Tentacles (1977) d. Ovidio G. Assonitis (Italy/USA)
A drunk old fisherman and a 10-month-old infant both go mysteriously missing in separate incidents in the same week near Solana Beach, a seaside tourist community, later turning up completely drained of fluids (including the bone marrow). Investigative reporter Ned Turner (John Huston) smells a story in the offing, suspecting a connection to moneybags developer Mr. Whitehead (Henry Fonda) and his Trojan Construction company’s underwater tunnel project off the coast. In an effort to find out what could be causing the deaths, Turner seeks out the assistance of renowned marine biologist Will Gleason (Bo Hopkins), presently stationed at a Sea World-type outfit training killer whales. Gleason theorizes that it could be a giant octopus, up in arms (cue rimshot) over Trojan’s disturbance of the ocean floor fauna. But will they be able to stop the grotesque grabber before the summer’s big tourist event (a massive sailboat race) or will the suckers get suckered?
Obviously working from the Jaws playbook, this AIP release substitutes a cheesed cephalopod in the place of Bruce the Shark. Set in California (and shot in Italy), producer/director Assonitis and his three screenwriters (Steven W. Carabatsos, Tito Carpi, Jerome Max) aren’t shy about knocking off the younger set to up the ante - kids stolen out of strollers! - but they don’t seem to have a clue how to build a Spielbergian aura of suspense. Instead, we get a lot of chit-chat about who knew what about which construction project, none of which ever really adds up to anything, and waaaaay too much time with Turner’s boozy sister Tillie (Shelley Winters, in her full-on obnoxious ’70s harridan wheelhouse) haranguing her son leading up to the big race.
“Wow, there’s a lot of Hollywood star power here,” you’re saying about now, and you’d be right. But the sad fact is that everyone is just there to cash a check, with only Hopkins emotionally invested in the proceedings at hand and that’s only after the eight-legged terror puts the squeeze on his honey pie wife Vicki (Delia Boccardo). Huston, who teamed again with Assonitis (as producer) for 1979’s The Visitor, is coasting hard, but he’s running circles around Fonda’s vacant impersonation of piqued authority – it’s obvious the Hollywood veteran had only learned his lines a few minutes beforehand and was on set for all of a day... if that.
|"And that's all the lines I can remember right now... at this price."|
Claude Akins is similarly disinterested as the local badge while Winters – sporting an inordinate array of ridiculous headwear – is nails on a chalkboard for her every onscreen second.
Tellingly, all of the headliners have disappeared from the action by the time we hit the final reel, not victims of the killer ’pus, but simply because Assonitis couldn’t afford to keep them around any longer. Only Gleason and his Oceanside Institute buddy Mike (Alan Boyd) remain to do battle, whereupon they bring out the big guns, er, fins. Yep, that’s right, the wet-suited Southerner persuades his killer whale pals, Summer and Winter, to put the bite on The Inky One, but only after he delivers a super-earnest and unintentionally hilarious pre-attack motivational speech/confessional. Seriously, one for the ages, folks.
In keeping with Jaws, the titular Tentacles has its own theme music courtesy of prolific genre staple Stelvio Cipriani (Bay of Blood, Pieces, Nightmare City), an admittedly memorable and entertaining blend of harpsichord and horns. (I also enjoyed the fact that our creepy cephalopod makes a roaring underwater sound every time it closes in on its next victim.) The rest of Cipriani’s score is a little iffy, ranging from repetitious to wildly inappropriate, but his two main themes are winners.
Overall, this is a sloppy, schlocky affair that manages to be entertaining in spite of itself, more for the misses than the hits. Outside of our stars, the remaining roles are filled by Italian actors whose performances are dubbed (badly), while our octopus effects are a combo of aquarium footage and some fair-to-middling miniature work.
The centerpiece sailboat sequence is punctuated by bizarre freeze frames and an even more bizarre comedy routine told by a man in an Uncle Sam suit while Tillie tries to raise her boy on the walkie talkie. (Seriously, I want to hear the punchline to the Scotsman joke!) And when the octopus comes racing toward the fleet of boats, its head cruising through the water, kaiju fans can’t help but smile, reminded of a similar image of Hedorah from Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.
Much like the film it’s paired with on Shout! Factory’s recent release, Reptilicus, this one has found its way into the Kitley’s Krypt annual Turkey Day Marathon back in 2006, and I think the only reason we didn’t enjoy it more was that we were a) already a little exhausted from the day’s efforts and b) back then it was only Jon and I so there wasn’t that same sense of collective energy. Watching it again this time, I was genuinely surprised that we were so hard on it, because, doggone it, this is Prime Gobbler Material.
If for no other reason than the opportunity for reassessment, I’m extremely thankful for Shout! Factory's having putting it out on Blu-ray this week. There aren’t a lot of supplements (photo gallery, theatrical trailer, radio spot), but it’s still a fine slice of Jawsploitation, and probably on the only one to conclude with a tag-team orca attack going mano-a-mano-a-mano-a-mano-a-mano-a-mano-a-mano-a-mano with Captain Calamari.
Tentacles is available now from Shout! Factory (as a double feature with Reptilicus) can be ordered HERE: