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REVIEW | Tentacles (1977)

24 Jul 2017

Italian shark schlock seems to reproduce faster than giant killer rabbits. On paper the addition of genuine Hollywood talent should put Tentacles a cut above most. On paper. 


Country: Italy, USA | Runtime: 102mins | Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis

Starring: Bo Hopkins, John Huston, Shelley Winters, Henry Fonda, Delia Boccardo



Newspaper journalist Ned Turner (Huston) smells a story when members of his Californian coastal community begin disappearing at sea. He persuades Will Gleason (Hopkins), some sort of sea beast expert, to investigate.


Tentacles director Ovidio G. Assonitis had a colourful career. Born in Egypt and raised in Italy, in the 1960s he went into business with Prince Anusom Yukol of the Thai royal family, the pair distributing B-movies throughout Asia. They worked extensively with institutions like AIP and the Shaw Brothers, with Assonitis eventually using his contacts to move into directing. Goody. It was AIP that funded and distributed Tentacles, so if anyone's to blame, blame Sam Arkoff. Obviously intended as a Jaws rip-off, there are so many of these Italian-American shark schlock things that they seem to feed off each other. ​​


"All octopi have a sense of foresight."


Having said that, on paper this one is a cut above the average. On paper. Landing the likes of Huston, Henry Fonda, Shelly Winters and Bo Hopkins would have been a hell of a coup for these fly-by-night hucksters. The fact Fonda only did one day and isn't seen moving is irrelevant, they still persuaded him to turn up. And the other three all play significant parts! What convinced them to sign on is anyone's guess, though mine would be money. Huston and Fonda boasted nine failed marriages between them at the time and were each beset by frightening alimony commitments. Whatever attracted them, it can't have been the clumsy, lazy script. It seems to have been smashed out in an afternoon, has an ugly turn of phrase and omits numerous essential details and resolutions. For example, there's a corporate greed angle involving Fonda's company, which is building some sort of tunnel under the sea. It's implied that the cutting of corners has somehow contributed to the octopus turning up, but we're not told how. This sort of thing would become almost ubiquitous to the sub-sub-genre in the 80s, but in Tentacles it's handled awfully. For one thing you don't cast Henry Fonda, known as one of the most likable and honourable actors in Hollywood, as a selfish, immoral titan of industry. More importantly, if your giant killer beast is knocking about because of corporate greed, you need to establish the fact clearly and tell us how the one thing lead to the other. You also need some sort of conclusion, at the very least the guy responsible should get eaten by the beast. But the whole subject is completely dropped from the last act – we don't know what happens to anyone involved.



"There must have been something monstrous out there... monstrous, and infernal!"


The movie itself is disappointingly bland. We're treated to a few Italian miniatures and a striking, completely inappropriate score (it sounds like it belongs to a western) from uber-prolific composer Stelvio Cipriani. But a more concerted effort than normal to tailor the movie for American audiences doesn't sit well with what feel like flashes of its true, Latin nature. So we get crash zooms, infant death and wacky orchestral stabs, but they're married to scenes of Shelley Winters babbling in a nightie. Somehow it doesn't fit. And because the monster is an octopus the crew were able to film real animals, albeit with the occasional rubber tentacle, thereby denying us the fun of a ridiculous monster costume or puppet.  




"Tell me, why does Jamie need to wee-wee so often?"


In terms of the actors, Huston comes out of it fairly unscathed, though, like Fonda, he didn't bother to memorise his script. At least it's funny to see how differently they deal with the problem. Huston prefers to employ weird pauses that allow him time to recall his next line, creating the effect of a man gasping for air. Fonda, on the other hand, doesn't seem to give a shit. When he says the wrong word he just backs up and starts the sentence again, and nobody seems interested in doing another take. But both of them are infinitely better than Shelley Winters, who is allowed to get completely carried away with her highly-strung, pill-popping, fretting old housewife schtick. For my money Bo Hopkins is the only 'name' to escape completely unscathed. He's expected to do some pretty silly stuff but pulls it off admirably. And his hypnotic calm works well against BIG actors like Huston.



"Inside the bones even the marrow has been sucked dry."


There are some odd stylistic choices such as the heavy use of still frames and sound effect-free sequences, and there's a musical number for some reason, but none of it really works. As ever with an Italian-lead production, time might have been better spent polishing the screenplay than dicking about with such tricks. Our heroes don't even have a plan to kill the octopus in the finale – it's basically just luck that finishes it off. Tentacles is a disappointment: bloated, derivative and fatally underwritten. The score and Bo Hopkins are about the only things it has going for it, but neither make it worth watching.










WHAT?: 6
















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