Ovido G. Assonitis, 1977
Starring: John Huston, Shelley Winters, Henry Fonda, Bo Hopkins
“This isn’t candy, it’s passion.”
Tentacles is yet another Jaws rip off, except this time with a giant, rage-filled octopus tearing up a small, coastal town in the middle of summer regatta season. The menacing cephalopod snatches a baby off the shore immediately after opening credits, then spends the next hundred minutes ravaging swimmers, scuba divers and sailing enthusiasts alike, as well as some of the characters’ wives and children. A journalist, his nosy sisters, and a killer whale trainer try to help the local police get to the bottom of things. It seems some unsanctioned radio signal tests done by a local businessman are to blame and have set the killer octopus on its path of fury. Astoundingly, the whale trainer convinces his beloved orcas to hunt down and decimate the tentacled terror.
Tentacles, despite the promising title and premise, is terrible, but almost in a fascinating way. Like the following year’s killer bee movie and one of my favorite animals attack films of all time, The Swarm, Tentacles has a cast of A-list actors, a lengthy running time (though The Swarm outdoes it by 55 minutes), enough plot holes to sink a ship, atrocious dialogue, and an antagonist we almost never see. Though it can’t hold up to the charms of The Swarm (what can?), for some reason I begrudgingly like Tentacles. Honestly it is worth watching just to see an aged, chubby Shelley Winters, costumed in everything from a horrid dressing gown to the world’s largest sombrero. And she does have some choice dialogue.
Most of the other actors seem bored. Though there are some fun scenes, the film is slow and talky, with Winters either rambling on, or Huston interviewing people and talking on the phone. A lot. At least he tries to chew scenery with gusto, though for a character who begins as the protagonist, he is quickly no where to be found. And Henry Fonda, cast in this film for no reason I can discern, seems unsure how he found himself on the set. There are many unnecessary side characters, weird dubbing and the most out of place score imaginable. It was composed by Stelvio Cipriani, also responsible for Nightmare City (a score I actually like) and the almost psychotically annoying score for Sergio Martino’s The Great Alligator.
The octopus, though little seen, looks pretty good and I prefer the murky, shot-with-miniatures and guy-underwater-holding-a-tentacle approach next to bad CGI any day. The killer whales vs. giant octopus ending is particularly wonderful and has some catastrophically awful dialogue and music. Parts of it are vague and boring, so don’t be afraid to use your imagination. The music will help with that.
Tentacles was directed by producer Ovidio G. Assonitis, who regularly worked with American International Pictures. That explains why this is an American-Italian co-production, has an international cast and the trademark dubbing. Assonitis also directed Beyond the Door (1974) and Piranha II (1981), though he was uncredited on the latter. He produced one of my favorite killer snake films, Curse II: The Bite (1988), which is not in fact a sequel to The Curse (1987). He either has the best or worst surname, but I can’t decide.
Assonitis also worked with John Huston and Shelley Winters (and Mel Ferrer, Sam Peckinpah, Glenn Ford and Lance Henriksen) as a producer on The Visitor (1979), which I am now dying to see. According to IMDB, “The soul of a young girl with telekinetic powers becomes the prize in a fight between the forces of God and the Devil.” Wouldn’t you know an uncredited Franco Nero plays Jesus Christ.
Anyway - clearing my head of that delightful vision - if you want to subject yourself to Tentacles, MGM’s wonderful Midnite Movies series released this as a double feature with Empire of the Ants (also 1977). Really, almost everything about this movie is bad, so watch at your own risk.