If you can think of an animal (or fish, or creature of any sort), then I can probably name you a movie that uses it in what is otherwise a rip-off of Jaws. Hell, there are a bunch that didn’t even bother to change that much and just had another shark attacking somewhere (one film, Great White, cribs so closely from Spielberg’s film that Universal sued them; it remains largely unavailable in the US), making Jaws possibly the most copied film in history. These knockoffs vary in quality; most are terrible, some are quite good, and many can at least claim to be better than two of the actual Jaws sequels, if nothing else. And then there’s Tentacles, an entry in this particular sweepstakes that is so delightfully “off” that I almost wish it was popular enough for it to have inspired its own wave of copycats, each attempting to out-odd the others.
On the surface it’s fairly standard stuff: a developer did some shady developing in the ocean and inadvertently created a monster, in this case a mutated octopus. The octopus starts killing people, and it’s up to a group of folks on the mainlandeach with their own agendato put the pieces together, team up, and go out to sea to stop it. Nothing unusual, right?
Well what if I told you that one of the longer scenes in the movie (at least, it seems like one of the longest) involves Shelley Winters (!) arguing about the registration process for a junior regatta? Or that the obligatory attack on said regatta (it’s the “close the beaches!” element of this one) plays out mostly in still frames of not only the kids in the boats, but randoms on-shore, some of whom aren’t even watching the damn race! There’s also a bad comedian somewhere in there, delivering many of his lines off-screen, which along with the still frames can make you wonder if you’re experiencing a seizure of some sort.
Oh and [spoiler] the octopus isn’t killed by humans, but by a pair of whales that Bo Hopkins asks for help in his octopus hunt. Literally. He says “I can’t ask anybody else, so I’m asking you to help me kill this octopus.” And they do! It’s quite sweet.
In addition to Winters, John Huston (as a reporter) and Henry Fonda (as the evil construction tycoon) also show up to collect their paychecks and lend this thing far more class than you’d expect. Huston even has a real role, showing up throughout the film in stark contrast to Fonda, who does the usual thing acclaimed actors do in cheapo horror movies: shoot his scenes on what was obviously a single day on the set, largely disconnected from the action and lasting only long enough to justify using him in the marketing material.
Hopkins is the real star, as the marine biologist on a personal vendetta against the octopus after it kills his wife. Its one of the few times Ive seen the actor play something besides a southern redneck (or southern lawman), but it’s amusing to me that one of those other rare occasions was American Graffiti, which starred Richard Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss followed that film up with Jaws, while Hopkins got to play the Dreyfuss-type role in a rip-off. And Ron Howard is currently directing a killer whale movie! I hope by the end of my life I can connect every American Graffiti cast member to a movie involving some water-dwelling beast.
The attack scenes that dont play out in still frames are pretty bad, utilizing some of the most laughably poor model work I’ve ever seen (the toy boat splashing in what looks like a tub is particularly delightful), though some of the underwater shots of a normal sized octopus look pretty good, and there are a couple of respectable tentacle lashings to make up for the unconvincing ones. It’s not particularly gory for an Italian movie, but it’s unusually harsh when it comes to child killing apparently they wanted to top Spielberg and the Kintner boy, so they off a younger kid (at the boat race) and a baby! Both occur off-screen, but still pretty grim, and when you consider how bad the FX are, the mom’s horrified face as she sees the baby’s overturned carriage is way better than any on-screen attack would have turned out. So it’s, on accident, a genuinely upsetting moment in a movie that probably didn’t intend to have any. Then again, this was director Ovidio G. Assonitis’ follow-up to Beyond The Door, one of the more notorious Exorcist wannabes that featured two of the weirder/angrier possessed children in the sub-genre. Maybe he’s just got hang-ups about youngsters and was using rip-off movies to work some shit out.
That sequence alone is enough to elevate it above Reptilicus, which is on the same disc (as if Tentacles couldn’t entice a buy on the strength of its score alone!). Somehow it was never featured on MST3k back in the day, but don’t let that fool you: it would have been right at home with things like The Beast of Yucca Flats and Horrors of Spider Island. Much like Tentacles was following suit and ripping off Jaws like everyone else in the late 70s, this 1961 film was trying to create its own icon to live alongside Godzilla, though the attempt wasn’t quite as successful.
In fact, it’s a chore of a film, with the primary entertainment value stemming from its ridiculous monster and off-scale FX sequences, not to mention the awkward dubbing. The questionable acting is another “highlight”; I particularly liked how casual the guys are after firing a bazooka and causing massive destruction; they nonchalantly get up and walk away as if they had just decided to leave a baseball game a bit early. Its main claim to fame is being Denmark’s first and (as far as I know) last giant monster movie, not to mention wasting a pretty great title on a blah movie. Consider Tentacles the main feature on the disc, with Reptilicus a bonus supplement (especially since the disc offers no traditional supplements beyond trailers and other ads) and you’ll feel better about having it in your collection.
Brian, aka BC, has been watching horror movies since the age of 6, and twenty years later decided to put it to good use, both as a writer for several leading genre sites, as well as launching his own, Horror Movie A Day, which Roger Ebert once read and misunderstood the points that were being made. Follow him @BrianWCollins