Tentacles (1977)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Blood Beach




Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

A thrilling shot from Tentacles.
Actually, that should probably read
"The thrilling shot from Tentacles."
We try not to generalize about films. We give every movie a chance to impress us. Chick flicks, Mexican wrestling movies, the complete works of Adam Sandler -- sure, these are all dark blots on the landscape of cinema, but we give them all a chance, and we even like some examples in those genres. But if there is a genre that has a disproportionate number of bad films in its ranks, it is the Jaws rip-offs. There are plenty of them, and the vast majority are unwatchable. Plus, we can unconditionally guarantee that there has never, ever been a good Italian Jaws rip-off.

Tentacles is an Italian Jaws rip-off, and therefore it is bad. Very bad. And bad in a boring way, not a funny way. It is not the kind of film you watch, it is the kind of film you survive. Cheaply made, incoherently edited, this movie fails to create even a moment of tension during its 90 tedious minutes.

The remarkable thing about Tentacles is that while it is obviously a low budget film, it has a cast that must be seen to be believed. John Huston, Shelly Winters (obviously riding high on her experiences in The Poseidon Adventure) and Claude Akins all put in time, and Henry Fonda is present for a couple of scenes. Yes, that Henry Fonda. What goes on here? Were these actors fulfilling their part of some bizarre Mafia pact? Only something of this ilk can explain the high-powered main cast thrown in with these low-statured Italian extras and producers' girlfriends.

And so Gandalf the White left Middle Earth
for the Grey Havens, which not so suprisingly
turned out to be a trailer park.
To recount the plot seems pointless, but our dedication to our readers prevails. A seaside community called Solana Beach is plagued by mysterious deaths near the water. Reporter Ned Turner (Huston) investigates the case as bodies come bobbing up on shore. Is some human agency responsible, like the Trojan Construction Company owned by Whitehead (Fonda), or is it a giant octopus? Judging from the film's title, it's the octopus, but the creature is driven to madness by vibrations from the machinery Trojan is using to dig an underwater tunnel. Stop laughing.

None of the film's characters figure out what is happening in a timely manner. Instead, we have to sit through an interminable number of scuba diving scenes. Few things are as boring as filmed scuba diving.* People who are scuba diving have to move slowly, and they can't talk to each other. All they can do is look at things and occasionally point at suspicious holes in the sea floor. We found ourselves rooting for the horrible man-eating creatures that were no doubt lurking at the bottom of those holes.

We kept waiting for those man-eating creatures to leap out at the stupid scuba divers, but Tentacles doesn't have the budget to show the giant octopus that is nominally the focus of the film. Most of the octopus' scenes are created by filming a normal octopus at the bottom of a aquarium, then editing these shots into the action featuring Italian actors.

In her natural setting, the wild
Shelly Winters can capture and
consume up to five small children a day.
Notice that we say Italian actors. None of the American actors, except Bo Hopkins, who plays a marine biologist, ever interact with the octopus. We can only assume that Fonda, Huston and the other Americans agreed to do this movie with the understanding that it was basically a paid Italian vacation, and that they wouldn't have to go near the water. One way we tried to get through this film was by pretending that Huston was actually playing Gandalf, and that he was trying to defeat some sort of threat to Middle Earth. This worked until 55-year old Shelly Winters showed up in skintight satin pajamas. This caused us to think that there were two giant octopodes* in the movie, but then we realized our mistake.

Huston, Winters and Fonda disappear well before the film's conclusion, and none of them get killed by the monster, or even have contact with it. This was a real disappointment, because the Videohound Golden Movie Retriever had promised us that we would "cheer when Winters is devoured by sea pest." Damn freelancers, we wish they'd watch those movies before they write the reviews. (Hey, it's still a good book, and you should still buy the latest edition from our bookstore.)

"How about some reverse calimari,
you sea-going Italians!"
The giant octopus is dispatched by its natural predators, a couple of convenient killer whales to whom Hopkins gives a pep talk before their release. One wonders if this is a reference to the fact that in Jaws the heroes' boat is named the Orca, but it seems unlikely to us that the people who made the film were even that clever. The scene where the octopus dies is distracting for two reasons: The killer whales are played by hand puppets during most of the sequence, and we're pretty sure those hand puppets were filmed tearing apart a real octopus. Apparently the Italian SPCA wasn't keeping an eye on filmmakers in those days.

We have read that octopodes are quite intelligent. Why, then, is there one in this movie? Did his agent promise him that it would advance his career? When asked why a giant octopus would suddenly become a predator of humans, one of the biologists offers the explanation that "it's an animal -- disturbed by man's stupidity!"

We're with the octopus on this one.

Review date: 07/18/2002

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* *As such scuba diving movies go, however, Tentacles is still better than Sphere. Go back!









































* Yes, the plural of "octopus" is actually "octopodes." Or "octopuses," if you prefer that. Don't call them octopi!Go back!