a Primal Root written review
In the summer of 1975 there was this little movie directed by a no name filmmaker about a particularly blood thirty great white shark. You might have heard of it. It’s called JAWS. Yeah, the awesome horror flick that, along with Star Wars, ruined movies forever more because everyone wanted to make a blockbuster action movie. Fast forward decades later and we are gearing up for Transformers 3. Anywoo, the more immediate side affect of JAWS was onslaught of late 7o’s sub-par carnivorous water dwelling creature pictures.
And not to sell them short right out of the gate, to be fair, there were some really cool flicks to come out after JAWS trying to chomp the same chum. Joe Dante’s excellent killer fish flick, Piranha (78). Humanoids from the Deep (80) and even Alligator (80) re all unique and interesting spins on the JAWS formula and awesome Trash Cinema flicks in their own right that make for great summer time viewing.
And then there are the really bad knocks offs.greasy, lame-o copy cats who try to take the exact same premise and throw it back at the audience. Most notoriously, the Italian film ‘Great White: The Last Shark’ (81), which is the tale of a great white shark that terrorizes a small island community. Sound familiar? Universal thought so too and they sued the pants off those guys and had the movie withdrawn from theaters. Till this day it’s tough to track a copy of that sucker down.
But there is one films that ripped JAWS off properly. Remove the damn shark entirely and add a totally different vicious sea creature so no one can sue you for directly stealing the premise of the Speilberg’s blockbuster epic! That’s right, the 1977 film ‘TENTACLES’! The story of a blood thirsty GIANT OCTOPUS that terrorizes a small island community. Now we’re talking!
The movie begins with several mysterious attacks around the beach. First off, a 10 month old infant is snatched from it’s stroller when Mom isn’t looking and is promptly gobbled up. Later, at a marina, a scruffy man with a peg leg swabbing the poop deck is yanked from his work and chewed up post haste only to explode up from the depths all chewed up in front of some guy double tasking while he fishes and sucks face with some scantly clad 400 pound girlfriend…we later see him wrapped in a blanket starring into the distance with his mouth hanging open. I think he’s supposed to be in shock from witnessing Peg Leg Pete surfacing like a rocket from Hell, but in all honesty, it could have been because he envisioned his make-out partner in the nude.
No one is quite sure what could have done this. It was no motorboat, and it wasn’t Jack the Ripper and it sure as shit wasn’t any shark. The body of the womb fruit and the old geezer are found with flesh completely stripped off the bone. The local newspaper reporter, Ned (John Huston), begins to to think this might have something to do with the rock excavation being done by Trojan Construction (I can only assume they construct prophylactics as well.) which is headed by Mr. Whitehead played by Henry Fonda, who has no scenes with any other cast members and vanishes half way through the movie.
And, believe it or not, Shelly Winters also shows up for this thing. She plays the aging, seductress (?) and single mother, Tillie. She also happens to be the sister of our roving reporter Ned. Her son is about 13 years old and we are introduced to her as she has some adorable, good natured banter about how she mashed fuzzies with one of the local bartenders last night. These are mental images far more troubling than anything those tentacles could ever hope to accomplish.
Shelly Winter’s main purpose is to wonder around this town in a silly, giant sombrero (not making this up) and look on in mock terror as her bastard son and his buddy are attacked by the killer giant octopus during a sail boat race.During the attack the kids are scene laughing their asses off (method acting?) however, only one of them makes it back to shore alive. This attack on the sailing race might be my favorite sequence in the film simply because it’s so ridiculously awful. It’s basically a bunch of sail boats toppling over without a single tentacle in sight. The editing used in this sequence is a hack job. I assume they wanted it to look like things were frenzied, but the end product, looks like some 6 year old was given several feet of film, a cleaver and a tub of rubber cement…yes, it’s that bad. But it’s also pretty amusing to watch. Especially when they cut away to the “hysterical” Shelly Winters…
The only hope this small town has is a street smart marine biologist named Will (played with deadpan accuracy by Bo Hopkins), his two trained killer whales and his his wife whose name might as well be Fish Food. She’s gorgeous, but don;t get too attached. Her death sequence, I assume, was meant to be the big high point of the movie. Her boat is charged by the octopus in the middle of the night and a tiny model is blown to bits by the impact. She tries to swim from the wreckage but is hoisted up and spun all over the place by the Octopus tentacle. Again, it’s edited together so haphazardly it gives the entire moment a comic appeal I don’t believe the filmmakers were aiming for…
This all leads to a climactic showdown between Will, our mean streets marine biologist who doesn’t seemed phased at all by the horrifying demise of his gorgeous and concerned wife, and the killer octomonster who wield the evil tentacles of the film’s title. Luckily, Will get by with a little help from his killer whale pals, Summer and Winter. As Will tells the story, he met his wife in Summer and proposed to her in Winter. Not many romances spring up the belly of a whale, let alone two separate whales, so it’s really a shame she met her demise in such an untimely fashion and in a way so many anime school girls have gone before her.
I don;t want to spoil it for you, but the action packed finale features a dead octopus purchased from some fish market and two killer whale sock puppets purchased from Sea World. Oh yeah, it’s gotta be seen to be believed.
Tentacles is one botch after another. It’s so bad it’s beyond such trivial labels. It’s really a one of a kind aws cash-in, if there can be such a thing…where the filmmakers behind i lost the point entirely of what worked, stole all the elements that seemingly made Speilberg’s film so popular (underwater shots of flailing legs and shrinking crotches, water logged body jump scares, the death of children, enjoyable real world banter, greedy rich people more concerned with losing money than losing lives, etc.) and then fail miserably to deliver. The most egregious error is not giving the octopus it’s own enigmatic theme music. I imagine the filmmakers sitting at the premiere and looking at each other as they realize how they completely forgot to rip-off the score to JAWS. There’s not a single drop of blood in the PG rated monster movie! I mean, even JAWS had some graphic content (Quint- Soft on the outside, crispy crunchy on the inside!) and managed to hold down a PG rating. I guess they needed to use that money to secure the rubber tentacles and octopus stock footage…
Tentacles is worth a look. I found myself chuckling through the whole damn thing and slapping my palm against my forehead in disbelief several dozen times as I witnessed the film’s numerous failings. Tentacles is Trash Cinema to the extreme. A rare bird that few have seen and, in all honesty, probably shouldn’t exist. I am glad it does, though. Because these films are what those adventurous movie renting evening of yesteryear were all about. Grabbing that crusty old VHS tape with the awesome cover you knew would never deliver what it was promising but would certainly deliver the laughs.
Those were the days… Have an excellent summer, Gang! Be safe and keep watching the ocean!
-The Primal Root