Tentacles (1977)

1977. It was a good year for movies. The world was blessed with ground-breaking and notable titles like ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, ‘Sorcerer’, ‘Saturday Night Fever’, ‘The Duelists’, ‘The Deep’ and, of course, the grand-daddy of them all, ‘Star Wars’. And these are just a few of the top-notch flicks that popped into the world the year that I popped into the world. ‘Tentacles’ is NOT ground-breaking or notable…except maybe for being a ‘Jaws’ wannabe that pretty much shit the bed entirely, in almost EVERY aspect of film-making. This movie is hilariously bad…as my girlfriend and I discovered last night. Earlier in the week, I’d come across a ‘Face Off’ article on a movie-nerd site that I frequent. This ‘confrontation’ pitted two obvious ‘Jaws’ copycats, ‘Orca The Killer Whale’ (which I reviewed in the ‘way back’ of 2012) and ‘Tentacles’. I’d known ‘Tentacles’ as merely some obscure marine ‘creature feature’ from the 70’s, but I’d never thought to seek it out. For whatever reason, the mention and basic breakdown of the flick sounded like B-movie gold…and I decided I MUST see it. I had no idea what to expect as I hit PLAY, as I secretly hoped that it would turn into one of those rare cinematic gems that SHOULD be cheap crap but actually turns out FAR better than it has any right to be (for some reason, the kick-ass fantasy flick ‘Dragonslayer’ (1981) comes to mind as being one of THOSE). Well…from the OPENING CREDITS I knew that was NOT going to be the case with THIS one.
‘Tentacles’ opens with amateurish footage shot from the backseat of a cab driving along some beach-side street in California (though not set there). For whatever reason, we’re then shown an obviously Italian-speaking but poorly English-dubbed woman and her infant stroller-bound son. Seeing some acquaintance on the other side of the road, an unsafe distance from her helpless child, the idiotic woman heads on over to chitchat about…nothing at all. Just prior to this, as the woman was babbling incoherently to the little brat, we were treated to the expected ‘lurking monster’ PoV shot, as it slowly approached the sea-side walkway Mom and Son were parked on. So…as Mom is chatting away, the little appetizer suddenly vanishes in the background. Cue the cry of anguish as Mom sees the mangled stroller bobbing around in the ocean moments later. We then see the same fate befall some peg-legged sailor dude (no shit… Buddy has an actual peg-leg!), right off the deck of his own, moored boat. Sorry…we don’t SEE shit…we hear a grunt and a splash. It’s after this that the authorities and an elderly reporter named ‘Ned Turner’, played by renowned actor / director John Huston (‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’), decide that something fishy is going on. As we’re introduced to ‘Ned’, we’re also introduced to the weird ‘live in’ relationship he has with his plump, promiscuous, alcoholic and over-the-hill sister ‘Tillie’, played pathetically by supposedly good actress Shelley Winters (‘The Poseiden Adventure’). ‘Tillie’ is the guardian of two adolescent boys, who’s relationship to her is poorly defined, and it seems she’s intent on enrolling them in some sort of yacht race, despite not showing us ANYTHING to suggest these kids have an interest in such things or even know what the hell a boat is. Oh, right…potential terror and peril…I forgot. So anyway, after ‘Ned’ gets the details from the moronic-looking sheriff about the skeletonized remains of the recovered victims (even the marrow was sucked outta the bones!), he takes it upon himself to seek out a whale trainer named ‘Will’ (Bo Hopkins), to get his take on what’s going on. It seems that ‘Will’ has already sent a pair of clearly Italian-speaking scuba divers out into the affected area to poke around and see what’s what. And guess what happens. You got it…they become octopus food! Cue the undersea tale of horror and heroism!!
I have to admit that I love movies like this that just BEG for heckling. My girlfriend and I laughed our asses off throughout the 1 hour and 42 minute run-time of this pathetic attempt at cinematic undersea terror. Holy shit…there was comedy gold at every turn! Where do I begin?
Let’s see, being that there is SO much ‘bad’…is there any ‘good’ to begin with? I will admit that some of the underwater sequences looked great, especially in the Blu ray version. One or two shots of the obviously normal-sized octopus looked slightly effective and didn’t prompt a burst of laughter from either of us. There’s also a decent scene late in the flick, where ‘Will’ has a heart-to-heart with his two killer whales, ‘Summer’ and ‘Winter’, prior to unleashing them on the tentacled menace. It’s probably the best piece of dialogue and acting in the entire thing…but that’s not saying much. And…that’s about it.
On with the ‘Bad’. It seemed like the so-called filmmakers had never directed a film or even looked through a view-finder in their lives. So much of what’s shown is totally ‘Amateur Hour’. We get useless and seemingly endless shots establishing scenes or locations that serve no purpose what-so-ever. Shots linger on…stuff, with no narrative or ‘stylistic’ reason at all. It was like they only had enough cash for one take per shot, and had to use whatever they caught on film, regardless of how poor it turned out. There are weak compositions every where. Sometimes the lens is clearly dirty. Often the shots are unsteady or unfocused. And don’t even get me started on the COMPLETELY unnecessary and poorly-chosen ‘freeze frames’! Seriously, People…WHY?! Random shots just…freeze. There’s no dramatic purpose at all. A shot will just stop. Hell, for a moment we wondered if the disk was fucked up…but then we realized that the horribly 70’s attempt at a musical score was still playing over whatever random image they opted to stop dead in its tracks. It made no sense at all…like so much else in this stupid movie.
Speaking of ‘making no sense’, the script (if you want to call it that) is beyond incompetent. Whole scenes; scenes that feel like they belong to a different flick, play out with no sense of narrative cohesion and often go on WAY too long. Many times, we looked at each other and asked “What the hell was the point of THAT?”. This aspect definitely applied to every sequence that Shelley Winters was in. Her entire subplot could’ve been sliced away and it only would’ve worked in movies favor. Her character was there to just act thick-in-the-head and wear absolutely mind-boggling hats. Unfortunately, there isn’t a scene where ‘Tillie’ comes face-to-tentacle with the pissed-off octopus and is rapidly reduced to a cloud of bloody pulp somewhere in the ocean depths. Now that would’ve been cool! Another subplot that probably could’ve hit the Cutting Room floor would’ve been the scenes involving the now-questionable acting chops of celebrated thespian Henry Fonda (‘On Golden Pond’). What the hell was he doing here?! It must’ve been a favor to someone or the lure of a REALLY easy paycheque. His line readings are SO flat and lifeless, I had to double check to make sure it was actually a member of the talented Fonda family I was seeing onscreen. He plays the laughably-named ‘Mr. Whitehead’, the owner of a company that’s responsible for the local construction of an undersea tunnel…that just so happens to be the source of the giant octopus monster’s fury and blood-lust. Due to a recent medical procedure, Fonda was forced to keep any strenuous activity on set to a minimum…I guess that included actual acting. The man’s performance was awful…but then again, so was this movie. I blame the ‘direction’.
Also awful was the music. Just…terrible. Simply there as some kind of audio filler. And the use of what sounded suspiciously like a friggin harpsicord did the flick’s attempt at tension NO favours.
It was funny being able to pick out the scenes that were blatantly ripping off ‘Jaws’, the inspiration for this movie. I mean, we get a scene where a bunch of vulnerable kids in boats are attacked (or simply knocked over) by the clearly towed-behind-a-boat octopus, and when they’re all plucked out of the water by the Coast Guard and brought to the dock, one mother is left staring at the sea in badly-acted grief when she realizes that her brat, and only her brat, became lunch somewhere along the way…just like the surprisingly gory and genuinely scary ‘Alex Kintner’ scene in ‘Jaws’. We also have a scene where characters unwisely jump into a boat in the middle of the night to go looking for…something. They come across a half-submerged vessel in the darkness that has clearly had something bad happen to it…just like the famous ‘Ben Gardner’s severed head’ scene in ‘Jaws’. And then there’s the underwater PoV shots and the jump scares involving corpses. I’m sure there was probably more…but those are the ones that stand out.
Ordinarily, I scoff at the idea of remakes. Hollywood these days is so devoid of originality or the balls to try something different, that the current modus operandi doesn’t allow for any expansion outside of the ‘Box of (hopefully) Guaranteed Profits’. That being said, several times I saw the potential for a genuinely unsettling or downright frightening remake of ‘Tentacles’. The movie starts on a nasty note, the disgusting idea of a small helpless child being scooped up off the shore and devoured within sight of his mother, but it’s done in such a cheap fashion that only the idea of it resonates, as opposed to the scene itself. Now I’m not suggesting that we go for a brutally in-your-face depiction of a young frightened life being mashed into bloody oblivion by a massive undersea monster…but a little more creativity and ‘fangs’ (not to mention budget), would go a long way to give THIS scene the punch-in-the-gut reaction the audience would need to really get the idea of how evil and devious this horrible creature is, thus effectively setting up the urgency required to give the hunt and destruction of the beast the tension it needs. With today’s technology, and advances in camera technique and effects, the right filmmaker could give us something that REALLY unsettles audiences and potentially gets us back to the ‘fun’ hysteria that hit the collective psyche in 1975 when ‘Jaws’ chomped its way onto the Silver Screen. There were scenes here that, while performed hilariously in this flick, had the makings of something really creepy and effective. Like the night attack of the octopus on the idiots that ventured out to find the wrecked boat. Or the stalking and destruction of the underwater dive chamber that the two obviously Italian scuba divers use as their Base of Operations (I’ll admit that when the one of the divers sees the giant eyeball staring in at him, it creeped me out). The verbalized descriptions of what the octopus did to it’s victims conjured up a bevy of nasty images that would definitely make this a genuine horror flick, if shown in some kind of creative and bloody detail. Just the scenes that featured divers operating underwater, with them backdropped by the murky blue water, where something may or may not be lurking, had all kinds of potential for scary-as-shit imagery. Just imagine seeing the sinister, multi-armed form emerge silently from the gloom to menace unsuspecting divers in the foreground, with today’s technology and creative reference material. *shivers* Hell, the undeniable evidence that has recently come to light regarding the existence of huge, motherfucking Giant Squids out there in the darkened depths lends credence to the idea that other giant-ass’d carnivorous beasts may and probably do live and kill out in the our hardly-explored oceans. All you’d need is a scientifically plausible and narratively-clever explanation for why this creature decides to go all ‘Jason Voorhees’ on the human race. Personally, I’d be inclined to set the story on an oil derrick or stricken Navy vessel, but really…the ocean’s the limit for settings and circumstances.
All in all, ‘Tentacles’ was a hilariously bad attempt to cash in on the success of ‘Jaws’. The cheap flick stumbles over it’s own baffling incompetence in ways that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. I was downing my usual Friday night beers as this thing played out for us and the happyfuntime brews only served to make the movie more and more hilarious. Intoxicated and / or stoned is definitely the mind-set that this movie needs, in order for you to get maximum enjoyment out of its monumental cinematic failings, and on that level…I highly recommend it. If you’re looking for a ‘creature feature’ that is competently put together with a decent budget, a committed cast, and actual scares and tension…then you’ve come to the wrong place, my friend. THIS movie is only here for you to point and scoff at in amused amazement.

* I’m serious about wanting to see a high-budget and disturbing horror movie remake of this title. The gory, unsettling possibilities are endless!!

**Hey, Hollywood!…why don’t you creatively bankrupt clowns adapt Peter Benchley’s novel ‘Beast’?! Done correctly…that COULD be the ‘Tentacles’ remake I’m looking for! Just saying.

EDIT-So it seems that ‘Beast’ WAS adapted…into a 1996 TV movie. Fair enough…but now I want to see it done right.


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