmmakers. As a result, the New World Pictures filmography is packed with some of the tightest, fastest-moving and most precision-crafted classics in the world of schlock cinema.
For proof, look no further than Humanoids From The Deep. This schlock gem reimagines Creature From The Black Lagoon for the R-rated 1980’s. It takes place in a fishing village that is about to be taken over by a cannery with big plans for the future. This sits well with most residents except for dispossessed American Indian Johnny Eagle (Anthony Penya). He want wants to reclaim village land that was taken from his people long ago, which doesn’t endear him to local bigot Slattery (Vic Morrow). Good-guy townie Jim Hill (Doug McClure) is caught in the middle and struggles to keep the peace.
However, company and land disputes become minor issues when an onslaught of slimy half-fish/half-man creatures emerge from the waters to graphically “mate” with any seaside lovely they can get their scaly claws on. These monsters are the result of larger species in a fishing town’s water system eating experimentally-mutated salmon produced by the cannery. Johnny Eagle and Jim team up with Dr. Susan Drake (Ann Turkel), a cannery scientist who rebels against her employers’ keep-it-quiet attitudes, to find a solution – but can they stop this menace before the town’s annual seaside carnival?
The above synopsis might make the film sound critic-proof – but the treatment it receives from Corman’s crew makes it so. Humanoids From The Deep actually had a troubled production history – director Barbara Peeters turned in a less-than-exploitative first cut and refused to do extra gore & nudity reshoots, causing Corman to replace her with assistant director James Sbardellati for the film’s retooling – but you’d never guess it from viewing the finished product. It starts delivering the goods within the first reel and keeps churning out the shocks like a well-oiled schlock machine.
Indeed, Humanoids From The Deep is a model of schlock efficiency. The cast plays the material straight, with McClure and Turkel turning in solid, journeyman-style hero performances and Morrow really tearing into his more colorful role as the town’s racist. Veteran b-movie cinematographer Daniel Lecambre uses the seaside locations to atmospheric effect and gives things an appropriately professional sheen. The film further benefits from top-notch makeup effects by a young Rob Bottin, right before he broke into the big time with The Howling and John Carpenter’s The Thing remake. The fish-men suits are a-level effects created on a b-movie budget and they really sell the menace of the film’s nature-gone-wrong villains (the incidental gore effects are pretty shocking, too).
However, the real unsung hero of Humanoids From The Deep is editor Mark Goldblatt. He’d later go on to cut films for the likes of James Cameron and Paul Verhoeven and his work here shows he had the required chops from the outset of his career. He strips the narrative to the bone to create an appropriately lean pace, steadily builds tension and, most importantly, creates a series of dazzling setpieces via his punchy editing style that really hammer home the shocks. The carnival finale is a master class in how to make a lot out of very little through creative editing choices.
In short, Humanoids From The Deep is schlock made by the top professionals in that field. You can rest assured that you’re getting the best a trashy b-movie has to offer when you put it on.