This remake of the original 1980 Humanoids from the Deep takes a big soggy saltwater dump all over the terrible reputation of the original, a wimpy clone completely worse in every way, its only good parts being footage lifted from its mean and nasty progenitor.
Roundly criticized for its grim and humorless attitude, violence and gore, barely explored Native American rights vs. modern industry story, and most especially its explicit rape scenes by people who apparently have no idea what an exploitation or grindhouse movie is, the 1980 version still stands tall as the uncompromising entertaining trash it was designed to be precisely because of all those things. The 1996 version? It’s mainly remembered for the people who were pissed when they bought it thinking it was the original instead.
The trouble starts early when we are introduced to a bunch of obnoxious college pukes who are protesting Canco doing something or other. Not to be outdone, the head of Canco attempts to one up them on the tedious scale by taunting the protesters by pissing in the ocean. I instantly didn’t care about any of these morons and their fake problems and movie style behavior. Where are the adults who were the centerpiece of the original?
Swapping out the Native American angle for the routine and vague “save the environment” is the movie’s first misstep. Johnny Eagle was fighting for his people’s way of life in the original, convinced that a cannery built in his town would ruin the fishing and trample his tribe’s fishing rights while Hank Slattery believed the cannery was the only way to save the town. Jim Hill was caught in the middle between the friend he respected and his belief that the town needed this new business.
Here, no one really cares or has much of a stake in anything. The Canco goon Bill enjoys jerking these activists around for no reason other than he’s a prick and making money. The activists are twerps who only care until college starts again or some other cause strikes their fancy. Nothing says they have any personal stake in all this, making all the yelling and fighting seem like so much bad acting.
It was the mid-90s so the story on how the Humanoids were created reeked of a rejected X-Files episode, a military experiment to create amphibious super soliders using death row inmates and some kind of slamon gene. Canco’s role in all this was purely accidental as the toxic waste they were dumping in the ocean inadvertantly provided the nutrients for the Humanoids to survive. Frog soldiers and the resulting government cover up and military involvement somehow managed to make the original’s idea that prehistoric fish fed on genetically altered salmon and evolved into Humanoids sound almost plausible!
Without a town anyone cares about saving, it falls to that most generic of monster movie cliches to motivate our heroes – rescue the daughter/girlfriend from the clutches of the Humanoids. Wade Parker is some type of Canco employee, but he’s a good guy. We know that because he doesn’t like Bill and because he has a beard, mullet, wears a cowboy hat and previously survived a shark attack.
Wade’s daughter is caught up with these eco dopes and goes missing after their group is attacked by the Humanoids. At first presumed dead, once no female bodies are recovered though, speculation naturally turns to the idea that the Humanoids are keeping all the women for themselves at some type of monster whorehouse. Wade and his daughter’s environmentalist boyfriend (who of course Wade doesn’t like) team up to track the monsters down.
Most of the big action scenes in the film are courtesy of scenes from the original, including an exploding boat, exploding shack and most abysmally, the monsters attacking the carnival. The carnival scenes are particularly bad, the clumsy editing not able to hide the fact that footage shot 16 years apart is being used. If watching our heroes meander through a fun house while there are frequent cutaways to panic on the midway feels like you are watching two different movies, it’s because you are!
The worst part is you get the feeling from the way the story plays out that the carnival scenes are only there because there was free footage to use! Wade and friends only go there because they are hoping to find a monster to plant a tracker so it can lead them to the kidnapped women. Once they get one tagged, they hightail it out of there, completely uninterested in all the monsters still rampaging on the midway!
The way the film uses the Humanoids, dialing back their stalking of pretty girls and murdering the men, changing them from the rampage and rape nightmares they were to creatures that instead of satisfying their desires on the spot, store victims in a slimy hive to perhaps be used off camera and changing the climax from hand-to-webbed-hand combat with the townspeople to just being blown up by the military, strips them and the movie of any creepiness or dread.
The casting also leaves you feeling like one of the creatures had its way with you. The original featured Doug McClure as the hero and Vic Morrow as the bad guy. McClure ably plays a solid and good-hearted blue collar protagonist you can root for while Morrow is a convincingly crabby villain whose motives are only wanting his business to pick up. This version has Robert Carradine as Wade and while he undoubtedly looks completely silly with the beard and mullet and trying to act tough, its the annoyingly nasal voice of Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds you hear coming from Wade’s mouth that ruins every scene he has dialogue in. Nobody knows who plays the villain and its such a one note character, no one cares (his sudden affection for his missing wife at the of the film is beyond unbelievable).
A total seahag of a movie, with its aggressively dumb premise, woeful cast (but be on the lookout for an early appearance by Walton Googins), failed updating of the story that misuses the monsters and sands the ugly edges off the proceedings to presumably make it more palatable for a 1990s cable TV audience (which is absurd since most of us likely saw the original on cable TV in the 1980s and didn’t suffer PTSD) result in a movie that’s far more offensive than the original ever was.
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