Thursday, March 14, 2024

Classic TV Flashback: Inhumanoids (1986)


Debut: June 29, 1986
Starring: Michael Bell, William Callaway, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Neil Ross,
Richard Sanders Susan Silo
Synopsis: Earth Corps, a team of scientists/explorers and their nonhuman allies are the surface's only defense against ancient, evil monsters from beneath the Earth.

Trey: Inhumanoids was a Hasbro toy concept developed initially by Marvel's Tom DeFalco, then further refined by Flint Dille. As was common in the 80s, there was an associated animated series to sell the toys by Sunbow. The cartoon began as a series of seven-minute segments on the Super Sunday anthology series, running to 15 installments that were later combined into a movie, which was then in turn split back into five half-hours and coupled with eight brand-new shows to form a complete season of thirteen half-hour episodes. 

The toys sold well, but not as well as Hasbro wanted using the success of G.I. Joe and Transformers as a metric, so it was cancelled. This had the effect of giving the writers of the cartoon a relatively freehand to go in a more horrific direction and more serial rather than episodic in its storytelling. According to Wikipedia: "Visually, the show was distinctive for its application of heavy shadow, use of split screens, and sometimes brow-raising for its graphic content, such as monstrous amputations or writhing deaths by toxic waste, which would be hard-pressed to sneak their way into contemporary 'children's hour' programming."

We watched the first two half-hour episodes.

Jason: I was a teenager when Inhumanoids hit the then-smaller screen, but I still cared about animation (and SF&F subject matter) enough to peek at new things here and there, if only to end up sneering. I peeked at Inhumanoids and sneered contemptuously.  

The monster designs appalled me, and their voice-acted shrieks repelled me before I could even begin to perceive the distinctive qualities that set it apart from other adventure-oriented animated series of its day. Which isn't to say what I witnessed in watching the first two episodes was necessarily good! 

The animation itself was limited, as TV animation almost always was, but the speed of the editing mitigated this a bit. The images were well executed, matters of taste and design aside. I will however never get over the ludicrous design of D'Compose, and his name isn't helping a tiny bit either. Those Barn Doors of Forlorn Encystment on D's chest and his Godzilla skull with glowing fangs and teeth are all toyetic as anything, but the whole exquisite corpse-style of design was in this case the magic bullet that assassinated my suspension of disbelief. 

Trey: I will grant the silliness of D'Compose as name. As to the design, I'm going to disagree--a bit. The simplicities of the animation does it no favors, for sure, and I can't deny its fundamental tokusatsu "monster of the episode" character, but I think there is a mythological undercurrent to D that the other two (being pure pulp monster riffs) lack. In his skull I see echoes of Mari Lwyd and in his snapping rib cage, Tezcatlipoca.

I think it's fair to say a mythological monster in such a pulp/kaiju world is a dissonant choice, certainly.

Jason: Point taken! As you mentioned, Inhumanoids had no qualms about (making an attempt at) scaring little kids to death! In general, tv cartoons of the era, when they tried to be scary, swiftly reassured audiences that there are no such things as monsters and order is always restored by the end of the episode. Not so in the world of Inhumanoids, a series designed to sell a line of toys to small children.

The storytelling in this show was unusual in its speedy pace, due at least in part to the original short format used for the Super Sunday compilations. As a result, the cuts were quick from shot to shot and scene to scene, somewhat jarringly so I thought. This condensed format had the effect of creating a firehose of narrative that advanced the plot visually and kept the dialogue minimal, to the point of confusion at times. If the story was to be understood by kids, their full attention would be required, which is actually a plus in my book. 

Trey: Yeah, there's very much a movie serial style rush from one peril to the next.

Jason: By the end of episode two, though, an impressive amount of world building has unfolded. It's unlikely but not impossible that if I sat still long enough to take this material in as a teenager, I might have found myself at least somewhat intrigued. Alas!

Trey: If there was ever a property that could benefit from an adult, film or TV series reboot, I think this one could bear the conceptual load.

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