The tourist spot Ocean Beach has come under attack by a giant octopus, which captures human swimmers and picks clean the skeletons of flesh and bone marrow. The attacks, which gradually increase in number as time passes, threaten to scare away the 10,000 tourists who visit Ocean Beach each summer.
The characters determine that the excavation of an underwater tunnel has caused the giant octopus to rampage; the company, owned by Mr. Whitehead (Henry Fonda), has been using radio signals that have been “above regulated levels”, and these have somehow enraged the octopus and caused it to attack human beings…
Okay, tell me if this sounds familiar.
There’s a beachside resort town, one whose survival is pretty much dependent upon tourists and big business. If you give the tourists a reason to not show up, the town dies. If you give big business a reason to build their factories and their underground tunnels somewhere else, the town dies.
Unfortunately, something bad is happening in this little town. People are going in the water and they’re never returning. It appears that they’re being killed by some sort of giant sea monster, even though the authorities swear that it’s simply impossible. The town’s leaders are putting pressure on the sheriff to cover up the crimes. A scientist shows up and thinks that everyone he meets is an idiot.
It’s not safe to go in the water yet people keep doing it!
Now, you may be thinking that it sounds like the plot of Jaws but actually, it’s an Italian film called Tentacles. Released in 1977, Tentacles was one of the many films that was directly inspired by the success of Spielberg’s film. Jaws was such a phenomenal success that it was ripped off by filmmakers across the world. That said, the Italians brought an undeniable and frequently shameless flair to their Jaws knockoffs.
Anyway, in Tentacles, a giant octopus is snatching babies off of piers and sailors off of boats and it’s using its octopus powers to rip their skin from their bones. It also attack scuba divers by firing ink at them. The sheriff (Claude Akins) says that it’s nothing to worry about but Ned Turner (John Huston), a hard-boiled reporter, thinks that there’s a story here. Ned’s in town visiting his sister (Shelley Winters). She has a ten year-old son who enjoys sailing. Uh-oh….
Henry Fonda shows up for a few very brief scenes, playing the head of a company that built the underwater tunnel that somehow mutated the octopus. Fonda looks incredibly frail in his scenes (and apparently, he filmed his part while recovering from heart surgery) but his performance in Tentacles still isn’t as cringe-inducing as his performance in The Swarm the following year.
Also showing up is a marine biologist named Will Gleason (Bo Hokpkins). Fortunately, Gleason owns two killer whales so, after the octopus kills his wife, Gleason sends out the orcas to track it down. Before doing so, he gives them a pep talk. Apparently, killer whales respond to positive reinforcement.
Tentacles is unique in that it’s an Italian production that managed to rope in a few well-known American actors. It’s an odd film to watch because, on the one hand, the film is full of risible dialogue and it’s painfully slow whenever the octopus isn’t attacking anyone and no one really seems to be that invested in any of their characters. (When the octopus kills a baby, the actress playing the baby’s mother underacts to such an extent that the scene becomes almost surreal.) This isn’t like Jaws, where you actually care about Brody, Quint, Hooper, and the Kintner boy. On the other hand, the octopus itself is actually kind of frightening so, on that very basic level, the film works.
In the end, Tentacles is one of the lesser Jaws rip-offs but you’ll never forget that giant octopus.
Lisa Marie Bowman, MOVIES & MANIA – guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens
‘So it’s a little slow and not as viscerally satisfying as I expected from an Italian Jaws rip-off (from the guy who replaced James Cameron on Piranha II no less!), but it’s definitely a delight and worth a look for fans of the sub-genre’. Horror Movie a Day
‘It was made at a time when everybody was trying to think of which giant sea creatures other than sharks could theoretically terrify moviegoers. It is not a good movie. But it’s hard to call it a complete failure when the first two octopus victims are a peg-legged sea captain and a baby. You win extra points for that sort of thing’. Film.com
“A quick glance at Tentacles’ on-screen talent, incongruously smooth, flowing cinematography, and distinctive score would cause one to mistake it for a decent, well-budgeted movie. In reality, it’s kind of the grandfather to the bad creature features that air on SyFy every weekend. I’ll say this, though — I wish today’s bad movies were as “good” as Tentacles.” Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror!
‘…an absolute mess. Even worse, it’s a real snoozer. The meandering script, lame special effects and plodding, lethargic pace are like a cloud of octopus ink discharged in the face of the viewer. It’s never once scary, suspenseful or even mildly interesting’. Eccentric-Cinema.com
‘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’ Stomp Tokyo
Buy Piranha + The Last Jaws + Tentacles DVD: Amazon.co.uk
“Cheesy Italian version of Jaws lacking only the suspense and cogent storytelling […] You’ll cheer when Winters is devoured by sea pest.” Videohound’s Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics
Ned Turner: “I’ve read that the suckers on a tentacle are like the claws of a tiger.”
Cast and characters:
- John Huston … Ned Turner
- Shelley Winters … Tillie Turner
- Bo Hopkins … Will Gleason
- Henry Fonda … Mr. Whitehead, President of Trojan Construction – The Swarm
- Delia Boccardo … Vicky Gleason
- Cesare Danova … John Corey
- Claude Akins … Sheriff Robards
- Alan Boyd … Mike
- Sherry Buchanan … Judy
- Franco Diogene … Chuck – Strip Nude for Your Killer
- Marc Fiorini … Don
Image credits: Wrong Side of the Art!