Don’t be fooled. Humanoids from the Deep (1980) is not, in fact, a comedy. Despite the title. Or the script. Or the acting. Or the slimy, big-brained, crazily-grinning humanoids.
No, this is deeply serious, grim stuff. An apocalyptic parable. A dark satire on societal values. A pointed commentary on the dangers of scientific progress. A film that forces viewers to reflect meaningfully on the significance of their existence. Most specifically, the eighty minutes of that existence taken up by viewing the film. Swallowed up like so much chum.
Those old enough to recall the early days of cable TV and Home Box Office might remember this one, which somehow enjoyed repeated airings on HBO before the channel went 24 hours in late 1981. Those showings are memorialized in Bobbie Ann Mason’s 1985 novel In Country, when the protagonist, the teenaged Samantha Hughes, at one point tells her friend “HBO is pukey tonight -- Humanoids from the Deep.”
Humanoids takes place in northern California (where it was filmed), mostly in the coastal town of Noyo near Fort Bragg (north of S.F.). The town was home to the Pomo tribe of native Americans until settlers took it mid-19th century and it subsequently became the site of one of several north coast fisheries.
The film adopts this historical context for its story, as the exposition reveals an impending legal conflict between the native Americans, represented by Johnny Eagle (Anthony Penya), who will try to reclaim their land from the citizens of Noyo who are now planning to build a cannery. Vic Morrow plays the racist, beer-swillin’ Hank Slattery, who is pro-cannery and anti-Injun. Caught in between that conflict is Jim Hill, played by an agitated Doug McClure. Tension mounts as, in addition to their other worries, all three men are in desperate need of haircuts.
As if to ensure the audience’s understanding of the film’s non-comedic intentions, early scenes feature the mysterious killings of (1) a young boy and (2) a dog, accentuated by occasional glimpses of webbed hands and ominous footprints.
More canine carnage ensues, followed by a visit to Noyo by a Dr. Susan Drake. She’s blond and sorta pretty (by Noyo standards), but don’t jump to conclusions -- she’s a scientist, dammit! And she’s involved in some-kind-of-really-important-research-something-or-another upstream where they are figuring out how to improve salmon production by making them “grow bigger, faster, and twice as plentiful.”
Ah, humans. So ambitious. Always reaching too far. Perhaps the occasional humanoid attack is needed, just to keep us in line.
Humans start going down, and a clearer picture of the enemy emerges. Think Creature from the Black Lagoon, with extra long, goofy arms and big juicy brains fit over the skulls like oversized bike helmets. In fact, they probably are bike helmets. The creatures randomly slaughter the men, and -- most disturbingly -- appear desirous to “mate” with the women. Though most clumsily, doncha know. Those big brains may signify advanced intelligence, but, really, the humanoids are quite boorish!
One of the creatures is killed and taken to the lab, where Dr. Drake explains -- with the help of an instructional film from your junior high biology class -- how 3,000 salmon treated with “DNA-5” were accidentally released, other sea creatures fed on them, and voila! -- humanoids!
Why do they kill? “To protect their territory and their food sources.” Why do they “mate” with the women? “These creatures are driven to mate with man now, in order to further develop their incredible evolution.” Oka-a-a-y.
Oh, dear. We were so engrossed by the instructional film and lecture, we completely forgot about... the FESTIVAL!
The next fifteen minutes of mayhem -- in which hoards of humanoids indiscriminately wipe out most of the Noyo population while they innocently try to get their festival on -- may well be the entire reason the film was made. Those fifteen minutes certainly took up the majority of its budget. The “pukey” special effects suitably stimulated the kiddies staying up to watch on HBO. The sucker ends most menacingly with the threat of a sequel -- thankfully never acted upon. (However, a remake was apparently carried out in the 1990s.)
Produced by an uncredited Roger Corman and directed by Barbara Peeters (or “Peters”), Humanoids from the Deep obviously transcends all usual rating systems, but we’ll give it one star, anyway, for having somehow evolved to the point of slithering up onto land and simply existing.