Column: Cthulhu Eats the Movies: Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

By Brian M. Sammons

Humanoids from the Deep (1980). Director: Barbara Peeters. Cast: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow.

Welcome back, friends and fellow cultists. If you read my last Cthulhu Eats the Movies, and there’s no good reason why you should not have, then you’ll remember I was discussing the Roger Corman movie, X: the Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Well, that one got me thinking of another little gem with a Corman connection, although this time, with the long-working master of schlock acting as a producer instead of director. Also, while X-Ray Eyes got lauded for its bits of Lovecraftian goodness, this movie has pretty much been ignored by HPL fans for far too long, despite it having about the same amount of, if slightly different, Lovecraft themes and elements in it. Lastly, while I thought X-Ray Eyes was fine, this movie I thoroughly, unapologetically love to death. What film could I be talking about? Why, the awesome Humanoids from the Deep, naturally.

What, you’ve never seen, let alone heard of Humanoids from the Deep? Well, for shame, tsk tsk, go to your room without supper and many more admonishments for letting this slice of perfect 80s cinema slip past you for this long. It is a fun monster flick, the type that the honourable Joe Bob Briggs would give high marks, to and it would have to be way up on the “Drive-In Movies Hall of Fame” list. It’s got everything that made 80s films so great. There’s lots of blood, a more-than-generous amount of nudity, cool monsters, and (most importantly) a knowing campy feel, and the guts to do things that horror flicks today would never, ever do. You know, horrible things happening in a horror movie. Who would have thought that?

So, the movie is great fun – at least, it should sound like great fun to you – and if it doesn’t, then either you didn’t grow up as a horrorhead in the 80s, or the Mi-Go removed your fun gland. But, regardless of the elusive fun factor, I can hear you now, asking, “So, just how is this drive-in monster mash a Lovecraftian film?” Well, it’s all right there in the title, but please allow me to elaborate.

The story is the typical tale of a small seaside town invaded by a bunch of horny fishmen that slaughter the dudes and make icky, fishy sex with the ladies. Hmm, where have we heard that before? Yes, just as X: the Man with the X-Ray Eyes takes the Lovecraftian concept of pushing scientific boundaries, paying the price for knowledge, and seeing (learning) things humans were never meant to, Humanoids takes the Deep Ones having an overwhelming need to spread their seed to human woman and runs with it. This is more than fishdudes looking to get their rocks off, as their cross-species mating instincts are a deep-rooted desire they can’t ignore. And Lord only knows what such offspring would be. Sure, the film is loaded with blood and boobies, two things not found in Lovecraft literature, but the central theme of contaminated bloodlines and beasties from the sea remain intact.

Furthermore, the film isn’t the typical Corman shlocker (Yes, I’m looking at you, Attack of the Crab Monsters, among others). The humanoids look pretty darn cool, thanks in large part to makeup master Rob Bottin (The Thing, Total Recall, Robocop), who came in and lent an uncredited hand in their design. These fishy folk walk the fine line between being cheesy and badass and are quite possibly the best-looking Deep One analog from any movie to date. When you stop to consider that this film was made in 1980, that’s not only impressive, but pretty darn sad that no one has yet to do it better in thirty-plus years. If that’s not enough talent for you then keep your ears open for the music, provided by James Horner, who would one day soar high above his humble Corman beginnings by scoring movies like Titanic and Avatar. The direction is competent but not particularly noteworthy. The acting is vintage horror movie, which is to say, a mix of earnest hamminess that I love to death. Lastly, the whole film looks more 80s than Max Headroom playing with a Rubik’s Cube while listening to Flock of Seagulls and drinking a can of New Coke. Once again, that’s a big win in my book, but then, I’m old and curmudgeonly.

There’s a nice subplot in the movie about the nearby Native Americans and the white townspeople disagreeing about if their town needs a big fishing cannery being built in it, but really, does anyone watch a Corman production for the subplots? No, you go to watch a groovy flick packed with gore and naughty nudie bits. Well, this movie not only delivers that, but it dares to go beyond the call of duty and do things that filmmakers just wouldn’t do these days. And I’m not even talking about the gratuitous fishman-raping-women scenes (Yeah, there’s that). No, I mean this movie kills little kids and dogs! Now, in real life, I’m not an advocate for either. No, don’t look at me like that. Honestly, I’m not. However, if the story calls for it, especially in a horror story/movie, then you’d better have the guts to do it. Yet, every time I watch a modern American horror flick and they put either pets or children in jeopardy (in an attempt to ratchet up the fear factor), I only yawn because I know for a fact that Hollywood is so afraid of offending anyone that there’s no way any harm will befall the little critters. Well, Humanoids from the Deep says, screw all that. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, there were no PC Police ready to pounce on movies for the slightest infraction of the “Everyone’s Guide to Good Morality” playbook. So, to see a return to that is damn refreshing these days. But if you’re looking for a more serious reason why I applaud the filmmakers for doing this, then how about this: by having the monsters eat a kid at the start of the movie, the next time the humanoids menace a little girl, you wonder if she’s going to be all right or if she will soon become fish food. You actually feel a sense of unease, and perhaps even fear, at the scene. You know that these monsters aren’t playing by the rules. I mean, doing exactly that worked for Jaws, right? Hey, “serious” fright filmmakers, are you paying attention?

Sure, the culprit behind these fish people is science, and not eldritch races from before the dawn of time. Yes, the ending of the movie is a bit too happy to get the HPL nod of approval. And those not so enamoured with 80s horror, bloody killings, naked ladies, and googly-eyed monsters as I am may not love this film as much as yours truly. I freely admit all that. However, I still believe that this is a fun fright flick that falls into the category of “They just don’t make ’em like that, anymore.” It is one of my favourite, late-night, popcorn-munching indulgences that always puts a smile on my face. There isn’t much higher praise I can give a movie than that.

Final Verdict: Humanoids from the Deep does a good job of taking what Lovecraft started in “Shadow Over Innsmouth” and making that its own, while placing things in a modern (at the time) setting. Other than that, there’s not much HPL goodness to be found here. So, no matter how much I love this film, I can’t say that it’s very Lovecraftian. That said, I still think it is as Lovecraftian as X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Who are you going to believe – me or Stephen King? Okay, forget I said that. Lovecraftian or not, if you’re looking for a tasty slice of 80s monster movie goodness, then you can’t do much better than Humanoids from the Deep.

You can find Humanoids from the Deep on