10/5/2018 – Barbara Peeters: Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
Directed by Barbara Peeters
In the nine years that passed between the release of The Velvet Vampire and that of today’s movie, the pickings for female directed horror films were slim. 1973’s Messiah of Evil directed by the married couple of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, best-known for writing American Graffiti, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Howard the Duck (which was also directed by Huyck), and 1978’s The Mafu Cage from Karen Arthur (an acclaimed television director) represent the best known examples you’re going to find. There’s also 1972’s Blood Sabbath which was helmed by Brianne Murphy, who would go on to become the first female director of photography on a major studio film when she did the cinematography for the 1980 Anne Bancroft-directed Fatso.
Information on Barbara Peeters is far scarcer than it was on our last subject, Stephanie Rothman. After taking a number of jobs in the industry including co-writing and starring in the exploitation film Caged Desires, Peeters was handed the reigns in 1970 on an X-rated softcore sex film which she centered around a lesbian relationship called The Dark Side of Tomorrow. She was then hired by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, the same company that employed Rothman, doing various tasks including working as a production manager, handling second unit direction and art direction, and helming her own titles. Her first was the biker film (and the first directed by a woman) Bury Me an Angel in 1971. Summer School Teachers and Starhops (the last film written by Stephanie Rothman) followed, but her final film as a director would be her most famous.
Fighting melanoma and dealing with a script no one wanted (including Joe Dante), Humanoids from the Deep, faced an uphill battle. After turning in the film, Corman was dissatisfied with the product and specifically that there wasn’t enough rape in it. As a result, he took the film away from her and had the second unit director James Sbardellati (who would go on to direct the first Deathstalker movie) add the rape scenes he felt the movie so desperately needed. Other sections of the film were also shot by the director of Battle Beyond the Stars, Jimmy T. Murakami, but it’s unclear when this was done. Peeters and Ann Turkel (the female lead) asked to have their names removed from the credits, but their request was denied, and she left the company. Since then she’s worked for a while in TV and on a (best I can tell unreleased) documentary, but that’s all.
After a group of poor fishermen catch something decidedly unfishlike in their net, a boy is knocked into the water and killed, blood artfully floating to the surface before the boat is accidentally blown up. From here the focus switches to that of a fisherman seeking to modernize the area and who witnessed the boat explode played by Doug McClure (you may remember him from such films as The Land That Time Forgot and The People That Time Forgot). His dog goes to investigate the creatures and is murdered in the night, reduced to a giant mass of chunky meat that doesn’t even resemble something vaguely dog-like. More upsetting is all the other dead dogs in the movie after.
As for the added in rape scenes, it is incredibly obvious that they were shot by someone else as they don’t seem to match the look, the tone, or even fit logically with the rest of the scene. They are very quick, but completely gratuitous and I can’t imagine how there’s any actual appeal to those scenes. Men in this movie overall tend to either be lecherous pervs trying to have sex with women (who are usually doing their level best to brush them off) or assholes making the monsters, who drag off the women after they rape them more thematically appropriate. There’s also a seduction scene involving ventriloquy which is inexplicable.
The humanoid monsters created by future Oscar winning legend Rob Bottin (The Thing, RoboCop, Total Recall) are ugly motherfuckers with giant brains, what looks like moss hanging off them, and goofy oversized arms. It’s a design whose success is mixed to me, clearly of high production quality, having a classic ’50s-’60s B-movie feel, and a number of shots where they look great, but they also come across as a bit too busy and those arms reminded me a bit too much of Green Wing.
The plot is very standard if you’ve seen any natural horror movie from the ’70s, namely fellow Corman production Piranha and Jaws. There’s the talk of conducting research on salmon to make them grow bigger for the past seven years which leads to some incredibly soft science even for the genre and we get the requisite Jaws-style obstructive bureaucrats and big town festival to go along with conflict over an impending canning facility. It’s not all that great. The highlight comes in the form of the moments of horror. For once the quick cuts in the attacks, something that normally bothers me in horror films, feels well-handled here. Probably because it is still obvious what is going on and because Peeters isn’t completely reliant on them. The film also features the first score from the late James Horner and while I didn’t notice it most of the time, it tended to crop up in the action scenes and the mixing for it could get to be a bit much at times.
Considering the behind the scenes issues, it’s hard to tell how much of Peeters’s vision was left in the movie by the end. There’s a B-movie charm to it with some fun gore, but I didn’t think it was enough to make it stand out.
Bonus Episode #10 – A – 1980s: Q (1982)
Directed by Larry Cohen
Also known as Q: The Winged Serpent, Q has been one of my top films to get to for a long while now. A part of it is certainly in the both the genre being an ’80s (one of the few things the decade did well was horror especially goofy horror) giant monster movie and the interesting premise. I can’t deny though, that a significant part of my interest however came from Roger Ebert’s (somewhat negative) review of the film. I read Ebert for a number of years growing up, but like many horror fans, it was a complicated appreciation as his analysis of those films often fell short of what I’d expect from the rest of his work. Whether he intended to or not though, his descriptions of the film’s supposed negative attributes which detracted from the parts he did like, actually made me want to see it more and it’s always stuck with me for some reason (and not because someone uttered the line “Rex Reed was right” with a straight face).
The Q of the title is Quetzalcoatl, a feathered, flying serpent of Aztec mythology. The film wastes no time before Q (I hope this confuses plenty of Star Trek fans) makes her appearance felt as a window washer’s head loses his head on a skyscraper in NYC and there is no sign of it or evidence to what caused it. David Carradine and Richard Roundtree are detectives investigating the spate of mysterious killings which can eventually be directly tied to Q as well as investigating a serial killer gruesomely flaying and ripping the hearts out of people. Carradine especially facing resistance to his idea that there’s a connection between the two plots.
The main focus however is on Michael Moriarty as a boozing pianist, small-time crook, and wife-beater. The focus of Reed and Ebert’s praise is quick to blame others for all his misdeeds and feels like he is owed something for all he’s been through. The way he just bubbles with energy and play off everyone, namely the laid back Carradine is excellent. After a diamond heist goes sideways, he flees up the Chrysler Building and at the top he discovers a picked apart skeleton and the nest, complete with egg, of our feathered friend. It’s the answer to all his many problems and the film’s bold in the way they aren’t afraid to make him pretty unsympathetic.
The film’s namesake is a bit coyer with her screen time. We get our first sighting early on and the detail of the dripping blood on the New Yorkers below is one that I wish more movies would do. I also loved the shot of the shadow of Q on the various buildings, giving us both a perfect tease and just for looking great. That’s not to say I didn’t want more shots of the stop motion Quetzalcoatl whose design is a wonderful throwback to classic stop motion creations, but I wasn’t left too disappointed with what we got. The main crux of the film is that New Yorkers wouldn’t notice a giant mythical creature living above the city since it takes an awful lot of killings for it to be observed. But as the joke goes, “How do you spot a tourist?” “They’re looking up”.
Next up: We head to Iceland, a nation which I’ve been trying to get a hold of one of their films since 2015, for the 2017 film I Remember You.