top

Tentacles
(1977)

Director: "Oliver Hellman" (Ovidio G. Assonitis)  
Cast:
John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins, Henry Fonda


After having looked carefully at all aspects of my life, I have come to a definite conclusion: For the most part, I was born at the right time and in the right place. Let me explain with some examples. For instance, I am lucky to have been born during an era where I don't have to hike deep into the wilderness to forage for food. Instead, I can hop on a bus that in minutes drops me off at a supermarket where I can find all the food I need. Another example is with medical care. Whenever I am feeling poorly, I can make an appointment with my family doctor in short notice, and get the medical advice that I need. (And since I live in Canada, I don't have to pay for this service.) Another way I am lucky to be in the right place at the right time is when it comes to entertainment. One obvious way I've lucked out when it comes to entertainment is with having affordable high speed Internet at my hands. But a bigger and more obvious way is with movies. For one thing, I am instantly lucky to have been born in the movie-making era. Also, I am fortunate to have in my city a number of movie theaters to go to, as well as having access to multiple television channels that broadcast movies. And I am blessed with the invention of video cassettes and DVD, meaning I can buy or rent movies as well. I love movies. Now, I do realize that environment and experiences shape a person from birth to adulthood. I am also pretty sure that if I was born over a hundred years ago, I would probably be thinking I was lucky to be born in the 1800s and not some earlier era. And when it came to entertainment, I would probably be thinking something along the lines of, "I am instantly lucky to have thousands of books and other reading material at my hands. I love books."

However, if you reread that above paragraph, you will have noted that I said I was lucky to be born and be living in this era for the most part. There are a few aspects of life in the twenty-first century that currently leave me unsatisfied. I have mentioned such things in other reviews, but if you've forgotten, I'll say it again. There are times I regret living in the modern era because there are far fewer realms left to explore. Sometimes I wish I lived in the era of explorers like Columbus, because there was still so much of the world to explore. I can only imagine the thrill of discovering a new land, with features unlike anything seen on my home turf. But thanks to stuff like Google maps, every little bit of the land on earth has been charted. And what is left to explore, well, that leaves me hesitant. Certainly outer space has plenty left to explore, but currently space travel is still primitive and hosts a bunch of potential problems. (What would I do if I got appendicitis on the long trip to Mars?) Then there is the ocean. Beneath the waves, it's still largely unmapped, and it's hiding a lot to be discovered. But ocean exploration to me is just as unappealing as space travel. Scuba divers get the bends, and submarine occupants have limited space to move around. Then there is the animal life that occupies the ocean. There are a lot of nasty creatures among the sea life. Of course, there are sharks, though it gives me some comfort to know that only a few of the more than three hundred kinds of sharks are dangerous to humans. I think most people know this. But I also think the public knows little to nothing about cephalopods, which consists of species like the squid and the octopus. I must confess before doing research for Tentacles that I knew little about these species, except that they tasted good when I sampled them from my dinner plate during past trips to Asia.

During my research on cephalopods, I unearthed the fact that these species in the wild can be dangerous to humans. Maybe the danger only comes if you get too close and severely provoke them, but I think we can all agree that at the very least they look so creepy and dangerous you'd probably Tentaclesstay far away just to be on the safe side. I certainly would. And in my research, I also found that some are powerful enough to attack sharks. You might think cephalopods would be a natural for horror films, but there haven't been that many movies concerning them, probably because constructing a creature with multiple moving arms has to be painstaking work. When they made the horror movie Tentacles, they actually did construct an expensive mechanical octopus, but it sunk when towed into the ocean. So the filmmakers had to resort to miniatures and stock footage, which should give you some idea of the quality of the finished product. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let me backtrack and tell you about the movie's plot. The events in Tentacles take place in and around the California beach community of Solana Beach. (Oddly, the community was called "Ocean Beach" in the studio's publicity material.) During the events of the movie, the people we meet in this community include aging reporter Ned Turner (Huston, The Deserter), his sister Tillie Turner (Winters, City On Fire) and her young son Tommy. There is also one Mr. Whitehead (Fonda, The Great Smokey Roadblock), who is in charge of a project in the community that involves building a tunnel under the ocean. But soon local sheriff Robards (Claude Akins, The Curse) discovers that maybe this tunnel project is bringing some deadly consequences. A baby is on a seaside sidewalk one second, and then seconds later is dead in the water. Soon after, a sailor is on his docked yacht one second, and then his mutilated corpse is found in the ocean not long afterwards. More mysterious deaths start piling up, all of them also taking place at the ocean. Eventually, oceanographer Will Gleason (Hopkins, A Small Town In Texas) comes to Solana Beach with his wife Vicky (Delia Boccardo, Hercules) to try and figure out just what is going on. Eventually he learns what we in the audience instantly knew from reading the movie's title, though he also determines he's going to have to take unorthodox steps to stop the eight-legged creature...

The first topic concerning Tentacles that I am going to discuss - which is the human characters - may surprise you, since after all this is a monster movie we are talking about. But I think that the human characters in a monster movie determine to a great degree the movie's overall success or failure. We need humans that we find interesting and/or sympathetic to make us care about the man vs. monster struggle. But the human character in Tentacles are really hard to get involved with. Take the Turner siblings for instance. The fact that the fifty-seven year old Shelley Winters is supposed to be the mother of a boy about ten years old is kind of hard to swallow, but even more ludicrous is that she calls the seventy-one year old John Huston her "little brother". (Though maybe she's talking about weight instead of age.) Although the other characters in the movie don't come across as ridiculous as those two, all the same they are very badly written. Claude Akins' sheriff character only has a few scenes, and nowhere in any of those scenes does he make a decision or action that has any real bearing on the other characters or the plot. And while you might think that Henry Fonda, as the head of the construction project that unintentionally started the whole mess, would impact the events of the movie somewhat, that is simply not the case. To my recollection, he only has three (brief) scenes, and like Akins his presence does not seem to be needed at all. As it happens, pretty much all the characters I listed in the above paragraph only seem to be in the movie to give room for "star power", and not much more. In fact, when the movie is about three quarters over, the movie has written out or forgotten about all its big star players except for Hopkins.

Actually, looking back at my notes, there does seem to be an additional reason why these seemingly useless characters are in Tentacles. That reason is to pad out the movie to an acceptable running length. So we have endless scenes of the characters talking to each other, with very little of this talk making any kind of serious impact on the rest of the movie. All of this talk gets real boring real fast, especially in the DVD edition of the movie, which runs about twelve additional minutes longer than the American theatrical version. So as you can see, these characters give little to the audience to make them care. Except maybe to care enough to want to see these characters become octopus food. I won't say who among the cast lives or dies, except to say that more likely than not you'll be very disappointed. And when it comes to other people in the general area becoming food for the monster, the movie doesn't get that much better. As I indicated earlier, the movie seems more content to show us boring scenes of people talking rather than monster spectacles, possibly in part due to the low budget of the entire enterprise. Whatever the reason may be, there is less people-munching than you might think. The few scenes where there are people being munched by the monster are all botched thanks to the way director Ovidio G. Assonitis (who later produced Choke Canyon and Sonny Boy) directs these scenes. Take the killing of that baby that happens in the first few minutes of the movie. Assonitis first stumbles by having the baby in its stroller visible in the background while its mother is talking to a friend for an incredibly long time. Then when the mother notices her baby is missing, and immediately afterwards rushes to the water and sees the stroller in the water, her reaction is a lot calmer than you may think. If she isn't showing great horror that her baby is dead, why should we be feeling it as well?

In a later scene, the octopus has its tentacles around a partially submerged victim, though the victim is upside down, meaning his legs are sticking straight up in the air out of the water. This is supposed to appear creepy, but instead it looked so ridiculous that it make me laugh instead. Other attack sequences show off some very poor special effects, like when a giant wave caused by the octopus (how could an octopus create a giant wave?) swamps a boat, and the boat is obviously a miniature floating in a studio water tank. It's not just the octopus attacks that are bungled so badly, it's also the various ways that the octopus itself is portrayed. This is supposed to be a big octopus, a giant among giants. But not once did I ever get that feeling. For a long time, not one bit of the octopus is seen, probably in an attempt to do what Jaws did with its beast. In later attack scenes, such as when the octopus is ripping apart a boat, we don't see one tentacle or sucker. When it is revealed for the first time, it is not only in extreme close up in a failed attempt to make it look big, it was obviously shot in a studio aquarium, giving the shot an even phonier appearance. The one or two times when we do get to see the entire octopus, it comes across as a silhouette because the light source is behind the creature. And even in those shots, it doesn't look that big. This is one octopus that never comes across as creepy or frightening. This may explain some of the dumb decisions some of the human characters make in the movie, like holding a big sailboat race in the area despite the escalating body count, but I think I've said enough. The real suckers connected with Tentacles are not those on the octopus' tentacles, but the people foolish enough to plunk down money to watch the movie.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (Download)
Check for availability on Amazon (Blu-Ray)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Crocodile, The Last Shark, Mosquito

homeindexgenree-mail