Anglers from the fishing village of Noyo, California catch what appears to be a monster. The young son of one of the anglers falls into the water and something unseen drags him under the surface. Another angler prepares a flare gun but he slips and accidentally fires it into the deck, which is soaked with gasoline dropped earlier by the boy. The vessel bursts into flames and explodes; everybody aboard is killed. Jim Hill (McClure) and his wife Carol witness the explosion. Later, Jim and Carol’s dog goes missing and the pair finds its dismembered corpse on the nearby beach.
The following day, teenagers Jerry Potter (Meegan King) and Peggy Larson (Lynn Schiller) go for a swim at the beach. Jerry is abruptly pulled under the water. Peggy believes it is a prank until she discovers his mutilated corpse. Peggy screams and tries to reach the beach but a monstrous figure drags her across the sand. The humanoid creature tears off her bikini and rapes her.
That night, two more teenagers are camping on the same beach. Billy (David Strassman) is about to have sex with his girlfriend, Becky (Lisa Glaser) when another humanoid monster claws its way inside, kills him and chases Becky onto the beach. She outruns her assailant but then runs into the arms of yet another monster, which throws her to the sand and rapes her. More attacks follow; not all of them successful, but few witnesses survive to tell the public about the incidents; only Peggy is found alive, though severely traumatized. Jim’s brother is also attacked, prompting Jim to take a personal interest in the matter.
A company called Canco has announced plans to build a huge cannery near Noyo. The murderous, sex-hungry mutations are apparently the result of Canco’s experiments with a growth hormone they had earlier administered to salmon. The salmon escaped from Canco’s laboratory into the ocean during a storm and were eaten by large fish that then mutated into the brutal, depraved humanoids that have begun to terrorize the village.
By the time Jim and Canco scientist Dr. Susan Drake (Turkel) have deduced what is occurring, the village’s annual festival has begun. At the festival, many humanoids appear, murdering the men and raping every woman they can grab. Jim devises a plan to stop the humanoids by pumping gasoline into the bay and setting it on fire, cutting off the humanoids’ way of retreat. Meanwhile, Carol is attacked at home by two of the creatures, but manages to kill them before Jim arrives.
The morning after the festival, normality seems to have returned to the village. Jim asks the sheriff about Dr. Drake. The sheriff mumbles that she went back to the lab, where she is coaching a pregnant Peggy, who has survived her sexual assault. Peggy is about to give birth when her monstrous offspring bursts from her womb, with Peggy screaming at the screeching baby.
The 1980 release from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures has become infamous (and popular) for its mutant/beach bunny interaction and its shocking climactic variation on Alien’s chestburster. And amazingly enough, the notorious feature was directed by a woman! Although she has done many movies, Barbara Peeters knows what her legacy is. “I’m the mother of the Humanoids from the Deep,” she laughs. “No matter what I do, that damn movie haunts my ass!”
The Iowa-born Peeters is a founding mother of the modern B-movie. While women were denied directing gigs at major studios, the dynamic Peeters was helming drive-in fare with feminist messages. Before Humanoids from the Deep, she did the girlbiker flick Bury Me an Angel (1972) and the sex comedies Summer School Teachers (1975). “It didn’t matter if it was a prison, biker or horror flick, because I would always manage to get my thinking in somewhere, even if it was just a comment,” she recalls. “When I did Humanoids, though, I was not a horror fan. I literally did it because I needed a job. As a kid, I thought Creature from the Black Lagoon was the scariest movie ever made. I looked at it before I started, and used whatever worked!”
Peeters recalls that she came onto Humanoids late; all of Corman’s boys turned it down, even Joe Dante and Roger finally offered it to me. Of course, I took it. After all, how many girl directors got offered a movie in those days?” She also faced a personal crisis: “I had been diagnosed with cancer, so it was important I show the industry I could still work.
“It was a rough shoot,” she continues. “I believe that’s why the guys turned it down! No sleep, shooting all night on water. I worked in a wetsuit, which is funny because I can’t swim. We put the camera on a barge, got our wide shots. When it was time to shoot close-ups, the tide came in! It was a constant battle with the elements; the water was so choppy, we gave $5 to the first person to throw up. We found the location in June: Fort Bragg. When we went back to shoot, it was Thanksgiving, so the girls froze! I walked into ocean blowholes to find caves for our monsters.”
“I remember freezing,” says Turkel. “If you look at the boat scenes, I’m wearing a swimsuit while Doug’s in a sweater. I loved doing the monster autopsy, because I got to wear a nice warm lab coat!”
Actress/model Turkel had previously appeared in films like 1977’s thriller The Cassandra Crossing and the 1979 sci-fi actioner Ravagers (1979), while McClure was a ’50s cowboy star who had starred in ’70s cheese such as At the Earth’s Core, The Land That Time Forgot and Warlords of Atlantis. He once claimed Humanoids had a different title when he agreed to star in it.
“That’s true,” Turkel says. “When I got the script, it was called Beneath the Darkness, an interesting horror-thriller like Alien. Imagine how I felt when they changed it! Friends teased me when TV ads announced ‘Humanoids from the Deep, starring Ann Turkel!’”
As for veteran actor Morrow, “I loved him,” Peeters says. “I admired him in The Blackboard Jungle. His daughter visited during the shoot and hung out on set. Nice family; he died two years later. But we knew from the shoot that Vic was the clumsiest man on two feet. He never did his own stunts; Vic couldn’t walk and chew gum—he was the first one to tell you that. He really struggled in our fight scenes, and Doug McClure got Vic through those. Doug was a stuntman who could do anything; we choreographed our parking-lot brawl around him. We kept Vic in back, although he got to kick a guy in the stomach—he liked that!”
McClure, however, “was a funny drunk,” Peeters fondly recalls. “We had to ration his booze through the day. I had a PA keep an eye on him. We had to let him have a beer every couple of hours, because he was an alcoholic, and Vic was right there with him! Vic got cranky on booze and Doug got cranky sober, so we had to monitor them and make sure one got enough and neither got too much.”
Turkel “was nice,” Peeters says. “We probably should have done a nude scene with Ann-she was gorgeous! She was a Ford model in New York before she became an actress and married Richard Harris. She looked great in a swimsuit, too.” And the actress soldiered on through Humanoids even as she was going through an upsetting drama in real life. “Richard told Ann he was divorcing her right in the middle of filming. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that,” Peeters says sarcastically. “God bless her; Annie fell apart for 24 hours and then pulled herself together and did it. We were very tight; she’s a sweet girl.”
“That was difficult,” Turkel admits, “but I wasn’t gonna let it affect my performance with all Barbara was going through, I wanted to help her as much as I could.”
The mutant fishmen show a complete lack of political correctness throughout Humanoids. Besides reckless sexual behavior, they also bump off children and dogs! “I didn’t mind killing the kid, murdering men and raping women, but I couldn’t bear to see dogs dead,” Peeters says cheerfully. “I left the set when the dogs were lying on the dock. They weren’t really dead, of course, but as a dog lover, I couldn’t bear to see them like that.”
The Humanoids are impressive brutes, equal parts Alien and ’50s critters like The Gill Man. With their exposed brains, mouths full of serrated teeth and nubby tails, they’re truly disturbing, resembling H.P. Lovecraft’s Deep Ones and sharing their lust for human women.
“On set, we called them ‘Noids,’” Peeters reveals. “When I read the script, I got to the part where it said, ‘Thousands and thousands of Humanoids emerge from the ocean…’ I asked Roger, ‘How are you planning on doing that?’ and he said ‘That’s your job!’ I believe we had two full bodied Humanoids, and the others were parts. I would hide how few we had with a flash of an arm, with one really close-up and another running way in the background. Sometimes I used mirrors! For the finale, I had Humanoids on a merry-go-round with mirrors, so I had the same one run back and forth in front of it. That meant you would see him in the foreground, but also see his reflection and think you were seeing two. We used pieces to create a third and another half in frame choking someone, so you got the sense that there was an army of Humanoids. It was a mathematical problem; I felt like Jesus with the loaves and fishes.
“Those monsters were invented by Rob Bottin, who we called “Robin’ back then,” the director recalls of the artist who would soon break out with his landmark work on The Howling and The Thing. “Robin was still a young boy
very serious about his monsters! Everything with him was dramatic and passionate. He broke down crying one day, I don’t remember why, but I thought, “Oh my God!’ It reminded me how young he was. Rob had a great team of guys, talented and hard-working. [Stuntman] Diamond Farnsworth was my ‘Noid who took the most abuse; he was terrific. I loved my ‘Noids.”
“I actually played a Humanoid,” Bottin laughs. “Several of my guys did also. I had the crew come to my place in El Monte, rather than go all the way down to Corman’s studio in Venice about 40 miles away, so we could do an effect in my garage. I thought I was smart, but I didn’t realize that while I was showing them the gag in my garage, Roger had them move my furniture onto the front lawn to shoot a scene in my living room!” As for working in the Pacific in a bulky Humanoid suit, “I kept telling the crew to be on the lookout for a hapless drowning whale-it would have to be me!”
Fellow Humanoid Steve Johnson, who also went on to an illustrious FX career, remembers that being an undersea mutant was no picnic. “Those suits were impossible to get into and out of,” he says. “Once you put on that costume, you were in it for the night. As a Humanoid, you had a tail made up of a series of hinges, so you could not sit down because that tail was incredibly uncomfortable. They also had extended arms, made by Chris Walas. We covered them with hemp fiber as seaweed, to hide the foam and joints, because nothing was finished! We were shooting all night, and making stuff up as we shot.
“Barbara Peeters thought I was the best Humanoid when it came to taking hits,” Johnson proudly continues. “Any time a Humanoid was shot, that was usually me all squibbed up. I raped one of the girls and doubled a male victim after he was mauled, because he didn’t want to wear all the prosthetics when his face is ripped off.” “Steve was great—a hardworking Humanoid, bless his heart,” Peeters adds.
“I had two great joys making the film,” Johnson says. “In one, a Humanoid gets a crowbar in the brain. Since I made the head, I said I would do it, because everyone else was afraid to; we had one head, so it had to be one take. I was nervous, but I knew where and how hard to hit it.
“Then I saw the funniest thing I have seen in my entire career: Bottin, in full Humanoid suit, with those ridiculously long arm extensions. Once you were suited up, you couldn’t even stand without help! With his tail on, he couldn’t sit, and he had those extensions he couldn’t take off, so he could not do anything with his hands—and they wouldn’t get to the shot. That always happens on movie sets, but he had been suited up for three hours as we filmed on a dock.
“Finally, Rob just blew up-screaming and yelling at the entire production team while wearing this Humanoid suit!” Johnson laughs. “He was gesturing with these big arms, wearing the monster head-it was the funniest thing I have ever seen.”
Also part of the Humanoids monster crew was Kenny Myers, “I was a makeup artist for Rob, but I did a bit of everything, including taking care of the guys in the suits,” he recalls. “I think my name is misspelled in the credits! I helped sew together the original Humanoid suit, which took eight hours, and we actually sewed the guy into the outfit, because the pieces hadn’t been assembled yet. Shawn McEnroe and I sewed all these rubber pieces on by hand.
“Rob, Steve and their crew had just finished Tanya’s Island, and were completely burned out,” Myers continues. “The guys were walking zombies, so Rob brought me in for fresh blood. We never got a Humanoids script, so we never knew what was coming at us until the day before. Things like the dead dog on the beach? We literally threw clay onto a board and sculpted it! We used foam and hair to make that dog; almost everything was done in a day.”
Interview with Roger Corman
How did Humanoids from the Deep come about?
Roger Corman: Much like with Piranha, someone had brought me the screenplay for Humanoids- I can’t remember who—and I had it rewritten and we made it simply because I liked the story. It was unusual, actually, that both pictures came from outside sources, because more often than not, all the ideas for our films came from me.
Humanoids is full of sex, nudity and sexual violence. Having a woman Barbara Peeters, direct it was unusual. Did you hire a woman because the subject matter was potentially volatile?
Roger Corman: No, I brought Barbara on board because she was a good director.
Did you tangle with the ratings board at all with this film?
Roger Corman: On Humanoids, we stayed within the boundaries of the R rating, and had no problem getting it. If I remember correctly, we had to cut very little, if any. thing. When I talked to Barbara about the movie PIRANHA initially, I told her that the premise was very simple: the Humanoids rape the women and they kill the men. And she said, “OK, got it,’ and that’s what she did!
Being a Humanoid victim was not easy, according to actor Greg Travis, who plays KFISH DJ Mike Michaels at the film’s end. “It was my first movie I was 19, and a Humanoid rips my chest off,” says Travis. “I’m with my girl sidekick, Miss Salmon (Linda Shayne), as the monsters attack. I’m caught between a Humanoid and Miss Salmon, so he kills me. They put a prosthetic across my chest, so when he claws me, my chest falls off, blood squirts and I spasm.
“The monsters were creepy, though they were never quite as scary up close as they are on film because of lighting,” Travis notes. “Linda was uptight because she had to get topless. I was gonna do a hand move pretending to touch her chest like a dial, but she got bent out of shape and wouldn’t do it. I did get to put a K-FISH sticker on a girl’s butt, though.”
The actor recalls that a good deal of improv went into the experience: “There was a DJ in the script, but I ad-libbed most of my dialogue. As I was a stand-up comic, they liked what I did. My roommate David Strassman was also in it, with his dummy, Chuck Wood. He’s the ventriloquist with the girl. He plays Vegas now. We always laugh about being killed by Humanoids from the Deep!
“We did pickup shots all night in Malibu,” he continues. “I bought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on my way down. The crew laughed at me: “You don’t need that; we have craft services bringing a big dinner!’ But their truck couldn’t find the location, so my chicken was all they had.
They loved me, man. Especially Rob Bottin, he and I ate KFC all night.” In the midst of the mayhem, Peeters includes a disturbing moment where a Humanoid pulls a little girl away for mating purposes. “I liked that because it was unsettling,” she says. “There’s another shot of people screaming and running around a crying baby. I got that from Sam Peckinpah, who said, ‘You don’t realize you’re in danger until you see children in danger.'”
Her favorite scene, however, “is when McClure’s wife, played by Cindy Weintraub, is home alone with their baby. You see a shadow on the wall as Humanoids attack. You can never get a baby to cry on cue, but he started screaming on his own. I thought that sequence was scary, as the monster hand comes through the door. You go ‘Oh shit!’ as Cindy grabs the knife. That low angle of the hand really worked. We also did a cool close-up across the room-you see the fire and a slow pan across the Fisher Stereo to Cindy. We included that shot because Fisher said if I did it, I could have the unit. I always loved freebies!”
In Humanoids’ crowd-pleasing climax, Dr. Drake discovers that Humanoid rape victim Peggy (Lynn Theel) is pregnant. She suddenly realizes this isn’t a normal pregnancy (first clue: Peggy got pregnant in a day!), and the poor girl’s stomach explodes as she gives birth to a baby creature. “We shot the monster birth at a community hospital in Fort Bragg,” Peeters recalls.
“Rob made it all happen; it was an elaborate scene he pulled off. One guy pumped blood while another Kenny—was under the table pushing the baby through; it was hilarious. Annie saying, ‘Push, dear, push!’ to get the little Humanoid out was like a Saturday Night Live sketch.”
“Oh, that was so funny,” Turkel adds. “Here I am, a scientist, and all I do to help is say, ‘Push, Peggy, push!’ It was a very messy scene, too.”
“That monster baby is one of my all-time favorites,” Myers says. “I was under the table, Lynn was pregnant on it and this is where it got insane. I had this pregnant appliance on her, and I was between her legs with a pump, making her belly jump. Lynn started giggling-Kenny? You’re tickling my thighs!’ My head bobbed up between her legs, the most obscene-looking thing you’ve ever seen. Nobody could stop laughing during this dramatic scene! Lynn had the hotel room across from us effects guys, and was a doll. A Playboy Playmate, nicest girl you’d ever meet; even sang me ‘Happy Birthday,’ ” Myers says fondly.
“Oh, Lynn was a trouper,” Peeters says. “I felt bad, because we put her through a lot. In the scene where we find her in the kelp bed, Lynn turned blue from hypothermia! The ‘Noids went into freezing water with wetsuits underneath, but poor Lynn was just in a bikini, dying out there.”
Peeters wasn’t responsible for the film’s worst moments of misogynist monster mayhem. After Humanoids wrapped, Corman had Battle Beyond the Stars director Jimmy T. Murakami punch up the sex and violence. “Roger put in a couple of nude-women scenes to spark up the movie,” Peeters explains. “He added the Salmon Queen being ravaged to the ending we shot, the tent attack and the rape of Peggy on the beach-shot on a dark and grainy film stock that didn’t match ours. When Peggy’s attacked, I only shot her screaming, with her hands clawing the sand as the Humanoid drags her away. You saw the monster’s hand on her leg, that’s it—you didn’t see anything else because it was too early! You don’t know what happened to her. Later, in the ‘Noids’ nest, you find her naked in the kelp bed and think, ‘Oh my God-at least she’s alive!’ I don’t really think we needed the shot of the Humanoid humping her, though I have no problem with nudity; I just thought it took the terror out and changed the whole tone.
“Roger decided to have ‘one of the boys’ do those scenes,” she continues. “When Ann and I went to the screening, we saw them for the first time, with no idea they had been added. I was furious, because I had put in so much energy and went through hell to make the film. Seeing this stuff, with no attempt to integrate it? Ugh! It pissed Ann off, and she was much more vocal about it than me.”
“I really was,” Turkel says. “That’s why I went public, it wasn’t the film I made. I did it because Richard (Harris) pointed out to me that Peter O’Toole had the same thing happen with Caligula, when they added [pornographic] stuff after he shot his scenes. I complained to SAG and People magazine.”
For her part, Peeters “wanted my name taken off, because it wasn’t the movie I made—and they misspelled my name on half the posters anyway! I appeared in the LA Times disowning Humanoids as it opened.” She adds that, as in her previous features, she had hoped to imbue Humanoids with a feminist message. “That’s what Ann and I were making: a horror movie from a feminine point of view. We felt we could make a scary film based on man’s obsessive desire to f**k with nature, the feminine side. The Humanoids were payback for corporate greed—it’s always the young, the old and the women who pay these bills. We did it within the horror formula. That’s the movie we made, then we saw what the boys did to it; the crass puppet and big-tittied Salmon Queen were creations of pimply dorks jacking off to a trite, worn-around-the-edges dick fantasy. That’s not what Ann or I wanted our names on. If there’s any message in Humanoids, it’s feminine survival in a male-dominated world; it ain’t easy out here, baby!”
Peeters recovered from cancer to become a respected director. “I now run Platinum Productions; I want to make films for senior citizens, an ignored market,” she says. “I’m working on mature comedies where I want everyone on the crew to be 50 and older, including the leads.” She caught Humanoids on TV recently, “and you know what? It’s a fun little thing,” Peeters says. “Overseas, it was called Monster, like the Charlize Theron movie. I laugh every time somebody says, ‘Monster won the Oscar’!”
Jimmy T. Murakami (uncredited)
Martin B. Cohen
Roger Corman (executive)
Story by Frank Arnold
Martin B. Cohen
Doug McClure as Jim Hill
Ann Turkel as Dr. Susan Drake
Vic Morrow as Hank Slattery
Cindy Weintraub as Carol Hill
Anthony Pena as Johnny Eagle
Denise Galik as Linda Beale
Lynn Schiller as Peggy Larson
Meegan King as Jerry Potter
Breck Costin as Tommy Hill
Rob Bottin … humanoids creator & designer
Roger George … special effects
Chris Walas … special effects
Karoly Balazs … makeup artist: second unit (as Charles T. Balazs)
Steve Johnson … special makeup effects assistant
Marla Manalis … hair stylist / makeup artist
Shawn McEnroe … special makeup effects assistant
Kenny Myers … special makeup effects assistant (as Ken Myers)
Margaret Prentice … special effects makeup (uncredited)