Friday, January 29, 2016

Rip-off Roundup: Humanoids from the Deep

Last time on Rip-off Roundup, before it was an actual feature, I talked about the crazy Roger Corman ALIEN rip-off, GALAXY OF TERROR, and its unusual connection to James Cameron’s official sequel, ALIENS.  The connection continues with the crazy Roger Corman JAWS rip-off, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP.

The Capsule:
High tech salmon canning conglomerate Canco is promising to bring progress to the backwards Pacific Northwest fishing village of Noyo.  Unfortunately it is also bringing mutant humanoid fish monsters, an unintentional result of their genetic experiments to create a super salmon.   Typical canning company, always playing God.  The monsters chow down Noyo’s dogs and menfolk, but believe me, they are getting off easy.  These slimy perverts have designs on their women, gross, awkwardly filmed designs.   Heroic but clueless Jim, Native American activist Johnny Eagle, and scientist Dr. Susan Drake look for a way to curb the tide of these murderous fish rapists.  Drake may have inadvertently caused the whole mess, but let’s just overlook that.  They also have to deal with cantankerous racist fisherman Vic Morrow.  The action culminates at the town’s annual festival, which all JAWS rip-off movies are legally required to contain (no one ever closes the beach/lake/resort).

This is a very goofy movie.  It’s undeniably modeled after JAWS, with it’s underwater POV shots and suspenseful setups, but really it’s a ‘50’s style rubber monster suit movie with a ton more blood and boobs.  Despite the oogie fish rape scenes, the movie is a lot of fun (it’s hard to take the mating scenes seriously when the monsters clearly have no genitalia).  I like the suits, they are silly but inventive, with elongated arms and well-articulated jaws.  The movie definitely does not follow the “don’t show the monster until the end” formula.  They paid a lot for those suits and they were going to get their money’s worth.  My favorite aspect of the monsters, which is thankfully exploited by their would-be victims, is their exposed brains.  That is one serious evolutionary flaw.   

I always forget just how gory this movie is.  People aren’t just slashed by claws, large chunks of their bodies are torn out.  Heads are twisted off like corks.  Even the quick kills in the hectic festival attack spray gallons of blood.  This movie doesn’t mess around.  It kills a kid and a dog within the first ten minutes.  The ALIEN inspired birth scene at the end is almost as bloody as the originalMuch, much hokier, but still bloody.

For a movie that is so rough on the ladies, it’s a little surprising the director is a woman, Barbara Peeters.  The lead female actors actually get pretty good roles, though.  Dr. Susan Drake is an assertive and competent scientist who essentially takes charge of the investigation.  Every once in a while she spends too much time taking pictures and almost gets eaten (or worse), but that’s what scientists do.  I think she screams here and there, but she never cowers.  Jim’s wife, Carol, goes toe to toe with several fish monsters all by herself while defending her home and baby.  The movie does have a blond beauty pageant winner who gets her bikini top torn off at the festival rampage, but she at least gets to beat her attacker to death (again, the exposed brains are a bit of a handicap).  Peeters didn’t have anything to do with the worst bits.  Roger Corman actually snuck in a different director to film the rape scenes without her knowledge, to spice things up.  Because Corman’s kind of a perv.

Weirdo moments I appreciated:
There is a sex scene in tent involving a young couple and a ventriloquist dummy.  The dummy might be alive, but they never mention it again.  I love that the big canning company is named Canco.  It's like an automobile company named Carco.  Drake causually announces "we found evidence they were here last night" as she kneels by a human rib cageAt the festival, a random little boy kills a fish monster with a flaming harpoon.  When the annoying festival DJ is attacked, he throws records at the monsters, just like in SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but less effective.  Also, the film doesn’t really have a wrap up.  Jim and Dr. Susan Drake make a big show of spraying gas into the bay and setting it on fire, but since most of the fish monsters on are land, it doesn’t do much.  They are eventually killed or driven off, but some obviously survive.  There’s no talk from the main characters about what to do next.  Then it jumps ahead nine months and ends with an example of the dangers of interspecies relations.  I wonder if they ever got their fish monster problem cleared up.

So how does this relate to James Cameron’s masterpiece, ALIENS?  This one is more subtle.  Cameron wasn’t directly involved with this one like he was with GALAXY OF TERROR.  He was was working on Corman’s BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS at the time, so he would have been exposed to the film.  Legendary producer Gale Anne Hurd was a production assistant on HUMANOIDS, later going on to produce ALIENS (and to marry Cameron, briefly).  The biggest link is the music.  James Horner was the composer on HUMANOIDS, and it is obvious this was a warm up to the work he would do in ALIENS, particularly the distinct suspense theme when the Marines are exploring the abandoned base.  There are also a couple of scenes that are staged very similarly (if not as well) to scenes from ALIENS.  The fish monsters break through the planks of the dock just like the aliens burst up through the grates in the ventilation tunnels.  One fish monster attacks the driver of a truck from the roof.  She slams on the breaks, flinging the monster to the road, then she runs him down, just like Ripley in the APC.  The movies are worlds apart as far as quality goes, but they do seem to share some of the same DNA.  That’s the beautiful thing about inspiration; it comes from the strangest places.       

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