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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tentacles (1976) review


John Huston (Ned Turner), Shelley Winters (Tillie Turner), Bo Hopkins (Will Gleason), Henry Fonda (Mr. Whitehead), Claude Akins (Sheriff Robards), Delia Boccardo (Vicky Gleason)

Directed by Ovidio Assonitis ( as Oliver Hellman)

Summer vacationers at Solana Beach attract the attention of a gigantic octopus. Awakened from its slumber by an undersea tunnel digging operation, it begins feasting on swimmers and anyone who happens to get within arms reach of its flesh sucking tentacles. A marine biologist sets out for the open sea with two killer whales in the hopes of destroying the rampaging cephalopod.

Oliver Hellman (Rip off specialist of numerous American blockbusters) models his killer creature feature on the massive success of JAWS whose cinematic reverberations were still being felt at the time. Lots of underwater and undersea monster movies were being produced during this era. The el cheapo home made CRATER LAKE MONSTER (1977) and MONSTER (1979; starring James Mitchum!) are two examples. Others include HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980), UP FROM THE DEPTHS (1979), BARRACUDA (1978) and PIRANHA (1978) among this crowded cinematic aquarium.

Some might argue that ORCA (1977) fits into this category, but that one is, to me, closer to MOBY DICK (1956) than Spielberg's killer shark classic. A killer whale was also a plot device in JAWS 2 (1978) to show off how powerful the killer shark was in that movie. There use in Hellman's picture is instrumental to the film and their inclusion during the finale is an original idea and a creative way to end the film.

Claude Akins (left) and Oscar winning director/actor, John Huston (right) look at the results of one of the monsters victims

Aside from TENTACLES, Italy had their own share of 'Nature Amok' movies such as the star studded KILLER FISH (1978) and the Crap De La Crap that is Castellari's L'ULTIMO SQUALO (1980), which begat several more cinematic conspirators well into the 90's. There's been relatively few giant octopus movies, though. Aside from Harryhausen's magnificent killer octopi seen in IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), there hasn't been much in the way of gigantic killer cephalopod movies outside of some additional pictures from Nu Image, OCTOPUS (2000) and OCTOPUS 2 (2001).

The Italians did make one other strange movie that combined both the killer shark and killer octopus movie--Lamberto Bava's terrible DEVILFISH from 1985. The less said about it the better. It has some very nice artwork on the old VHS tape that would leave the impression that the video box houses a better movie than what's actually inside.

Attempting to make 'The Towering Inferno' of killer animal movies, Hellman crams this production slam full of extraordinarily big name Hollywood actors, but does little to nothing with them. When asked in an interview how he was able to procure such huge, award winning names, Hellman's response was, "I paid them!" You would never expect to see the likes of Henry Fonda, John Huston (the director of THE AFRICAN QUEEN), Claude Akins (he also appeared in the TV movie horror, TARANTULAS: THE DEADLY CARGO) and Shelley Winters sharing the screen together in a film such as this. While each gets a lot of screen time, there is nothing of substance involving any of their scenes. The only one who "comes alive" is Shelley Winters. None of the others really stand out. Bo Hopkins (THE WILD BUNCH) tries valiantly, but comes off as little more than an eccentric who spends far too much time amongst his two killer whales, 'Summer' and 'Winter'.

Bo Hopkins (left), John Huston (middle), Claude Akins (right)

Despite all the negativity this film receives, it does have several nicely done sequences, which, for some, will not be enough to sustain their attention during the films 100+ minute running time. The movie actually starts off strong, but loses steam bit by bit. An infant in a stroller is pulled into the sea while the mother talks with a friend across the street. We see cars passing by obscuring our view of the child. After a few cars speed by, a bus passes the screen then the toddler is gone. I thought this scene was quite well done and a nicely offensive way to start things off.

"Sharks gonna kill ya'! RRAAARRRR!!!"

An attack scene involving an overweight swimmer is both humorous and decently pulled off. The fat man is taunted several times by a friend who, in classic horror/slasher tradition, does several fake "deaths" before disappearing for real.

One of the best and scariest bits is also featured (given away?) at the outset of the films trailer wherein Delia Boccardo and two others are killed by the octopus while at sea late at night. This is most probably the best sequence out of the entire movie. Aside from some obvious miniatures, the editing aids in the gripping set up and execution. It's the most potent scene of terror in the entire movie.

If only the rest of the movie had maintained this level of suspense, it wouldn't be the barely average film that it is today. The finale where Hopkins takes to the sea with his two pet killer whales is a doozy and also well done despite its overly silly, yet wholly creative nature. The masterfully boisterous Stelvio Cipriani score cranks this sequence up several notches as the whales bite, rip and tear at the multi tentacled monstrosity that is about to make a meal of their master.

Cipriani's score is also put to good use during the so-so regatta assault (this music is also used in Paul Naschy's NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF). The scene itself is far more ambitious than the budget will allow and it only ends up being partially successful. Hellman attempts to be creative here utilizing brief freeze frame shots with the horror of the boaters being pulled underwater intercut with the people on the beach enjoying themselves. This is also mixed with shots of Winters attempting to reach her little boy on a CB radio fearing that he is in danger.

For me it's nowhere near being one of the worst of its kind as it's often referred to by fans of the subgenre. It's far more well made than similar movies such as the above mentioned BARRACUDA (1978) and the whole heartedly stupid UP FROM THE DEPTHS (1979; which is hitting DVD very soon paired with the equally mentally challenged underwater monster opus, DEMON OF PARADISE from 1987). TENTACLES (1976) may not completely suck you into the movie, but this occasionally good monster movie cult film is worth at least one look for the curiosity factor alone.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD paired with EMPIRE OF THE ANTS.


R.D. Penning said...

Dude! You are all over the creature features! Nice Work!

venoms5 said...

Thanks, R.D. I got one more to do before I give the beasts a break.

dfordoom said...

It makes a nice double-feature with Empire of the Ants. And it's by no means the worst Giant Killer Sea Creatures move of its era - there's always Octaman!

Will Errickson said...

This was on some cable channel the other night; my girlfriend made me change it--and I wasn't reluctant--because of the random heartfelt music and people meandering about on a pier. Wow, guess we should have kept with it.

Fazeo said...

I haven't seen this film since it was on tv back in the 80s. I always remembered the bit with the baby stroller at the beginning and the fat guy in the water.

I need to get this double feature DVD if it is still in print.

venoms5 said...

@ D: OCTAMAN is pretty terrible! One of the worst unacknowledged remakes of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. The suit would look cool in a Japanese tokusatsu show, though!

@ Will: It's not a terrible movie, Will, by any means. It is slow in spots, though, and the MGM DVD is the longer cut of the film. Definitely worth seeing at least once.

@ Fazeo: Right on about those scenes! Those are the two that have always stood out in my mind. That and the creatures big eye peeping through the hole in the submersible about 30 minutes in. It's still in print, too. Amazon has it for $14 and their sellers have it starting at a little over $6....

J. Astro said...

I LOVE THIS MOVIE... and have planned on revisiting it myself, one o' these days. Another excellent pick, venoms. You are on "awesome overdrive" as of late.

venoms5 said...

I appreciate that, J. It's refreshing to find that there are a number of people out there who are fans of some movies that the majority seems to put down, or express disdain for; movies that really aren't as bad as they've been made out to be and TENTACLES happens to be one of those movies, at least in my view.

Fazeo said...

Thanks for the info, I will be ordering the double feature dvd soon.

I love all these cult and genre films, give me a good "B movie" over any of today's cgifests. These types of films have a certain type of charm that I can't get enough of.

venoms5 said...

You're right, Fazeo. Sometimes I wonder if it's mostly the nostalgia factor why we return to these older movies. Although the newer ones seem so lifeless with their non tangible CGI effects work and 'Gym & Implant' manufactured "actors and actresses".

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I forgot to mention the deep sea drilling aspect of the narrative in my own review. Just one of many intriguing aspects of the film that are left to flounder. It could have been a lot better if they had much more of this angle.

venoms5 said...

Yes, but then that would mean there would be more talking and the international version has a lot of that already, lol!

Nice catch, too, Shaun, especially in light of the political machinations of off shore drilling in this terrible time we live in right now.

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