Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tentacles (1977) [Nature's Fury Blogathon]



When it comes to my favorite animals of all time, cephalopods rank near the very top. That's true of squid, nautiluses, and cuttlefish--but my absolute favorite among this fascinating group of animals is the octopus.

There's many reasons for this of course. Just at a glance, an octopus is obviously a cool animal--it's got eight arms and a beak for a mouth. Then you have to factor in the fascinating ability of the creature to camouflage itself by changing color rapidly and/or changing the texture of its body. Top that all off with the fact that octopuses are the most intelligent of the invertebrates and it's not hard to see why I and many others love them so.

It's also not hard to see why they're terrifying.

For one thing, if an octopus wants to eat you, it is going to find a way. They can figure out how to open containers, they can squeeze through tiny spaces, and they can even move around on land if the mood strikes them. You don't stand a chance, hairless ape!

So, it makes perfect sense that, if you wanted to rip off Jaws and didn't want the theft to be so obvious that you'd instantly get sued, a killer giant octopus is the perfect choice.

Well, okay, it's actually not the perfect choice: that would be a giant squid, so obvious a choice that Peter Benchley would later plagiarize himself with a novel about one on the human-munching rampage. Still, you can't go wrong with a giant octopus, right?

What's that? Your giant octopus movie is being directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis, the producer and co-writer of The Visitor? Well, I guess you can go wrong. The question then is, like The Visitor: is it the right kind of wrong?

Well, the opening credits of Tentacles will quickly put you firmly in the "wrong kind of wrong" camp. Unless, of course, you like being forced to stare at the radio of a moving cab for several minutes. The sequence does serve a very perverse sort of purpose, however, that is only clear if you have already seen the film or read the plot of the movie somewhere. First, when the cab stops to pick up a fare, we see a sign for an upcoming sailing regatta. Second, the heavy emphasis on the radio will actually turn out to be plot relevant.

The identity of the cab's passenger, whom we only see from the knees down, however? Couldn't tell you, since we never do find out. He could honestly be the octopus, for all I can tell.

The film then proceeds to engage in one of the more delightful tropes of the great Italian cinematic rip-off industry: one-upmanship. See, Jaws had the guts to kill off a young boy of no more than ten for its second victim. Tentacles has its first victim be a Goddamn baby.

Amusingly, the rip-off here is almost more tasteful. In the finished film, Jaws shows us Alex Kintner disappearing in a geyser of blood before we watch him being dragged beneath the water, screaming and flailing. Recently, still images began making the rounds of what is claimed to be an early version of the attack on the young boy, where the shark would have loomed out of the ocean and scooped him up in its jaws--it's unclear whether this was nixed in favor of a slightly less brutal approach or because the damned shark wouldn't work that day.

Meanwhile, Tentacles shows us a mother sitting beside the ocean with her young baby in a stroller, oblivious to the ominous POV shot creeping up the embankment. A friend calls to her from a parked truck across the street and the mother rushes over for small talk--and in the time it takes for a bus to pass between the mother (and us) and her baby, both baby and stroller are simply gone. And a horrified mother rushes back across the street to see the stroller floating in the water.

It's honestly a brilliant scene, aside from the misstep of minimizing the shock by having the sinister harpsichord notes (yes, really) play before the bus is finished passing in front of us. It's a great play on the fears of any parent that a moment's mistake or brief period of letting your guard down will cost you your child.

"That's for putting my babies in salads!"
After the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo, though, we now know that there'd be dozens of memes saying that the octopus took better care of her baby than she did, that the octopus shouldn't be killed because she couldn't watch her damn kid, some racist joke about murdering a celebrity instead, and think pieces on how this proves that beaches should be abolished.

Meanwhile, a sailor with a peg leg finishes getting a weather report from the coast guard via radio. His companion on shore offers him lunch, but the sailor is more interested in washing his (or possibly their) sailboat off. Unfortunately, he probably should have taken the offered sandwich, for his companion hears a splash and comes to investigate it--only find no trace of the peg-legged sailor, and the bucket he was dipping in the water being dragged away at high speed.

Meanwhile, two teenagers in a boat are having an argument about whether the girl kisses better than other girls the boy knows. There's probably a weird joke in here because of the fact that he's scrawny and she's fat, but I'm going to ignore it. At any rate, when she tries to force a French kiss on him, he drops his fishing pole--and retrieves the mangled (and blurry) body of the peg-legged sailor when he reaches for it. It's a shameless play on the severed head scare in Jaws, but naturally not as well done because it's telegraphed by all the ominous POV shots and the fact we see the sailor's head disappear a few feet away from the couple in an earlier shot.

Which makes you wonder: is this killer octopus a prankster? Because all the clues add up to it deliberately dragging the body over to the kids and letting it pop up, just to scare the bejesus out of them.

Or this octopus is showing its love like a cat.
That night, as Sheriff Robards (Claude Akins) stands over the body of the sailor on a dock and discusses how it was reduced to a "skeleton" with a deputy, they receive a somewhat unwelcome visitor: reporter Ned Turner (John Huston!). Ned has just come from seeing the body of the baby and heard that there was a second freak accident within the same hour as the baby's death. Robards agrees that is the case and shows Ned the body, which Ned immediately assesses as "stripped to the bone."

Robards doesn't have any answers for Ned, since he doesn't even know where to start asking his own questions. The deputy points out that the Trojan construction company is using fancy equipment to dig an underwater tunnel nearby and the sailor could have been pulled into it somehow--but the baby was nowhere near that area. Robards begs Ned not to sensationalize the tragedy, but Ned simply tells the sheriff that he feels they're just seeing the beginning of a nightmare.

We then seen Ned at home in the morning, having worked all night on his story. His sister Tillie (Shelley Winters!) comes in and she teases him about working all night while he teases her about seducing too many men. In lesser hands this scene would be pretty awful--especially since the movie expects us to buy Winters as Huston's older sister despite being clearly over a decade younger than him--but Huston and Winters are such old pros and play off each other so well it's actually rather charming. Though the flowing nightgown that Huston is wearing in the scene is incredibly distracting.

"Well, tonight I'm either supposed to be starring in A Christmas Carol or a Harry Potter movie, I forget which."
At any rate, Tillie asks what Ned is working on and he advises that he's being stymied by the fact that none of the books he was poring through could tell him anything about what the Hell is going on in the ocean nearby. The two are interrupted by Tillie's son, Tommy, appearing and demanding breakfast. When Tillie goes to make it, Ned stares out significantly at the ocean.

Meanwhile, Mr. Whitehead (Henry Fonda!), the head of Trojan construction, has called in his underling, John Corey (Cesare Danova) in order to chew him out about the article that Ned has run in the papers, insinuating that Trojan may somehow be responsible for the accidents. Weirdly, the film portrays Whitehead as the leader of the company responsible for what's happening as totally innocent of the crimes against nature his underlings have apparently allowed to happen. In fact, he warns Corey that he will not abide anyone ruining Trojan's good reputation in any way.

Well, we next see one of the company's boats out on the ocean, where we learn the company name is "Trojan Tunnels Inc." That seems...oddly specific. The true horror begins when we see two of the company's divers get into a diving bell of some sort and then exit it once they've been lowered into the water.

That's right--it's a scuba diving sequence!

Mercifully, it's cut short to take us to a hospital where a doctor or coroner is showing Sheriff Robards some X-rays and confirming that based on the dental records this was the peg-legged sailor, but his body was stripped to the bone so that there was barely any cartilage left and the marrow was sucked out. I'm highly skeptical that this is what the aftermath of an octopus attack would be, of course. Despite their physiology, octopuses feed with their beaks, not some kind of suction apparatus. never mind that the sailor's body was not skeletonized when we saw it, despite all the characters' claims to the contrary.

Suddenly, Ned appears behind them to ask if the baby was in the same condition. The doctor confirms that's the case and Robards warns Ned not to go publish the story yet since someone named Gleason is bringing divers tomorrow to see if the Trojan Tunnel is to blame or not. Ned knows this Gleason and says he'll just go straight to him instead, and appeases Robards by promising to run any story past him first.

We then cut to Will Gleason (Bo Hopkins) as he supervises the training of a pair of orcas at some clone of Sea World or other. Ned is watching from the stands as Will chides the trainer for going too easy on them, and the trainer awkwardly expositions that Will is the only one who can get them to do what he wants. Ned then breaks in to converse with Will, where we learn that Ned knows Will more by reputation than actual acquaintance and that Will's reputation is as a kid who "swam" his way out of the mean streets of the inner city "on the back of a fish"--surprisingly or not, Will does not correct him that whales are mammals so I am forced to believe he escaped adversity on the back of an actual fish.

Actually, that's no less ridiculous than expecting us to believe Bo Hopkins as a product of the tough inner city streets.

Regardless, Will has a reputation as a maverick diver and Ned appears to be there to personally goad the man into investigating the tunnel himself. But as Will's Italian wife, Vicky (Delia Boccardo), can attest, Will lost the will to dive after a recent diving accident gave him a bad case of the bends. It's just as well for Will, since we're about to rejoin his two divers* on another excursion--hooray for us--and this one will not go well for them.

[*Which makes me wonder why we saw them doing this earlier, since that would mean they were already in the area when Robards said they were arriving a day later.]

As the divers are lowered down in the diving bell, they discuss the odd experience of Corey trying to pay them off to not do the dive. One diver says they should just get it over with so they can disappear to Mexico with two women they've met, which is followed by a significant zoom in to the bell's radio and a run on the Ominous Harpsichord--in case we didn't realize they were boned already. After leaving the bell, the divers discover the electronic equipment on the ocean floor that they left earlier (I think) has been smashed and its guts torn out. Ignoring the ominous motif of what sounds like someone shaking aluminum foil, they follow the trail of severed cables to a cave. Somehow, hearing and seeing rocks falling in the cave prompts them to go towards it.

So it serves them right when a bunch of octopus tentacles come churning out of the cave towards them. In order to save themselves the trouble of having to realize full-scale tentacles underwater, though, the filmmakers decided to have the octopus inexplicably shoot ink at the divers before attacking--even though that's what an octopus does to cover its retreat. One diver is pulled into the cloud of ink while the other rushes back to the bell and frantically radios to be pulled up. He's helpfully vague about what happened as he raves at the operator. "I couldn't help him! He was sucked right in!"

And then the bell grinds to a halt and springs leaks all over. The lights go out...and then the diver sees a single, hateful eye staring in at him as the octopus bellows in fury at him. On the surface, the ocean boils as the oxygen from the crushed bell hits the surface, the severed oxygen hoses writhing about like angry snakes.

Aside from the silliness of an octopus bellowing, because big animals always roar in movies, that is unquestionably the film's best scene. Shame there's still about an hour to go.

"You! You're the one using my Wifi!"
Meanwhile, Corey walks into a fancy bar on the marina only to find Ned waiting for him. Corey's been trying to avoid Ned, but clearly without much success. Corey is adamant that his company's tunnel is not responsible for the deaths, but Ned thinks the gentleman doth protest too much--and certainly is drinking more than usual. At any rate, Ned delights in reminding Corey that Will Gleason and his wife will be arriving in town shortly to investigate further.

Of course, any drama of this scene is somewhat undercut by the scene changing to Tillie entering her son Tommy and his best friend Jamie in the junior regatta. Oh, it's dramatic since we've all immediately cottoned to the fact that this is setting up a buffet--but it's hard to take the scene seriously when poor Shelley Winters is forced to perform it whilst wearing a hat that is as big as she is.

"Oh, this old thing? Why, did you know that the 50-Foot Woman did burlesque? I fashioned this out of one of her nipple tassles!"
At any rate, we also learn that the starting point is 50 miles down the coast and they have to be there 24 hours before the race, which is a bigger bone of contention for Tillie than the $5 a piece entry fee, but she gives in to her son and Jamie's begging. Tillie then jokes with the woman at the registration booth that, "I don't approve of competitive racing. My sport is scuba diving--I think it's safer."

Ironic, given that in this film both are equally likely to make you an octopus's lunch.

Meanwhile, we learn that the fancy bar we saw earlier was part of the town's Hyatt Hotel, and Will and Vicky Gleason are checking in when Will is told someone is waiting for him in the bar. When he asks who it is, Ned appears solely to tell him that it's Corey and to ask if Will has ever heard, "Behind every great fortune is a crime." Will quips back that he's heard not to bullshit a bullshitter and apparently heads off to meet with Corey--while Ned now appears at the Sheriff's Office to annoy Robards.

Given this movie's poor attempts at establishing the passage of time, I am left to conclude that Ned actually is a wizard of some kind.

All that Robards and Ned can agree on is that all the victims were in the water and killed in the same way--but Robards points out that the baby didn't jump in, "not at 10 months of age." Of course, having had a 10-month-old, I don't find the idea of one finding a way to jump their stroller into the ocean to be terribly unlikely. Also note that Robards refers to the baby as "she" this entire time, but in the opening the baby was clearly established to be a boy by his mother and her friend.

As they talk over the facts in each case, Ned struggles to find a connection--and it gradually dawns on him that all the seemingly unrelated deaths had one thing in common: they were all near or using radios when they were killed. Boy, it sure is a good thing that Tillie just bought Tommy and Jamie walkie-talkies so she could radio them from shore during the regatta, huh? (Ominous Harpsichord!)

At lunch with the two boys she learns that Jamie has to pee a lot, and then makes Tommy promise her he'll look after Jamie since he's two years younger and not as good a sailor. She also says they'd win the race for sure if she joined them--so her son makes a fat joke at her expense.

Poor Shelley Winters.

Back in their hotel, Will and Vicky get all lovey--until he brings up the dive tomorrow. She is worried for his safety, since at 140 feet his lungs could burst and she doesn't think he should be risking his life or their future. He assures her he won't go below 120 feet and will only go down for 3 minutes, but he has to find out why his two friends died. So nobody's happy.

Next scene, Vicky is lounging by the poolside with her sister, Judy (Sherry Buchanan). Kudos to the casting or dubbing, one, but the sisters' accents mostly match--well, until Judy's drifts away to England. At any rate, Judy invites Vicky to go boating with her and her friends, but quickly surmises that Vicky politely declines because she is worried about Will. Vicky now claims Will promised not go down further than 150 feet, which is odd when she was afraid his lungs would burst ten feet shallower than that. Judy's friend Don (Marc Fiorini), who looks vaguely like store brand Vic Morrow, still tries to get her to come along but accepts her second refusal. Their broadly Mexican friend--er, I mean his accent, not the fact he's also fat--Chuck (Franco Diogene), makes a comment about how she would feel better if she showed Will that other men, like Chuck, are interested in her.

I don't see how that helps her, Chuck. At any rate, Will walks by at that moment and just comments that Vicky is always telling him that anyway and then tells her to take care of her sister. So, uh, are his lungs gonna explode? I kind of want them to explode.

At any rate, the filmmakers attempt to make Will's dive slightly more interesting by having him driving a Weinermobile-shaped mini-sub around with his co-diver, as they photograph various detritus on the ocean floor...and then encounter a practical garden of large fish (tuna, I think) balanced on their noses. I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. Did the octopus do this? Was this a result of the tunneling machines? The movie will shortly suggest it's the latter, but that makes very little sense--dead fish don't usually float perfectly perpendicular to the ocean floor.

Meanwhile, Judy, Don, and Chuck have manged to get lost and had their boat break down. Judy radios the coast guard, who tell her to just leave her radio on and they'll find her. (What, no harpsichord for that? Come on!) Meanwhile, Chuck tries to fix the boat while Don makes fat jokes at him and then goes snorkeling. Chuck complains about Don being a dick, so Judy snipes at him to go swimming so he'll get the dirt off and might actually get some exercise. Was...was the dirt comment a racist remark? Was she just being racist and fat shaming? Well, I hope the octopus enjoys its dinner, then.

Well, Chuck is apparently used to this abuse and dives in for a swim. Cut to a close-up of an octopus underwater, with a dramatic sting on the soundtrack! As an aside, if this film is supposed to be taking place in California and the octopus is supposed to just be huge and not a mutant, they probably should have gone to the trouble of getting at least some footage of a North Pacific giant octopus, which are recognizable by their distinctive reddish-brown default coloring. The live octopus used in this film is clearly a common octopus, of the sort you might find near--surprise--Italy, and it's a much less striking creature apart from just simply being smaller. I mean, the Pacific giant at least is already on its way to being huge!

We see a rubber octopus head surface to watch Chuck swimming, but the roving POV that attacks him is just Don being a dick. And, in fact, they pull this false scare twice. Until we see the octopus crawling on the ocean floor and Chuck realizes he's not being harassed any more and starts calling for "Jack." But...wasn't that guy Don a couple scenes ago?! And then the octopus grabs Chuck for real.

Judy is too busy sunning herself to notice, until the boat starts rocking. She calls for Don (oh, gee, we're back), but gets no reply until suddenly Don's legs pop up out of the water near by and are dragged along the surface, Judy greets this development with screaming terror, but it honestly just looks like he's doing a handstand and wants her to see. The octopus, who is now firmly established as a sadistic prankster, then attacks the boat. This is actually a really well-filmed combination of miniature boat with live octopus and full-scale rubber tentacles interacting with Judy and the real boat--even if the miniature boat is attacked bow first but the real boat leans toward the stern. Judy slides into the water and is quickly wrapped up in rubber tentacles, which makes me wonder why they didn't use them in the diver attack.

Boats provide an important source of roughage in an octopus's diet.

Back at Will's boat, he and his diving partner, Mike (Alan Boyd) discuss what they've seen. Will concludes that the Trojan company is using high-pitched frequency waves way beyond the legal limit (they never do establish why they are doing this, other than later establishing it was a typical corporate move to cut corners), which has damaged the underwater fauna. Mike asks what could have smashed up the equipment, to which Will responds that there's only one thing big enough and powerful enough to do it: a giant octopus.

This...might have been a better dramatic reveal to have before we saw the octopus at work.

Cut to Ned calling Mr. Whitehead so the two can bicker at each other over the phone. This serves the purpose of both ensuring that the filmmakers got a few more minutes of Henry Fonda in the film and to establish that A) Ned was chewed out for publishing a story that blamed Trojan's tunnel project for the deaths because Whitehead complained to the editor and B) that Ned got all his facts from Corey, who hadn't bothered to run anything by Whitehead before speaking to Ned, and C) that the Marine Commission thinks that the tunnel is to blame and Ned knows it is and will do whatever it takes to find evidence of that.

Well, as Tillie departs for the regatta, Vicky heads out in search of her sister on what dialogue implies to be a Coast Guard cutter, but sure looks to be a civilian vessel. As the sun sets, Will meets up with Robards and Ned. Ned is triumphant that he was right and Trojan is to blame, but Will is alarmed because Robards mentions having radioed the boat his wife is on--Will is desperate to find her and get her back before the worst can happen. However, it's full dark in the next scene and apparently nobody bothered to radio her boat to come back because they've just found the wreckage of Judy's boat.

The two men aboard search the wreckage, but find nothing. They drop a radio buoy next to the wreckage and depart in order to return to port. Unfortunately, the buoy attracts the ire of the octopus and--in a very Crocodile moment--the octopus somehow causes a massive geyser and tidal wave that washes Vicky off the deck and smashes through the wheelhouse, killing the two crew members or at least their mannequin equivalents. The awful miniature of the boat--so awful that even the dim lighting can't disguise how phony it is--then sinks as the octopus waves its tentacles over it. Vicky swims for the wreckage, and the radio buoy. However, hearing the octopus hissing (?!) she turns to see its tentacles crawling over the bow of the wrecked boat and, in her panic, grabs onto the buoy instead.

Naturally, all that did was seal her fate all the quicker. A rear-projection of the octopus looms up in front of her before the rubber tentacles wrap her up and hoist her up into the air as she screams--and then her screams are cut off as the angry eye of the octopus stares into the camera. Even with the clunky rear-projection this is the film's second most effective attack scene, made all the more effective by the fact that even in 1977 most audiences probably would not have seen the death of hero's wife coming.

"No, please, I'm not the one you want! I don't even eat calamari!"
The following scene of Will grieving silently upon hearing the news as Ned looks on is...not nearly so effective. For one thing, it's a long continuous moving crane shot along a marina where you can't even tell what the focus is supposed to be until it finally finds the area Will is sitting at. So you've begun to lose interest by the time you even figure out what's going on. Plus, the music is utterly inappropriate even for this film. I've heard more inappropriate, true, but it's a close call. This sounds like the music that should play during a tender romantic scene, not a scene of a guy processing the fact that his wife was just eaten by a giant octopus.

Enough grief, time for the regatta! (Well, after a brief scene of Whitehead chewing Corey out for being reckless with his tunneling experiments but then not even firing him because he's too valuable to the company) And boy, the opening festivities are a hysterical slice of faux-Americana with an Uncle Sam in a convertible on a loud speaker and cheerleaders and baton twirlers walking and awkwardly dancing beside him.

Why is Uncle Sam there, since it's supposed to be August 21st and not July 4th? Beats the fuck out of me.

While the regatta is getting underway, Will is telling Ned and Robards about what they're up against. Robards is confused since he had always thought of octopuses as being harmless and shy (well, yes on 2, but no on 1 if you include the blue-ringed octopus). Will confirms that is the case, except something has set this one off on a rampage. When Ned says he's heard that the suckers on a tentacle are like the claws of a tiger, Will responds gloomily that the claws of a tiger are nothing next to the suckers of an octopus.

Presumably this is his way of saying, "Dude, my wife was just killed by this thing, can we not focus on how horrible her demise was?"

Just then Jamie's mother, whom we met briefly earlier but has been established as being so busy as to have to have Tillie take her son to the race, walks into the room. She is looking for Ned, since the poor and oddly-accented woman finally has a day off and wants to take Ned down to watch her son take part in the yacht race.

Ned takes  a moment to process this before bolting upright, "My God, the race!" When Ned asks how big the Coast Guard warning area is, Robards says 30 miles--but when Ned asks if "a giant squid's [sic] range" could exceed 30 miles, Will simply mumbles that it's possible. Robards orders his deputy to have the Coast Guard danger zone widened and that they have to keep the kids from going in the water as the two rush out. Ned then turns to Will and says the octopus must be destroyed and asks if Will can do it. Will's reply that he "only has one thought on his mind" is so vague that it's easy to identify with Jamie's mother, whose utterly bewildered face we leave the scene on.

Cut to a shotgun ringing out--and don't worry, your Blu-ray hasn't frozen on this shot. No, for some reason, Ovidio G. Assonitis has discovered how to freeze-frame and he's about to abuse that effect like Zack Snyder abuses the slow-mo function. The shotgun was the starting signal for the yacht race, and now the sinister harpsichord breaks out into the disco remix version as we watch the sailboats head out and a Coast Guard helicopter and cutter be dispatched to stop the race--as the octopus crawls along the ocean floor, because apparently the octopus hates radios so much it is willing to swim 50 miles out of its way to attack one.

You'd think if it hated radios that much it would be angry enough to come up on land to destroy any there, but the filmmakers failed to exploit the possibilities of an octopus rampaging through the town plucking people off the street. Most likely because that would not have been in the budget even before they hired name actors who wanted a nice working vacation.

On shore, nobody seems to be actually watching the race, but rather are being "entertained" by Uncle Sam telling jokes about a drunken Scotsman. Tillie, in the midst of the crowd, however, is keeping regular contact with her son and Jamie through the walkie-talkie. After a series of utterly inexplicable freeze-frames--which are narrated over by Uncle Sam still talking about the Scotsman who was covered in cow shit--the Coast Guard helicopter hovers over the sail boats while one man inside holds up a chalkboard sign saying, "Danger: Go Back." Don't these helicopters have loud speakers?

While that actually hilarious visual is happening, Uncle Sam is still torturing the spectators with jokes that barely meet the minimum definition. "Do you know that one out of every two Americans wears glasses? ... That just shows you how importnat ears are!" No, I did not make that up. Finally, one of the race officials has the bright idea to fire the shotgun again,which the kids actually notice so he can wave them toward shore. The folks on shore barely seem to notice, though Tillie keeps radioing Tommy and Jamie. Well, actually she radios Jamie specifically and asks him, "What's wrong, Jamie? Answer your mother!" So apparently Shelley Winters has forgotten which boy is supposed to be her son.

The octopus strikes, finally. The full-scale rubber head goes cruising through the water amongst the racers--and credit where credit is due, since we can only see the creature's eyes it might actually be swimming backwards, as actual octopuses do--knocking boats over left and right. Since nobody is watching their children, nobody on shore but Tillie has realized anything is wrong. (Dig the bad freeze-frame on a woman yawning) Now, despite the octopus's earlier M.O. of killing anyone even near a radio, this time it is apparently so focused on the radio that Tommy and Jamie have that it is merely upsetting the other boats in its wake as it homes in on them.

This would probably be a lot more tense if the music didn't sound more like it belonged in a funky car chase instead of anything resembling a horror film.

And Tillie, unaware of the danger, is constantly screaming into the walkie-talkie. The octopus hurtles towards the boat and Tommy either falls out or dives out, so that only the terrified Jamie is left in the boat when the octopus catches up to it. The inappropriate music wisely cuts out here as we see the live octopus wrap its tentacles around the miniature boat--and then the sail sinks beneath the waves.

"I changed my mind, I wouldn't like to be in an octopus's garden!"
Only now do the people on shore notice all the overturned sail boats and the Coast Guard cutter. The shots of the wrecked boats are rather odd since the fact that none of the children are in sight would seem to imply that the octopus killed them all--but that isn't the case at all. Rather, as Ned arrives with Jamie's mother, we are about to find out that the Coast Guard cutter is full of every single one of the rescued kids...

...all except for Jamie. Ned comforts the poor boy's mother as Tillie gratefully holds Tommy close. Of course, this is somewhat undercut by the fact that the child actor playing Tommy greets Jamie's mother with a look that I think is supposed to be shocked survivor's guilt, but plays more like Tommy is a sociopath. And then John Huston and Shelley Winters walk out of the movie.

Yep, we're stuck with Bo Hopkins as our focus for the rest of the picture, folks. The management deeply regrets this unfortunate turn of events, but he was asking for the least amount of money. On the plus side, his orcas are a part of the deal.

In fact, set to a ridiculous martial drum theme, we discover we have literally entered the Orca sequence of our Jaws rip-off. Will and Mike have anchored their boat near the area where Judy and Vicky met their doom, and dragging behind the boat is a portable tank housing Will's two orcas. The tank not only looks even more like the Weinermobile than the earlier mini-sub, but it looks way too small to accommodate one orca--but just you never mind that.

Will advises Mike that they'll wait for the octopus to come to them and has him set up loud speakers so that they can hear the whales. That seems like the opposite of what they'd want to do. Surely the octopus would hear the sound of the orcas and avoid a confrontation with a predator. Since they already know radios will bring the beast running for miles, why not just set theirs up to transmit as constantly as possible?

Night falls as Will and Mike argue about whether the octopus will even come back to its lair. Mike thinks it will figure out that they're waiting for it, but Will, sounding demented, asserts that this octopus is special because it's tasted blood and thinks it's stronger than they are, and so it will definitely return. And then the whales start squealing and Will gets an...indescribable look on his face as he contentedly says, "Summer...listen to the way she talks to me." He's referring to one of the whales, since they're named Summer and Winter, in case you're confused but you'll be even more confused watching the film because either due to bad direction, the bizarre way Bo Hopkins chose to play it, or just the script itself...well, I won't tiptoe around it:

Bo Hopkins wants to fuck that whale.

"Now that Vicky's gone, nothing can stop our love, Summer!"
Will continues jabbering on about how smart the whales are, how he understands them and they understand him, and how they belong to "two worlds." Mike interrupts this nonsense to ask why he calls them Summer and Winter, and Will explains he met Vicky in the Summer and married her in the Winter and then the awkward silence descends except for the orca sounds. Hilariously, at this point you realize this is basically the movie's take on the Indianapolis speech and scar comparison, right down to the whale song.

The next morning, Will feeds the orcas--despite earlier saying that maybe they should keep them a bit hungry before the confrontation--and then proceeds to let the orcas know that today they are cancelling the apocalypse. His motivational speech is somewhat undercut by the flashbacks to him training the whales and dolphins. That's not relevant to this scene, Mr. Assonitis! Though I truly laughed aloud at, "When I was training you...people used to call you killers. They used to call me that on the streets. It don't mean nothin'." Which streets were those, Will, the Sesame variety?

At any rate, his speech is also undercut by the fact that he says the orcas are more loving than any human he ever met (maybe that's why his grief over Vicky's death was so...subdued) and then says that he needs them to kill the octopus for him, but hey, if they want to just swim away then that's okay, too. You also should probably not end your rousing speech with, "Okay, I gotta go now."

Night falls again and we see the growling octopus crawling along the ocean floor, but somehow the night passes without incident. However, as Mike is preparing several spear guns the next day, the Ominous Harpsichord returns. Yet even though Will was just on deck and vulnerable, the octopus waits until he goes safely below before attacking the boat. Mike and Will are knocked ass over tea kettle and then rush topside to find that the orca Weinermobile has been smashed and partially sunk. Will reacts with far more emotion to this than to his wife's death, but then Mike points out the dorsal fins nearby.

The fins that are retreating to the open sea. Will raises his whistle to his lips to call them back--and then hesitates, deciding against it. Instead, he instructs Mike to suit up: they're gonna kill the octopus themselves. Mike is a lot more willing to go along with this plan to use puny spear guns to take on a super fast, very strong and pissed off creature that can also disguise itself as almost anything than you might expect.

So, yeah, our thrilling climax is a mostly silent scuba sequence. All the false scare parrot fish and manta rays can't make this suspenseful, especially given that despite Will wearing a hood and Mike letting his hair flow freely we still have no idea even which man is which for most of it. Well, Will gets a cloud of actually defensive ink in his face while investigating a cave, but escapes unharmed. The octopus then apparently tosses coral at Mike.

However, Will gets the worst of it when the octopus causes a coral slide that pins him and disconnects his air hose. In a delightful shot, the live octopus then pounces upon the scuba diver doll meant to represent the helpess Will--but he is saved when the orcas return, accompanied by a very silly light-hearted orchestral theme that then morphs into what sounds like a Western showdown. The orcas swoop down on their trainer's attacker and...

Ugh. Well, this is an Italian horror film from the 1970s. It simply wouldn't be possible to escape animal cruelty.

For now we watch as what are unmistakably orca hand puppets tear apart a real octopus. I honestly cannot say if the octopus in this sequence is alive or not for the entirety, but it is most definitely real and is being torn to pieces. Most of its movements suggest someone off screen jiggling an octopus they found at a fish market, but then it actively wraps its tentacles around one of the puppets in retaliation at one point. Now, the parts being torn off are its tentacles, which would grow back if it is alive--but that hardly excuses torturing the poor creature, now does it? And certainly not for so lengthy a sequence as this one is.

As the octopus shrieks in agony as it is torn apart, it flees to its cave and Mike is able to come to Will's rescue and provide him oxygen. After digging him out, Mike helps Will swim to the surface. The poor octopus cannot escape the hand puppets, however. After being sufficiently mutilated for the director's taste, its limp body finally sinks into the ocean depths. Again, I really hope it was already dead before they filmed this.

Back aboard the boat, which is riding through some rough seas, we learn it's been three days with no sign of the whales. Will tells Mike that he's decided to take a dry land safari in Africa to see "elephants, tigers, lions." (A tiger--in Africa?!) Mike says he'll come, too, and Will is happy to hear it. He then jokes about inviting Ned "as long as he doesn't bring his sister." Wow, way to make me wish the octopus had eaten you, jerk. Just then the orcas return and both Will and Mike are ecstatic to see them back. Freeze frame on a shot of the whales' fins next to the boat. The End.

"Wow, this death scene here on page 104 sure is brutal. When do you switch me out for the fake octopus? ... Guys?"
It's hard to really know what to make of a movie like Tentacles. On the one hand, it has some really effective set pieces in it that make one almost inclined to think favorably of it; on the other hand it's so horribly misguided and constantly teetering on the edge of dull that you feel inclined to wash your hands of it entirely; and on the other six hands, it inexcusably becomes a cephalopod snuff film in the last ten minutes.

Leaving aside the animal cruelty, since it's necessary to look beyond that in order to effectively judge the film artistically instead of morally, this is ultimately not a very good movie, plain and simple. As I alluded to at many points the film is obscenely padded, with shots that go on well past the point of any use and there are many that have no clear point to start with. Its music is utterly inappropriate at all points--I mean, its octopus's leitmotif is a harpsichord for Christ's sake!

The film's attempt to draw audiences in with name actors like John Huston, Shelley Winters, and Henry Fonda is certainly appreciated when they're actually on screen but ultimately they aren't the movie's focus and this ends up being really obvious when they all end up disappearing as soon as they've met some unclear quota of screentime. I mean, Henry Fonda has a total of 3 scenes in the entire film and, while it's fascinating that the film does not follow the formula of having the reckless corporate scumbags responsible for the creature's rampage become its meal, that means he ultimately has zero effect on the narrative. Assonitis would pull the same trick again with Winters and Huston when he produced The Visitor in 1979, but there not only were the name value actors spread out enough to give you your money's worth, the focus when they weren't on screen was on performers like Lance Henriksen who actually have charisma.

Ultimately, Tentacles has just enough right choices in it to fall just shy of good and enough hilariously awful choices to approach the ideal of a "good-bad" movie, but its ultimate lifelessness dooms it to be merely bad. This is not a movie I would advise anyone to avoid at all costs, but I simply cannot recommend it, either. Aside from the morally repugnant climax, there's nothing truly objectionable about the film but that doesn't mean it's worth your time.

After all, Scream Factory released it on Blu-ray in a double feature with Reptilicus, and it's not a good sign when Reptilicus is the better movie in your double feature.


This review was part of the Nature's Fury Blogathon, presented by Cinematic Catharsis. the Blogathon runs from June 18th-20th, so click th banner above to go find out more about the wide range of reviews offered for your enjoyment!

4 comments:

  1. Is it wrong that I'm still intrigued by this film, despite everything you've mentioned? Perhaps if I ever have a couple of hours to kill... Based on your comments, I'm surprised an alliance of cephalopods didn't sue the filmmakers for defamation.

    Fun review! Many thanks for enduring Tentacles and taking part in the Nature's Fury Blogathon.

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  2. Impressive post ! I have a soft spot for this movie as I saw it at the drive-in (on a double feature I think with DAMNATION ALLEY). The Italians have a special affinity for these things and this is one of the "best" (along with GREAT WHITE).

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  3. Impressive post ! I have a soft spot for this movie as I saw it at the drive-in (on a double feature I think with DAMNATION ALLEY). The Italians have a special affinity for these things and this is one of the "best" (along with GREAT WHITE).

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  4. Magnificent review! I find myself wondering if there was some kind of sudden lifting of blindness to the intelligence of cephalopods toward the end of the last century, or if the octopodes realized that they had better stop hiding their light under a bucket, because this isn't the only film that's almost ruined by casual violence toward those living the tentacled lifestyle. This one gets all the way to ruined on its other merits, but there's that sequence in the middle of BEAST FROM 20000 FATHOMS just before Cecil Kellaway gets munched-- an octopus gets dropped onto the head a small shark which has clearly been drinking gin while someone told it its sister was catcalled by a squid, in a very tiny tank, framed as a display of the instinctive hatred of the two species. Why do that to a Harryhausen film?

    It's encouraging to hear that there's a new release of REPTILICUS, as I love that sad little brain-damaged film; it might be worth letting TENTACLES into the house to have the other one at hand.

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