"Humanoids" and the Illusion of Diversity
Written by Joseph Martin
TW: mentions of rape, sexual abuse, and victim blaming
Humanoids From the Deep is a 1980 Roger Corman production following in the footsteps of 1950's monster flicks such as The Blob, The Fly, The Thing From Another World, and most notably, Creature From the Black Lagoon, as well as the exploitative slashers of the 1970's beginning with Last House on the Left and continuing into the present day.
Perhaps the most notable thing about the movie, for its genre and era, is the fact that it billed a female director, one Barbara Peeters. But how much control did she really have?
In keeping with the style of the exploitation subgenre, Humanoids From the Deep is full of scenes depicting large, physically powerful, and horrifically ugly monsters taking advantage of dainty (yet large-busted), beautiful, helpless women with wide eyes and loud screams. It's a common theme- from The Hills Have Eyes, whose monsters are a bit too human, to Alien and its many sequels, whose sexual connotations are far more subtextual yet still obvious (though Ridley Scott's Alien is set apart by the presence of Ripley (who was originally meant to be male in Dan O'Bannon's script) as a take-no-shit leader, as well as the fact that the primary victims of the exploitation are men). There are multiple problems in the connotations of this subgenre, which include but are not limited to racism and antisemitism, fetishization of rape, internalized homophobia, and thinly veiled misogyny within the "final girl" trope, all of which I will discuss in detail at a later date.
In a subgenre so rife with violent sexism, one may ask theirself: why would a woman such as Peeters direct a film that plays to these tropes? The answer may be surprising- she didn't.
When Roger Corman approached Barbara Peeters with the script for Humanoids from the Deep, he intentionally left out the graphic rape scenes in the hopes she would sign the contract. When she signed, Corman went behind her back and hired a second director, Jimmy T. Murakami, who had access to the full uncensored script. Murakami exclusively directed the rape scenes, which where directed and filmed in secret after Peeters had left the set.
Peeters was left out of the cutting room for fear that she would see Murakami's scenes and decide to either reshoot or walk off the project. In the end, Peeters was not allowed to see the film at all until its first screening at the premiere. She was of course shocked and disgusted by the graphic nature of the film, but the damage had already been done- Corman had billed her as the sole director.
In more recent memory, the #MeToo movement and the scandals of predators such as Bill Clinton, Larry Nassar, and Harvey Weinstein have gained national attention- and with that attention, criticism of the victims. Hadn't these women (and sometimes men, in the cases of Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey's victims) agreed to a certain amount of objectification by virtue of their professions?
It should be obvious that a career is not consent, no matter what the career is in. But beyond that, consent cannot be forced or given without clear information about that to which one is consenting. Just as sexual assault victims such as Monica Lewinsky, Simone Biles, and Terry Crews cannot be blamed for the abuse they have faced from those in power, Barbara Peeters cannot be blamed for being a cog in a misogynistic machine whose full design and purpose she was not allowed to know.
Barbara Peeters' involvement in Humanoids from the Deep is not a terribly well known story, as the movie has largely faded into obscurity (I myself only found out about it through an early 2000's Fangoria article about overlooked horror movies). However, her story does beg the question: how many more like her are there? How many marginalized voices have been seemingly brought to the foreground, only to have their ideas bastardized into narratives that suit cishet white men, their names being used as tokens of false diversity? For the sake of these creators, we can only hope the answer is zero. But hope is really all we can have for now.