I think we’re all in agreement when I say there’s nothing worse than going out for a midnight swim and being grabbed firmly by the tentacles, but in 1977, cinema was still rocking in the sizable wake left by the release of Jaws and filmmakers were desperate to capitalize on whatever marauding freak of nature they could pull out of their butt. So thanks to shameless director/producer Ovidio G. Assonitis – the man who would go on to fire James Cameron from the shockingly bad Piranha 2 – cinema now had a kill-crazy calamari to deal with that somehow boasted some legitimate Hollywood legends in the cast list of this cookie cutter ripoff.
Some hideous deaths start rocking the seaside town of Solana Beach, with bodies inconveniently turning up chewed down to the bone and missing conspicuous amounts of bone marrow, and staggeringly old reporter Ned Turner is adamant he’ll get to the bottom of things. It seems that the work a shady corporation has been doing on the ocean floor has attracted and enraged a giant bloody octopus to blindly attack anyone on or within grabbing distance of the ocean and it has no intention of going away. Marine biologist Will Gleeson is called in to sort matters out, bringing with him an entourage of his smoking hot wife, two killer whales and an accent that screams “cokepoke” and immediately gets to work by looking out to sea with a worried expression on his face. As the octopus continues to binge eat it’s way through appallingly dubbed minor characters with no thought for it’s cholesterol levels whatsoever, the date for a boat race looms which means a lot of people are about to get into the sea in boats that look so flimsy they might as well be made of tissue.
Will Ned’s scathing exposé halt the rampage of this psychotic cephalapod (not much chance of that considering the octopus prefers reading broadsheets over the tabloids), or will Gleeson finally put his orcas to good use before this voracious mess of writhing tentacles manages to ensnare more innocent tourists than a timeshare scam?
Putting yourself into the flippers of a hapless swimmer as they’re suddenly obliterated by the crushing pearly whites of a great white shark is a hideous prospect and one that’s helped Jaws remain terrifyingly relevant for over three decades, but just try imaging THIS: instead of teeth; long grasping arms fix you in an unbreakable grip that drag you down into the crushing depths where your body is eventually picked clean to the bone – and you wasn’t even in the water, you were just minding you’re own business with a stroll down on the water front! It’s a testicle-shrinking scenario to be sure, and yet it’s one that Tentacles frustratingly doesn’t manage to capitalize on due to technical issues and flat direction – however, what Tentacles DOES give you is plenty of scenes with people talking gravely about the octopus that never really seem to gel with scenes that actually contain the octopus.
It’s all very well and good that you’ve managed to convince a VERY tired looking John Huston to be in your movie (a trick Assonitis managed to pull off again for 1979’s baffling sci-fi oddity, The Visitor) but the man barely goes within five feet of salt water, therefore making his contribution somewhat negligible – it’s like hiring Robert Shaw for Quint in Jaws and then having him talk the others though how to catch a shark from his living room via Skype.
Joining this unorthodox casting coup is an impressively horny Shelley Winters (who also turned up in The Vistor), drawling character actor Bo Hopkins and, for some fucking reason, Henry Fonda himself (I’m guessing he needed a new swimming pool or an extension built or something) and all try their best to rub some class into the material but Assonitis is no Spielberg (fuck, he’s barely better than the guy who made Grizzly) and everything that doesn’t involve an agonizing death being smothered in murderous seafood drags along at a languid pace.
Things pick up a little with the noticably nasty body count where the killer octopus seems to not only be attracted mainly to victims who are directly related to the lead characters but manages to one-up the indamous child chomping seen in Jaws by having an honest-to-God BABY gobbled up off screen within the first FIVE MINUTES. It’s a ballsy move, but baby eating isn’t really what audiences were expecting to see literally as they’ve just settled down with their popcorn and it just feels vaguely icky and trashy in the wrong kind of way that hurts the movie right out of the gate. Other kills almost get it right with one guy being dragged off with only his bare feet sticking out above the surface as they cut through the waves and a later scene where a panic stricken mother is told her son hasn’t made it back from the boat race alive by a deck hand giving her a disinterested, noncommittal shrug is amusingly callous, but overall the film squelches onward to it’s poorly shot climax.
It should rule, because I don’t know about you but the concept of having the villainous cephalapod being brutally vanquished because the hero pep talked his two killer whales into jumping it with an underwater street mugging should be awesome. Of course, I say SHOULD be awesome because I’ll be damned if I could make out anything that was supposed to be going on thanks to the murky, underwater cinematography – although if I had to guess it looks like a real octopus being torn apart by two orca hand puppets (hint: after a quick fact check it turns out that unfortunately I was right).
Sluggish and dull, Tentacles takes it’s potentially promising premise and promptly chokes the life out of it with it’s admittedly spiteful body count being waterlogged by a wasted cast and a dreary script.
This is one Jaws ripoff that’s ironically lacking… legs.