Roger Corman is widely recognized as a producer who launched the careers of numerous writers, actors, and future directors. He’s also widely recognized as a producer who churned out numerous exploitation films of a wide variety of stripes almost like clockwork, on the cheap, and without much concern about the craft.
This leads to the problems with Humanoids from the Deep. Part of this film is a very well done horror creature feature, with incredibly suspensefully shot sequences, and is a film that is willing to straight up kill off a kid and several dogs very early in the film. It’s also a film where Roger Corman decided to fire the film’s original director, Barbara Peeters, because he wanted the film’s rape scenes to be more explicit – so he handed those sequences off to the second unit director, and the film is lesser because of this.
The material that Peeters did for the film is material that should, were it not for the rape scenes, make what could be one of the best horror films of the early ’80s – a decade that is, I should mention, one of the strongest periods for horror cinema. Peeters doesn’t waste a single frame of the film’s runtime, which barely manages to hit 80 minutes, laying on an incredibly tense tone from the opening attacks to the monsters final invasion of the town’s annual festival.
Further, the film’s script is fairly smart – while the origin of the monsters is science run-amok, it isn’t presented in a “He Meddled In God’s Domain” manner, and more a “Corporate Greed Harms Us All” manner. The film has a major Native American lead, who isn’t written like a stereotype, and the film also gets into racism against Native Americans in a big way.
The score – an early work by James Horner – and the special effects by Rob Bottin (pre-The Thing), are also fantastic. I don’t know if the involvement of the two was Peeters call, or Corman’s – but I feel like giving Peeters credit for these ones. Bottin accomplished some of the best visual effects in SF Horror, and Horner as of his passing was one of the most well-regarded composers in cinema – alongside Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams.
And then there are the rape scenes. According to descriptions – originally Peeters shot around the rapes – fading to black or otherwise having them happen off-screen. That, from a horror perspective, is incredibly effective. In my review of Kuroneko, I got into how that film’s opening rape scene is possibly even more horrific based on what we don’t see and hear, over what we do.
My best interpretation of how Peeters wanted to handle these scenes was through the first attack, on the character of Peggy (Lynn Schiller). We see her boyfriend gruesomely mauled, and then we see her attacked and dragged out of frame, desperately grabbing for the sand – and we have a cut. After that cut, we have the explicit rape scene, which (as has been established) was not done by Peeters. For the sake of this interpretation, that scene doesn’t happen.
We don’t see Peggy again until our protagonists – the Native American Johnny Eagle (Anthony Pena), white-guy fisherman Jim Hill (Doug McClure), and scientist Dr. Susan Drake (Ann Turkel) find the lair of the monster. Only there do we find Peggy – unconscious, covered in seaweed, and as the seaweed is removed we see that she is nude, making it implicitly clear that she was raped. This goes from showing the audience information we already know (in the theatrical cut), to revealing new information and adding a new level of horror to an already bad situation.
Peeters has written off this film – and initially wanted her name taken off from the film when Corman did reshoots and took away the final cut. However, knowing the truth about this film, and having seen it anyway, makes me want more than anything for – should the missing footage still be available – Peeters to have the opportunity to present her Director’s Cut of the film. There is an excellent horror film here, but it’s ruined by crass and excessive rape scenes forced upon the film by Corman.
As of this writing – the film is currently available for free streaming via Amazon Prime. It’s received other DVD and Blu-Ray releases from Shout Factory, but unless we get a Director’s Cut release, this would be how I’d recommend seeing it.
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