Catching up with the writer of Humanoids from the Deep, 31 years later.

Humanoids from the Deep

Below the surface of Humanoids from the Deep, there’s much more going on than a coastal town being menaced by fish monsters. The story plays out against a backdrop of racial unrest, with white fisherman and Native Americans clashing over the opening of a new cannery.

It’s plain to see is that Humanoids from the Deep has more on its mind than your typical monster movie, not surprising, since the script was written by an award-winning novelist.

William Martin, who wrote Humanoids under the pseudonym Frederick James, is the acclaimed author of nine novels, including Back Bay, Harvard Yard, and his latest, City of Dreams.

“A real idea behind the whole thing,” Martin explains “is that when bad things happen that we cannot explain, we usually try to find a scapegoat to blame, which is what the community is doing with the Indians when the whole underpinning of humanoid attack is happening. It’s about community fear.”

Martin moved to LA and studied film at USC with the intent of becoming a screenwriter, but in his decades spanning career, he has written only one produced screenplay. So how does this successful novelist feel about his one and only foray into Hollywood monster movies?

“Working with Roger was educational.” The author said. “The Roger Corman College of Movie Knowledge, they used to call it.”

“At the time I was writing historical scripts, historical dramas and Westerns that nobody wanted to produce, and Roger gave me a shot with Humanoids. Some of the things I learned from Roger I didn’t learn at USC Film School.”

As an example, Martin related this anecdote: “I was working on the climax of the film, where Doug McClure pours a 500 gallon drum of Gasoline into the harbor and sets it off with a flair gun, Roger said to me ‘I like explosions, the audience likes explosions, remember this for the rest of your career: When in doubt, blow something up.’”

“In essence,” Martin explains, “introduce conflict. As long as somebody wants something in some way, the audience will stay with the story.  Roger later told me the same thing in a different way, he quoted Raymond Chandler who said: When you run out of ideas, bring in a man with a gun.”

So how did writing Humanoids affect the way Martin wrote his novels? “I learned some more about what story telling is all about and how to lay one scene after another so the viewer knows what it’s all about, and that’s really what writing a novel is all about.”

When asked about the movie’s most infamous scene, where a seemingly supernatural ventriloquist dummy looks on as the humanoids claim another victim, Martin claims he had nothing to do with it.  “In fact, I stood outside the theater and told people they couldn’t blame me for that one” he says with a laugh. “I think Roger added that later, to introduce some humor into the movie.”

True, not everyone who works with Roger Corman goes on to be successful in the movie business, but many go on be successful in other fields. Evidently the so-called College of Movie Knowledge teaches lessons with a high applicability.

Both the 1980 version of Humanoids from the Deep and its 1996 remake are available on DVD. The 1980 version is also available on Blu-Ray.

Ray Milland: Actor Extraordinaire

In the annuls of Hollywood history, there is only a handful of people who could at some point in their careers be considered a true ‘star.’ More often than not, these individuals possess an indefinable quality—mystical and rare—that draws them towards some sort of public image.  The masses will flock to the theaters, to the premiers, to their televisions, and even to the magazine stands in order get a glimpse—no matter how small—into the lives and personas of the stars that they admire.

One such movie star was Ray Milland.

 

A Welshman, born in Neath, Wales on January 3rd, 1905, Reginald Alfred John Truscott-Jones had no aspirations to become an actor in his younger years.  He was notably agile in his youth and spent his time becoming an expert Equestrian on his uncle’s horse breading estate.  While serving a 19-month term in the Household Calvary for the British Royal Family in 1926, he would become an expert marksman, winning the Bisley Match.  However, having been cut off financially from his family, he was forced to seek other forms of income.  Thus, he would begin acting on the London stage.

The name ‘Ray Milland,’ was a stage name; ‘Milland’ being a reference to the place where Milland had grown-up.  At lunch with then-popular actress Estelle Brody in 1929, the producer of her latest film convinced Milland that he needed to be in pictures. In 1932, he was briefly signed with MGM and moved to Hollywood to play in supporting roles opposite actors such as  James Cagney in  Blonde Crazy and Charles Laughton in Payment DeferredHowever, this was short lived, and Milland would return to London after only one year.  As fate would have it, Milland was signed by Paramount in 1934 and would remain there for many years to build an illustrious career.  He appeared in a number of films, most notably in classics such as William A. Wellman’s Beau Geste, Cecil B. Demille’s Reap the Wild Wind, and Billy Wilder’s The Major and the Minor.  In 1946, Milland would achieve the type of success that every actor dreams of; he won the Best Actor Prize at the Cannes Film Festival as well as the Oscar® for his portrayal of the heavy alcoholic in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, a performance considered by many to be one of the best ever put to celluloid.

Ray Milland as alcoholic Don Birnham in Billy Wilder’s ‘The Lost Weekend’ (1945).
 

In the subsequent years, after the studios had disbanded, Milland would go on to play in a number of memorable TV shows, such as Markham, and films such as Love Story and Elia Kazan’s The Last Tycoon.  In 1963, Milland was cast by Roger Corman as an obsessive doctor and scientist in X: Man with the X-Ray Eyes.  Milland himself often said that the favorite and the best of his performances on screen, seconded only to his performance in the Lost Weekend, was as Dr. James Xavier in X, a compliment that Roger still takes to heart.  Milland continued to make films until his death in 1986, and his legacy still remains in that rarified air of Hollywood iconoclasts. 

Milland is currently the ‘Star of the Month’ on TCM (Turner Classic Movies); check the site’s schedule to catch him in one of his great roles.

Fan Question #2: Roger Corman Acquisitions with International Awards

Roger Corman is known for creating exploitation films throughout much of his career, but few people know that he also acquired and distributed many art films in the 70’s. Many of these films received Academy Award nominations in addition to a slough of International Film Awards. This week’s Fan Question reveals which 5 movies Roger Corman refers to in his book “How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime“.

Cries and Whispers Written and Directed by Ingmar Bergeman

This movie, filmed in Sweden, is about  a young woman dying of cancer at the turn of the century.

Cries and Whispers won an Oscar for best cinematography, but was also nominated for four other academy awards including best director.  In addition to the Academy Awards, Cries and Whispers  won 12 out of 13 additional awards.

Tin Drum Directed by Volker Schlondorff

Tin Drum, set in Germany during WWI and WWII is an intense movie about a young boy’s distaste for adult life in Nazi Germany.

Tin Drum won an Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film in addition to winning 12 out of 13 other film awards.

Breaker Morant Directed by Bruce Beresford

Breaker Morant was filmed in Australia in 1980.

This movie details the experience of military luitenants who  execute their prisoners to deflect attention to the war crimes committed by their superior officers.

Nominated for Best Writing Oscar, Breaker Morant won 12 out of 17 film awards.

 My Uncle from America Directed by Alain Resnais

My Uncle the American is a Psychological drama about the lives of three different people and their mental techniques for survival.

Nominated for Best Writing Oscar, this film also won 8 out of 15 other awards.

 Cabeza De Vaca Co-Written and Directed by Nicholas Echevarria

Cabeza De Vaca is based on the true story of a Spanish explorer in Mexico and his dealings with the local tribes.

Cabeza De Vaca won 2 out of 3 international film awards.

Jack Nicholson: 52 Years after ‘Cry Baby Killer’ stars in ‘How Do You Know’

Jack Nicholson is one of the more well-known actors who got his start with Roger Corman back in the 50’s when films were still shot in black and white. Nicholson starred in a variety of Corman movies, and even wrote The Trip (1967) which was a successful period piece starring Peter Fonda and Susan Strasberg.

Nicholson’s debut screen role was in Cry Baby Killer (1958) in which he played a distraught teenager who thinks he’s committed murder and holds a group hostage. Since then he has won 3 Academy Awards and many other awards too numerous to list.

When asked about his experience with Jack Nicholson, Roger Corman immediately smiles. He might mention his little known film Little Shop of Horrors which he shot in 2 days and 1 night, or he might mention his consternation that it took so long for Hollywood to recognize Nicholson’s talent. Either way, those early years were formative for both men, and the movies they created together may no longer be in the spotlight, but they played an active role in shaping the careers of Corman and Nicholson.

Here is Jack Nicholson in Cry Baby Killer:

And below is the trailer for the original Little Shop of Horrors, which has inspired the famous and classic remake starring Rick Moranis.

From Piranha to Black Swan: Mila Kunis

Roger Corman is known for discovering talent and helping launch the careers of many A-list Hollywood stars. A few have even been child actors like Jennifer Love-Hewitt in Munchie and Home for Christmas or Tobey Magquire in Revenge of the Red Baron. But today’s blog is about Mila Kunis who had a small role in the 1995 TV version of Piranha, a remake of Roger Corman’s original Piranha filmed in 1978, and most recently remade by director Alexandre Aja as Piranha 3D.

Mila has developed into a stunning actress. Her transition from small budget horror flicks to renowned television series and exquisite art films like Black Swan is a remarkable achievement.

Mila Kunis played the role of Susie Grogan who was terrified of swimming in the river.

Ironically, her stage mother assured her that there was nothing in the water except a few little fish.

Tension builds in little Mila’s eyes while the happy campers clutch their marshmallow sticks and listen to ghost stories.

But the child star manages to discard her fear of the river and save the day as the other little campers get munched on by a horde of starving piranhas.

Here is the original trailer for Piranha (1995)