Although released separately, the two latest releases in the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line make a great double feature: 1978’s “Piranha” and 1980’s “Humanoids from the Deep.” Both involve killer creatures in the water; both harken to the days of using rubber props and creative ingenuity to build suspense and scares; both hold up pretty darn well.
“Pirahna” makes no bones about ripping off Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” but that it also riffs off that blockbuster is what made it stand out amongst a crowded field of wannabes. It’s the humor, stupid, that keeps this horror cheapie’s head above water.
Drunk Grizzly Adams type Paul (Bradford Dillman) and skip tracer Maggie (Heather Menzies) team up to save the water-sports populace from being nibbled to smithereens by mutant Vietnamese piranha they accidentally let loose from a secret government facility. That they essentially fail keeps the final two-thirds moving as fast as the fish, as the little boogers bite fishermen, summer campers and visitors to a newly opened water park into so much pulled pork.
Trading satire for tons more bared breasts, “Humanoids” — presented here uncut for the first time — has fisherman Jim (Doug McClure) and visiting scientist Susan (Ann Turkel) take to the sandy beaches to get the skinny behind all the unexplained slaughtering going on in the small, seafood-dependent town. The answer: scaly, two-legged fishmen with teeth aplenty and a horny desire to impregnate the local ladies.
It’s that last bit that gave “Humanoids” word-of-mouth buzz from the get-go, and while those scenes certainly are exploitative, they’re tame compared to the controversy they sparked (much like a similar scenario in Corman’s “Galaxy of Terror“). So it’s tasteless — that’s why these Corman films continue to be celebrated, because no one cranked ’em out quite like his New World Pictures and did it with comparative class.
As with the others in the line, Shout! Factory deserves all the commendation coming its way for packaging these collectors’ editions, and going out of their way to ensure extra features that are something special. For “Piranha,” that includes a cool lenticular slipcase, a blooper reel and a rather lengthy documentary that explains just how clever director Joe Dante and his crew had to get to pull off the piranha effects. For “Humanoids,” the cherry on the sundae is the extra scenes discovered in the MGM vault, with even more gratuitous nudity!
No wonder Roger was honored with a lifetime Oscar earlier this year. —Rod Lott