Tentacles

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”  That was the tag line on posters for “Jaws 2” in 1978.  Truth is, copycats had already given several other reasons not to go back in the water by this point.  Of course, one of those films came to us courtesy of Samuel Z Arkoff.  This time, not featuring giant teeth…but a giant octopus.  That film is 1977’s “Tentacles.”

In a southern California town on the coast, strange things have been happening.  Bodies stripped to the bone have been turning up in the water and Sheriff Robards (Claude Akins) is stumped.  Investigative reporter Ned Turner (John Huston) is also looking into the case, so he pays a visit to a marine biologist (Bo Hopkins) working in a killer whale show and encourages him to come down and investigate.  Meanwhile, the police begin to think that work on an underwater tunnel by a company called Trojan, run by Mr. Whitehead (Henry Fonda), is somehow responsible for the growing body count.  Little do they know, that the excavation has released a giant octopus which is running loose up and down the coast.

Of course, right about the time this brain trust realizes their dealing with an octopus, there is a kids sailboat race going on down the coast.  Turner’s sister (Shelley Winters) has entered her son and a neighbor kid in the race.  Of course, the 8-limbed terror attacks the race.  All the kids are rescued, with one exception…the neighbor kid.  Now, the marine biologist must set out to kill the beast, bringing his two killer whales to do the dirty work.

“Tentacles” has the elements of a fun, mother-nature-run-wild, b-movie romp, but the movie gets off on the wrong foot.  One of the first victims of the octopus is a baby…pulled into the water stroller and all right in the first few minutes of the film.  I know, I know, it’s just a movie…but that makes it hard to have fun with this one.  Plus…as I previously mentioned, kids continue to be victims as the film goes on.  I guess once you end up a parent yourself, you just don’t like to see that kind of thing…even if it’s just a silly monster octopus movie.

On the good side the underwater sequences are actually quite good and the octopus effects are somewhat believable.  Two sequences in which the Octopus attacks boats actually manage to be pretty suspenseful.  Only the climactic battle seems a bit too fake looking, with a couple of killer whale puppets, that could’ve been purchased at a Sea World gift shop, tearing away at the octopus.  All the actors in these underwater scenes are in scuba gear…so there’s no dialogue.  I suppose that’s a good thing considering the cardboard performances put in on land.  Henry Fonda is the worst offender, fumbling over his lines in a role that is completely unnecessary to the story.

In “Jaws,” it wasn’t the shark the made the whole thing work.  Ask Spielberg, the shark never worked!  At the heart of it you had three intriguing characters.  Here, the octopus works, but the film desperately needs some interesting characters.  Unfortunately, the chum being fed to the killer whales has more personality than any of the characters on screen.

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