‘It’s turning the beach… into a buffet!’
Tentacles is a 1977 Italian-American horror film directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis [as Oliver Hellman] (Madhouse; The Visitor; Beyond the Door, Piranha II: The Spawning) from a screenplay co-written by Jerome Max, Tito Carpi and Steven W. Carabatsos.
The movie stars John Huston (The Visitor), Shelley Winters (Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?), Bo Hopkins (Uncle Sam), Henry Fonda (The Swarm), Delia Boccardo and Claude Akins (Where Evil Lives; The Norliss Tapes).
The notable soundtrack score was composed by Stelvio Cipriani with minor elements reworked from his score for The Great Kidnapping (La polizia sta a guardare, 1973).
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 the tourists don’t 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 were 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 attacks 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 Hopkins). 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 and MANIA guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens