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.