It’s about time to “dive” into one of my favorite of the monster movie sub-genres: creatures of the sea! There is no finer sea creature film than 1975’s Jaws which is of course one of the best films ever made irregardless of genre. Many people forget that Jaws was unique at the time and became the first true Summer blockbuster movie bringing in an insane amount of money and scaring the living shit out of people. Inevitably, that amazing success would start an endless parade of imitators, which is where Tentacles comes in.
Tentacles had a very cool theatrical poster and I still have the one above from my when my Dad worked for a movie distributor. So, as an 8 year-old I was psyched to see this when it came out in the Summer of 1977. This debacle of the sea called Tentacles (also known as Tentacoli) was an Italian/American co-production directed by Oliver Hellman. For those of us with no life, we know that there is no Oliver Hellman and it is really a pseudonym for the talentless and very real Ovidio Assonitis.
It’s too easy for me to note that the real director of Tentacles has the last name Assonitis which sounds like a serious problem in the rumpus. It also sounds like a disease in which you direct really bad movies. Much like The Swarm a year later, Tentacles had an all-star cast including Henry Fonda (wow-he was in Tentacles and The Swarm within a year of each other!), Bo Hopkins, John Huston, Shelly Winters and Claude Akins added to a bunch of Italians who either couldn’t act, couldn’t speak English very well or a combination of both.
Would you believe the town the octopus is wreaking havoc on is actually called Ocean Beach? Quite imaginative. Ocean Beach? Isn’t that like eating at Restaurant Food? Anyway, the opening is actually semi-creative but also quite stupid. (This, after a few intolerable minutes of the inside of a cab driving along with a two-way radio on. Then, some weirdo limps out and walks away. What does this have to do with ANYTHING? Nada! Zip! Zero!).
We will see a woman spending the day with her baby on some grass precariously near a roped-off area with a steep drop towards the ocean. She sees a friend in her car and actually walks across the street to talk to her (the dialogue is dreadful as you’d expect) leaving her baby in stroller behind which is ridiculous. A camera lurks from the water giving us the point of view of something (it’s Mr. Octopus) that is getting closer to shore and appears to crawl up a cliff. When a series of cars drive by in the background we expect not to see baby anymore…but he’s still safe and sound as the two women gab about nothing. Ah, but then a bus drives by which is long enough to makes us think when it passes by, baby ain’t safe no more. Sure enough the stroller is gone! Octopus done and got ‘ol hungry.
When the woman runs over this is what she sees as well as the octopus’ head slightly above water which seems at odds with anything possible to me. A series of other deaths will follow right away including an actual peg-leg dude gettin’ skinned to the bone (we only see the aftermath and it’s another ripoff scene from Jaws). The peg-legged doofus gets munched on while some buffoon he works with is stealing sandwiches from lunch boxes that look around 20 years old (same age as the shitty looking sandwiches I assume). We hear a sploosh and then a shotgun (don’t remember peg-leg dude having one) and then sandwich guy looks out to the sea and views a moving bucket (peg-leg doofus had one on his boat he was cleaning) and proclaims “What the…?”. The Octopus Tour ’77 continues as a disgusting couple (the chick is truly obese and gross) are on a small boat and the dude is reluctantly getting groped. The cow knocks the dude’s fishing pole into the water and as he reaches for it-he finds this…
Boy ‘ol Peg Leg Bill decomposed awfully quick, but then again our octopus friend was hungry. But a question plagues me-why wouldn’t the octopus eat the fat chick, but would eat a peg-legged guy instead? Not good planning if you ask me. Anyway, the local sheriff (Claude Akins-yes, Sheriff Lobo himself playing a…sheriff!) arrives at the scene wondering what could have possibly done such a thing.
Lobo! Lobo! Sheriff Lobo! (Or was it Bobo, Simpsons fans?).
Esteemed actor John Huston (not so esteemed here) plays a nosy reporter who doesn’t like the looks of that corpse and starts asking clichéd questions. Huston will visit the coroner’s office (Akins looks at Huston saying this is a closed autopsy but lets him stay anyway of course) where the body gets examined just as in Jaws! Unconvincingly, the coroner will tell us, “I don’t know of anything that would operate with a vacuum effect of stripping a human being right down to the bone”. Ooooohhh! Scary!
Later we also get possibly the most upsetting and disturbing scene-far more than the corpse. Huston is supposed to be looking through some book for facts on aquatic life or something and we hear a loud, annoying voice, which is followed by Shelly Winters looking particularly lousy and very drunk in a nightgown. That’s more than enough as she blathers on and drinks endless Bloody Marys, but what in God’s name is John Hutson wearing? He looks like Father Time in something that NEVER, EVER should’ve gotten on film. It’s beyond tragic-look away if you must and save yourselves! WTF?
Henry Fonda begins phoning in his performance (literally-he starts on the phone with a very wooden conversation) right after Huston’s ghastly appearance. Fonda owns a company called Trojan, Inc. (heh-heh) which has apparently been conducting illegal experiments at too high a sound level drilling underwater which is causing disturbances to our aquatic friends. He will then meet with, and scold an employee for allowing our snooping reporter in sleepwear to ask too many questions that have now appeared in the newspaper.
Meanwhile, some more Trojan employees are conducting further underwater tests and two fellas will perish to weird swooshing sound effects. The one guy gets sucked into a cave the octopus is hiding in and gets doused in black ink while the other gets attacked in a vessel that doesn’t make it to the surface. Before the attack on the vessel, the power goes out for a bit and when it comes back on we see the giant eye of the octopus! Oh snap! Mr. Octopus is saying, “I know you’re in there, and I have tentacles that say you’re not making it to the surface pal!”.
Here’s a cool scene where the octopus displays his bulbous head and kick-ass underwater reverse dance moves on some poor fool’s boat…
Some more Trojan doofuses are now underwater and see a bunch of dead fish on the ocean floor face first which is not a common sight. They decide to click some photos as well. We’ve been introduced to Bo Hopkins’ character already-he’s a marine biologist or something who trains killer whales and has been asked to take a look at what could be causing all this ruckus down below the sea. One problem-he recently had a case of “the bends” (not the Radiohead album) and is gun-shy about going back in the water. He agrees however, displeasing his hot wife.
The wife (Vicki) declines going out for a boat ride/swim with her sister, a hairy dude and a morbidly fat dude which turns out a wise decision as the party gets lost (of course) and radios in for help. Naturally, while waiting for help, hairy dude and fat dude go for a swim in very deep waters. When told to join in the swim because it wouldn’t hurt to get some exercise and he might float (!) fat dude in his Italian accent states sadly, “Ah-nobody likes a fat man”. Once fat dude jumps in and creates significant ripples we see our pal the octopus awaiting what should be a very hearty lunch! There are some POV shots from the octopus and not one, but TWO false scares as hairy guy attacks fat guy even badly saying, “Shark’s gonna kill ya-ARRRGGGHHH!” sounding like a 2 year-old. Don’t worry-we won’t be bothered by hairy guy again because he dies with his feet…up? This is one clever octopus.
As for fat guy, he starts frantically swimming back to the boat but gets sucked under by the octopus. How the octopus is able to swim after a meal like that I don’t know, but he decides to add pretty Judy (Vicki’s sister) in her bikini to the menu who awakens from her sunbathing (not nude, sadly). First, the boat, then the girl!
Vicki will get the Coast Guard to help her search for her sister and pals and their boat. They find it-but only wreckage and no survivors. Vicki knows her sister, hairy dude and fat dude are dead. A red blinking light is attached to a buoy and left in the water to warn other boats as night has fallen. But the Coast Guard boat is soon capsized by a tsunami-like wave created by our tentacled terror which is kinda neat. Conveniently, all the dudes are dead but Vicki is in the water and the night is dark. She swims away from the destroyed boat and goes towards the buoy where her sister’s boat’s wreckage is still floating. She arrives safely, but a roar (do octopi roar?) and some tentacles appear and she gets spun around , lifted in the air and crushed as the eye of the tiger-er, octopus gives us a wink.
“Shit, this is better work than being thrown on the ice at those damn Red Wings games”-Lead octopus from Tentacles, 1977.
There will later be an exchange between Huston and Fonda over the phone about Huston “getting to the bottom” of the story where Huston does a fine job (with cheesy lines) and Fonda barely gets his out fumbling over simple dialogue that you know he did in one take telling our esteemed director he can shove it up his Assonitis if he wants another take for this giant octopus movie. Later, Fonda will check out of the movie after yelling at his employee again for doing the illegal testing (and wearing an offesnively bad shirt) that has caused the crazed calamari to feed on human flesh. Fonda should’ve been arrested afterwards for stealing money as he was an unemotional zombie-but being in Tentacles and knowing your agent had The Swarm on deck can do that to a man. I’d imagine he did each scene in one take for 30 minutes total and never saw the film.
Later that night as people await boats coming into the marina, Hopkins’s character realizes his wife and her sister and their boat aren’t coming back as Huston stands there smoking a cheap cigar. It’s revenge time and he’s going Long John Silver’s on the octopus’s ass!
A lame-ass regatta is taking place in the ocean the next afternoon with tons of young kids and once our heroes confer and realize the giant octopus has a radius of 30 miles or so, they know the kids are an appetizer for the main course. Huston asks a grieving Hopkins if he can slay the beast and Hopkins states he has “just one thing on his mind-just one”. What this is we have no idea, but who cares? It will take an eternity of bad editing and dialogue to get to the race itself. Some awful music accompanies shots of the parents and their ugly, annoying 70’s children getting ready for the race while minutes are wasted on a bizarre jackass in an Uncle Sam costume telling bad jokes to some jive-ass looking losers willing to sit through any awful entertainment as long as it’s free. He gives me the fucking creeps and I’d punch the douche right in the filibusters.
Anyway, the regatta scene is accompanied by a terrible mix of crappy music, the Uncle Sam asshole and Shelly Winters in her hideous nautical outfit (complete with hat) trying to keep in touch with her son on his sailboat. While it’s great to see the octopus destroying sailboats and children one by one we actually can’t tell what is going on most of the time because the direction is so inept and continues to focus on Winters screaming over and over into a $2.99 walkie-talkie which would have the distance capacity of perhaps 2 feet. As well we have the Uncle Sam assbag telling his awful jokes-all with the music score and no sound other than Winters and her yammering.
We see all these kids in fear but never even hear them due to the brilliant decision to have Winters’s inane dialogue and Italian 70’s porn music playing. My guess? The kids took one look at Winters in the outfit above and were as afraid as balls.
So very useful of the Coast Guard to be flying above with helicopters-especially the asshole holding up a sign on a blackboard in FUCKING CHALK (!) saying DANGER-GO BACK. Way to go guys! Well done. They simply fly overhead and watch the octopus devour as many kids as he can without even a harpoon or gun used. I do enjoy the shots of the octopus seemingly riding along on of those Rascals the elderly drive at top speed. Here he aims for Shelly Winters’s kid but ends up eating the friend instead. Nice!
After the carnage is over, we see the turned-over sailboats and such.
In the end it’s up to Hopkins who has had enough, so he gets his two killer whales from the sea park he works at (named Summer and Winter-seriously) to kick some octopus arse! This is actually one of the few original ideas in Tentacles but when Hopkins and his buddy go to sea and find the creature’s location and get attacked (another blantant ripoff of Jaws) the whales go into service and tear the fucker from tentacle to tentacle! Hopkins actually gives a tear-jerking speech (no, I didn’t cry) to the whales knowing he may not ever see them again before they fight.
The battle actually looks like stock footage with hand puppets (I’m not kidding) standing in for the whales tearing apart a real (and hopefully dead) octopus. You can’t really see what the fuck is going on most of the time, but we do see actual octopus parts being chewed apart by Summer and Winter.
“Orca is a hack-all he did was kill a bunch of dudes-we fucked up a giant octopus yo!”-Summer and Winter star killer whales of Tentacles in a recent interview I conducted with the former actors in 2012.
Hopkins and his pal make the long journey back home and are then stunned by the appearance of Summer and Winter and everyone is happy as the credits roll.
I admit-I like Tentacles to a degree. There were a few clever parts but too much is awful dialogue, inept direction, and a monster that isn’t able to be seen very often. But it is fun at times and some of the score is quite good and is a favorite among horror fans. The cinematography for the most part is done very well-especially the underwater scenes. You will see far worse than Tentacles but at times it will bore the hell out of you and make you laugh when you’re not supposed to. When Tentacles surfaced on DVD from MGM in 2004 it was shockingly well-preserved in Widescreen 2:35:1 and added 12 minutes missing from the US version. Buy it and support bad sea creature movies!
1. Tentacles was made for $750,000 and made a profit for American International Pictures but was far from the summer smash AIP thought they had on their hands. The film was released June 15, 1977.
2. The octopus that gets mangled at the end by the whales was indeed real, but was also dead and bought from a fish market!
3. AIP offered theatres a promo poster listing several points about octopi including that they can reach sizes of over 38 feet from arm to arm. This was meant to terrify people but bored them instead.
4. Director Ovidio Assonitis (here with the fake name of Oliver Hellman) went on to do Piranha II: The Spawning although James Cameron had basically finished that debacle. Genius knows no boundaries!
2 1/2 beagles out of 4 for awfulness
Q: Should you see Tentacles?
A: It is a summer tradition for me, so I say yes but you’d better be drinking!