Now, those of you not old enough to know a bit of Hollywood history might be unaware that George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) set off a literal firestorm of space-age productions. The storyteller had discovered cinema gold, and studios around the world were only too happy to tap veins all of their own. Some of these were works already nearing completion; once the adventures in a galaxy far, far away woke audiences up to the endless possibilities out there, these imitations were ushered into postproduction and squeezed into release schedules everywhere. And, yes, there are far too many to mention, so I’ll leave it at that.
But there was a similar rush that had happened not all that long before which is often overlooked: Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) also dipped into some lucrative waters, and filmmakers were equally challenged to comb the beaches (if they had to) for similar ideas. Many of these flicks sought to capitalize on the Horror aspect of Spielberg’s chiller, and that swung the door wide for exploitation masters to do their worst … so long as it came from the water and ate people, studios were swimming with potential.
As you can imagine, there was little care (and less effort) put into recreating what made Jaws uniquely special. Studio executives saw it simply as a creature feature – albeit with beaches – so they were happy greenlighting any close facsimile that landed on their desk … and one of the earliest which actually had some potential was Ovidio G. Assonitis’ Tentacles. Even the marketing folks were aboard, designing a poster not unlike the Spielberg advert, but theirs featured a giant marauding octopus instead of the great white shark.
How’d they fare?
Well … to put it mildly … they sank.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“A mutated giant octopus wreaks havoc on a California seaside community.”
The drawback here is that the script from Jerome Max, Tito Carpi, and Steven W. Carabatsos had no brains in it. While there’s no problem with lifting elements from the vastly superior Jaws – remember what they say about flattery and imitation – the trio left behind the most important aspect: whatever the adventure, it has to be populated by people who not only make sense but also audiences will care about … and there’s no one in Tentacles worth the time of day.
This isn’t to say that the film has no talent because that would be an incredible mistake. Somehow, producers were able to woo such household names as Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, and John Huston to the effort. Claude Akins is no slouch, either, and he came aboard to play the town sheriff, taking on a tone not unlike the Roy Scheider character in the shark movie. While Bo Hopkins – as the hero – may not have had the cinema cache afforded to others of the mid-1970’s, he certainly was no unknown, having stolen scenes in The Wild Bunch (1969), Monte Walsh (1970), and American Graffiti (1973). But even the most gifted Thespians of the world can do very little to elevate the ‘dull and dreary’ to ‘exciting and relentless,’ and therein lies Tentacles’ biggest shortcoming – it lacks any emotional resonance.
This fish story feels like it’s been forever on autopilot.
While a few sequences at sea do create a mild bit of tension, they’re still populated by some of the screen’s blandest characters ever. Henry Fonda plays a corporate executive whose company is tied to the events that may’ve led to the monster’s mutation, and even he can’t summon a modicum of anger about the circumstances he finds himself within. (I’ve read that this was a role post-surgery, so that may account for some of his indifference.) Shelley Winters’ ‘Tillie Turner’ tries very hard to be this homespun seaside lady with a kid at home, but she delivers her dialogue with fairly stereotypical inflection that we’ve seen her use in every role before this one, robbing the lady’s emotional confrontations of any real impact. Bo Hopkins’ Will Gleason is supposed to be ‘the leading expert on ocean life,’ but at one point in the script he admits to only being in the business for a few years while spending the rest of his life … on the streets? How in the Sam Hill did he go from having nothing to being such a world-renowned expert? Is it because he can talk to whales? Or is it because that’s what the script required?
You be the judge.
Sadly, the problems with the screenplay don’t stop there.
In the big finish, Hopkins wasn’t really all that necessary as he leaves it all in the whales’ capable hands … erm … fins.
Lastly, composer Stelvio Cipriani’s score is particularly awful. John Williams’ theme for Jaws was incredibly simple – so much so that even director Spielberg himself wasn’t reportedly convinced it would convey the depth needed when paired with visuals. Here, instead of a menacing bass chord, Cipriani chooses a light fluttering of high notes on what sounds like an electronic dulcimer … and each time it’s used I suspect audiences laughed instead of sat up and took notice. Trust me when I saw Cipriani’s work here is consistently dreadful as he punctuates a few sequences with what sounds like gameshow music.
Tentacles (1977) was produced by Esse Ci Cinematografica. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated via the very reliable Kino Lorber. As for the technical specifications? The film looks and sounds very solid, but I noticed a few scenes wherein lips were not quite in-sync with speech. I did a bit of reading on the film’s original presentation, and it would appear that this was just a case of an inferior dubbing job and not a defect of the transfer. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features, then prepare for the disappointment: there’s a single radio spot advertising the picture, along with a theatrical trailer, but that’s all she wrote.
Very very very mildly recommended … and, even then, really really really only as a passing curiosity. It’s honestly hard to find much to appreciate in Tentacles. The film wastes an impressive roster of aging talent on roles that aren’t exactly well written nor all that consequential to the story as told. Given the reality of the flick’s foundation – that it was rushed both into and through production in order to seemingly capitalize on the popularity of another film (Jaws) – I’m inclined to chalk up most of the inadequacies to insufficient preparation and speedy execution. Director Assonitis delivers a few sequences worth a single viewing, but everything else in there seems ridiculously waterlogged.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Tentacles (1977) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.