Written by: Steven W. Carabatsos, Tito Carpi, Jerome Max
Directed by: Ovidio G. Assonitis
Starring: John Huston, Shelley Winters and Bo Hopkins
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Will, I've herad the suckers on a tentacles are like the claws on a tiger."
"Compared to suckers on a tentacle, claws are nothing Mr. Turner."
"Compared to suckers on a tentacle, claws are nothing Mr. Turner."
When it comes to all the Jaws cash-ins that surfaced in the 70s, Tentacles might be the most impossible of the bunch. Sometimes, youíre just at a loss as to how a movie was made, and this is one of those times. I mean, itís easy to see why Tentacles was made--Universal made a whole lot of money with their killer shark, so other studios started cooking up killer everything else in an attempt to also make lots of money. But in this case, itís really difficult to see just how so much talent came together to make a pretty nice-looking but otherwise horrific movie thatís treated like an 8-legged, red-headed stepchild in a genre primarily composed of red-headed stepchildren.
Itís also coasting on whatever was left of the Irwin Allen disaster movie wave since it gathers a bizarre kind of all-star cast. John Huston leads the way (at first) as a reporter investigating some bizarre oceanic disturbances and disappearances occurring near the construction of an underground tunnel. Henry Fonda is the mogul overseeing the construction and spends his three or four scenes chewing out subordinates and dodging Hustonís investigation. Good old boy Bo Hopkins is a marine biologist enlisted by Huston to help out, and it turns out thereís a giant octopus pissed off by all the radio frequencies in the area, so itís killing everything it can get its tentacles on.
Thatís a whole bunch of Americans, and the film certainly carries itself as a Hollywood production when itís in fact Italian as all hell. Some might point to that as an explanation for the whole thing, but thatís a little nonsensical since this was still the countryís shlock heyday, back when Argento was at the height of his powers and Fulci hadnít even really hit his groove yet. So instead of pointing the finger at Italy, I think itís more apt to point the finger at an Egyptian, that being director Ovidio G. Assonitis, whose name I think translates into ďan inflammation of bad moviesĒ or ďRoger Corman.Ē Seriously, has anyone seen these two together before? Assonitis is certainly Cormanís Egyptian counterpart, only he canít even claim to have had a legitimately great run as a director before he lapsed into just producing junk. Tentacles was his second of five films before he wisely handed the reigns off to budding filmmakers (like James Cameron, who may or may not have ditched Piranha II and left Assonitis to direct it himself).
Anyway, a long, hard look at Tentacles reveals why Assonitis wasnít the most prolific of directors. The concept isnít the most complex, yet the execution is still so botched somewhere at the script level, and Assonitis manages to suck the fun out of it with deadly pacing and interminable sequences. Consider a bizarre scene towards the middle of the film, where it looks like a bunch of townspeople have gathered as Hopkinsís boat docks after an exploratory voyage--the camera lingers around and tracks in slowly, as if to eventually reveal something, but it doesnít. Instead, itís just a weird, go-nowhere scene that confirms everyoneís a little freaked out that more people died. Likewise, the filmís climactic chaos sequence revolves around an annual boat race, where Hustonís on-screen sister (Shelley Winters, whose 40 gallon sombrero rules) has taken her kid and his buddy. While the two kids are participating, Winters is sitting on the shore as part of an audience enraptured by some Uncle Sam stand-up comic whose jokes drone on in the background as Assonitis cuts between both scenes with random freeze frames. The technique is probably meant to mount ominous tension, but I was ready for the octopus to somehow make landfall and suck Uncle Sam's face off.
Other bad scenes (of which there are many) fare a little bit better--Hopkins gets a dime-store version of Quintís Indianapolis monologue that allows him to wax poetic on the duo of killer whales heís captured and trained. He brings them along to help hunt the beast during the climax, and he gives them an awesome pep talk where he asks them to help him ďkill this octopus.Ē Even Richard Harris wasnít asked to deliver dialogue this ridiculous in Orca, and itís all so very, very earnest, arriving with nary a wink or a nod (even Corman was wise enough not to go this route a year later in Piranha). Other bad movie stuff makes Tentacles tolerable--the octopus is often a pretty fake-looking puppet destroying model boats and such, and Tentacles sometimes hammers on the schlock in an attempt to seemingly outdo Jaws. That movie famously killed off a 12-year old boy, so that his one has the octopus claim a baby in the opening scene. A few minutes later, the mangled corpse of a peg-legged sailor pops out of the water, Ben Gardner style.
But then the movie just kind of takes it easy from there when it should have barreled ahead with more craziness. If you make a movie thatís book-ended by squid child abductions and Bo Hopkins hunting the beast with his killer whale buddies, you should probably have some good shit in between. Instead, Assonitis must have thought he was actually making Jaws because it starts to focus on the dull characters and their boring drama, all the while wasting a pretty good cast. Huston is rightfully better known for his awesome directorial resume, but he started appearing in the most random of roles around this point (check him out as the lawgiver in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes). Heís got a nice grandfatherly vibe going in Tentacles, so he seems like the type of guy youíd hate to disappoint. Unfortunately, he literally disappears from the movie despite seemingly being the main character (this would seriously be like Brody suddenly dropping out of Jaws once the Orca sequence starts). I pretty much summed up Hondaís presence earlier, and the less said about Winters, the better, but Hopkins is quite folksy and charming like Huston. How Assonitis wrangled these guys together would be a more fascinating story than the one thatís told here.
A quick glance at Tentaclesís on-screen talent, incongruously smooth, flowing cinematography, and distinctive score would cause one to mistake it for a decent, well-budgeted movie. In reality, itís kind of the grandfather to the bad creature features that air on SyFy every weekend. Iíll say this, though--I wish todayís bad movies were as ďgoodĒ as Tentacles. Itís full of jaw-droppingly bad dialogue, dead air, and general stupidity, but itís masquerading as an actual movie, albeit with one without much of a captain at the helm. Maybe itís the worst of the immediate Jaws knock-offs, but it kind of takes effort to pull that off. The filmís legacy didnít prevent it from becoming part of MGMís Midnite Movies series, where it appeared on a double bill with fellow killer animal flick, Empire of the Ants. The presentation is quite nice, as the anamorphic transfer is pristine and colorful, and the original four track stereo audio is faithfully reproduced with great fidelity. Theatrical trailers for both films are the only special features, which is maybe a shame, but I kind of like that thereís some mystique surrounding Tentacles. Maybe itís best that we donít figure out how this movie was made. Iím satisfied in knowing that it simply exists, however impossibly--and badly. Rent it!
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