AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD: REGION ‘A’ only
RUNNING TIME: 102 mins/91 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Mysterious deaths begin to occur at a beach community in California, with victims being snatched and their bodies found gnawed to the skeleton. Marine biologist Will Gleason is brought in to investigate and reporter Ned Turner becomes suspicious that it has something to do with an underwater construction project being conducted by Trojan, a company run by Mr. Whitehead. Meanwhile Ned’s sister Tillie makes the mistake of letting her son Tommy and his best friend enter a sailboat contest.…
So I was looking at my Blu-ray collection to decide what to watch and indeed review during a brief respite between screeners, and lo and behold I came upon the Region ‘A’ Shout Factory release pairing together two seemingly ‘so bad they’re good” creature features; this, and the 1962 Danish ‘classic’ Reptilicus. I think I bought the thing about two years ago and had forgotten all about it, so opted to watch Tentacles there and then. People seem to be divided roughly equally on The Meg, but I felt that, while it wasn’t a good movie, nor did it really provide for me enough fun of the trashy kind that all of us who have a fondness for monsters and killer animals feel a need to watch every now and again. Perhaps Tentacles would do that? Well, it certainly proved to be as terrible as I expected, and it does contain plenty to laugh at, much of it stemming from the almost total ineptitude of the script, the direction and the special effects, while it’s always fun to see performers of the likes of John Huston, Shelley Winters [both of whom also appeared in The Visitor produced by the same director Ovidio G. Assonitis] and Henry Fonda turn up in stuff like this. However, it’s also really rather dull, rarely having the lower level ‘B’ movie courage of its convictions and lacking in energy, imagination [well, until the climax] and showmanship.
It was made, of course, to capitulise on the success of Jaws, a film that spawned many low budget imitations, many of them from Italy and most of them of dubious quality. This was also an Italian made production even though it was shot in Oceanside, Pismo Beach, and San Diego, California, the aquarium sequences being filmed at Marineland of the Pacific in Los Angeles County. John Houseman and Yul Brynner were originally intended to play the roles eventually essayed by Henry Fonda and Bo Svenson but Houseman dropped out and Brynner was tied up doing another film. Fonda filmed all his scenes in one day, literally phoning in his performance as he’d just had a pacemaker fitted and therefore was asked to do little more than talk on the telephone. Nearly $1 million was spent on a life-sized model of a giant octopus which then promptly sank when they put it in the water, so real life octopus footage had to be shot and used instead. It was released theatrically by American International Pictures in Italy before the company then removed eleven minutes of dialogue and underwater footage for its American release which was announced by a very Jaws-like trailer narrated by Percy Rodrigues who did all the ones for the Jaws films. Box office was reasonable, though of course nothing like Jaws 2 which came out the following year.
The opening is certainly interesting. We hear a car radio with the news on coming in and out of tune, and pan across the bay to POV shots of the inside of the front of a car which I assume is Ned’s because he later wears what seem to be the same trousers that we see now. Then we get a scene that’s really rather well handled, replete with some POV shots from something on the water, despite the poorness of some of the lines the mother has to say to her small child such as: “Billy can go click, click can’t he, Billy can” – though I guess we’ve all probably said stupid things to children at some point so maybe I can forgive this as the bit where the mother runs to a car park to speak to a friend, the kid is in his pram in the background and vehicles pass in the foreground is nice. Yes, you know that when one particular vehicle has passed the child will have vanished but it’s effective in a simple way nonetheless. At this point I really did wonder if this movie was going to be quite good despite the very random flourishes of a harpsichord motif on the soundtrack. Next to disappear is a guy in a dingy, and his peeled body is found in the water by two teenagers in a decent shock moment obviously inspired by that head scene in Jaws but actually more similar to a certain bit in Jaws 2. The similarity of this and a few other moments make me wonder if Jaws 2 derived some inspiration from this movie – though why anyone would be inspired by it is another matter, because it now quickly gets very bad indeed with reams of terrible dialogue and simply bad writing all over the place.
Journalist Ned and his sister Tillie are introduced and it’s almost painful to see and hear Huston and Winters struggle with what they have to say, including Huston’s first line to Winters: “And who did you seduce last night?”, and Winters calling the much older Huston her “little brother”. Then we meet Mr. Whitehead and almost immediately he has a discussion with his aide about “underwater tests”. So that’s it then, no build-up to some kind of revelation, we’re pretty much already told what’s going on. Our Quint substitute is Will Gleason whose wife doesn’t like him diving too deep so instead he sends two others divers down in a diving bell to investigate, and I will admit that the underwater photography in this movie is very good, though the scenes [at least in the full version which is what is on the Blu-ray] go on for a bit too long without much actually happening. The octopus kills one diver and attacks the bell, but Assonitis, who clearly has trouble with creating tension, can’t even make this exciting. His idea of suspense is to have the camera pretend to be a threat and swim up to an overweight diver twice only for it to turn out to be his mate on both occasions. Eventually Will realises what’s doing the killing with the brilliant exchange: “There’s only one thing big enough, or powerful enough”. “Are you thinking about sharks?” “No, I’m thinking giant octopus”. His wife and her sister are soon on the menu, but Will seems to prefer his two dolphins anyway. Bo Hopkins looks bored throughout and visibly in pain when he has to deliver a long, supposedly emotional monologue to his dolphins before he sends them off to kill the octopus – where it’s obvious that they’re attacking an octopus that’s totally dead in a lengthy but static and blurry climax.
Few of the octopus scenes are shot in a way so that the creature seems threatening and much bigger than it actually is, and we hardly even see the action when it destroys some boats. Writers Jerome Max, Tito Carpi and Steven W. Carabatsos lean heavily on chat instead of octopus action, no doubt thinking of Jaws again but forgetting that in a monster movie this only works when you have well written characters. It’s all borderline boring, and that’s not a word I like to use very often as we all know that a good slow movie can be absorbing as a good fast one. There’s not even any blood which is one thing you can usually count on in these Italian efforts and which certainly would have helped in this instance. There are still some chuckles to be had of course, and even some just plain oddness. Aside from the fact that the three main American stars almost appear to be acting in a different film [from their dialogue I wondered if they even knew they were in a giant octopus flick] and totally disappear from the final quarter, there’s also the very strange yacht racing sequence which goes on for absolutely ages [no doubt to just pad out the running time] and at times employs repeated shots and freeze frames, a kind of odd music video to Stelvio Cipriani’s ultra-cool jazzy music. It reaches heights of bizarreness when Tillie is trying to reach her son and his friend on a walkie-talkie and we see her lips moving but we don’t hear what she’s saying because on the soundtrack we hear some poor jokes being told by a guy in an Uncle Sam outfit in the park where Tillie is.
The score might very well be the real star of the film. Being as I’m a movie score lover and also enjoy a lot of music of the ‘offbeat’ variety, I adored it and am going to look for the CD when I’ve done this review, but it rarely matches up with what’s taking place on screen, such as a funeral scene [some rather nice long camera pans here from cinematographer ]Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli] where the distorted synth sounds and clicking noises totally distract the viewer from feeling sad. It’s as if Cipriani was told to make the film more interesting and then totally given free reign to do so and he thought he’d have as much fun as possible. But to be honest Tentacles itself really isn’t nearly as much fun as it ought to be, sadly containing more tedium than hilarity, and it’s one rare film where I feel the shorter version may work a little better.