Even before Jaws changes the box office rules forever, eco-horror was a somewhat popular horror subgenre in the 1970s. Frogs, Phase IV, and Night of the Lepus found nature in a foul mood with humanity. And technically, Jaws isn’t really an eco-horror in its narrative design. But Spielberg’s classic killer shark movie inspired a host of imitators from Piranha to Orca. One of the more obvious rip-offs came in the form of an eight-limbed octopus in the joint Italian-American 1977 movie, Tentacles. Despite the presence of three Oscar-winning actors critics weren’t impressed at the time of its release. Maybe after over 40 years Tentacles has achieved some cult status?
Off the coast of a seaside resort, bodies are turning up with their flesh peeled off to the bone. Investigative journalist Ned Turner thinks a drilling company, Trojan, may have something to do with the mysterious deaths. And a marine expert Will Gleason believes the company’s use of unsafe ultrasonic drilling techniques have disturbed something at the bottom of the ocean. When a giant octopus makes its way to to the surface, enraged by the disruptions, it puts the lives of the coastal community in grave danger.
Tentacles Can’t Make a Rubber Octopus An Object of Fear
Greco-Italian director Ovidio G. Assonitis (Piranha II: The Spawning) was no stranger to campy B-movie efforts before or after Tentacles. Maybe the most generous thing one could say about this eco-horror effort was that it wasn’t as blatant a ripoff of Jaws as Grizzly. That is, the three screenwriters – yes, three people wrote this one – responsible for Tentacles don’t follow every story beat of Spielberg’s classic. And Assonitis almost builds up some suspense in a handful of early scenes. Whether it’s a baby inside a stroller getting pulled into the ocean offscreen or diver left trapped in a diving chamber, Tentacles seems to have the right idea of how to work with its premise.
Unfortunately, Tentacles often drags under its own self-serious tone resulting in what’s a mostly boring horror movie.
Yet each time Assonitis almost finds scares in Tentacles ridiculous sound effects and shoddy special effects squeeze out any possible suspense. No one expects first-class special effects from smaller scale B-movies. But anytime Tentacles ditches the real ocean footage of octopi for its giant rubber monster that seems to growl, the result is laughable. That might not be a problem if Assonitis kept up a zippy pace and embraced his movie’s inherent silliness. You want to laugh when you see a victim bobbing upside down in the water, legs sticking up in the air. Unfortunately, Tentacles often drags under its own self-serious tone resulting in what’s a mostly boring horror movie. Throw in an awful harpsichord score that often sounds ridiculous and this is a more soggy than scary horror movie.
Tentacles Features a Big Rubber Octopus … and Three Oscar Winners
Perhaps actors hoped that they were catching lightning in a bottle and starring in the next Jaws. Or maybe they just wanted a paid trip to Italy. Nevertheless, some of these Jaws-inspired B-movies attracted fairly recognizable – and sometimes big-name -actors. Though the roles are merely supporting bit, John Huston and the legendary Henry Fonda show up in Tentacles. This is the same John Huston who directed The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, and The Treasure of Sierra Madre. And it’s the same Henry Fonda who starred in Grapes of Wrath and 12 Angry Men. Not bad for a cheesy B-movie. Of course, Fonda routinely looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.
In what may be the lowest point of the eco-horror, Hopkins offers a pep talk to two killer whales.
But two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters also turns up in a supporting role. Yes, that’s right – a movie about a giant, angry octopus can count five Oscar wins amongst its cast. And while he couldn’t count any Oscars to his name, Bo Hopkins was certainly no slouch, amassing a pretty impressive resume over the course of his career. As the marine expert and whale trainer Will Gleason, Tentacles saddles Hopkins with some of the worst dialogue. In what may be the lowest point of the eco-horror, Hopkins offers a pep talk to two killer whales. Give Hopkins credit – he makes the scene almost passable. On the flip side, the supporting is dreadful with their dialogue replaced by subpar dubbing.
Tentacles Not Likely To Find Many New Fans With Its Soggy Execution
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, but it only do so much for a bad movie. While some eco-horror Jaws rip-offs – like Grizzly or Orca – managed enough cheese to be sort of fun in a bad way, Tentacles is a brainless, tedious B-movie. Good actors recite terrible dialogue, while bad actors have their dialogue poorly dubbed. Occasionally good ocean footage of real octopi gives way to some poor effects. Yet it’s greatest offences are a plodding pace paired with a tendency to take itself too seriously. Only the most diehard fans of 70s horror will find something to like about this one.