A Movie A Day: TENTACLES (1977)
There’s only one thing big enough or powerful enough. I’m thinking Giant Octopus.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Day: Halloween 2010 edition!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf or streamed via Netflix Instant and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.]
Wow, what a terrible movie. You can’t get more amateurish than this film. It’s so half-assed… But I found myself strangely enjoying parts of it.
Sure, there are some horrendously over-the-top moments and terrible decisions that are entertaining… like Bo Hopkins’ impassioned speech to a pair of Orcas or Shelley Winters’ comically oversized straw sombrero or a redubbing that makes a 10 year old boy sound like a chain smoking octogenarian… those are fun, but there’s more than just a “so bad it’s good” quality to this movie.
Nobody’s ever said this before about a movie called TENTACLES, but it made me think a bit, reflect on the state of cheaply made junk food cinema.
As cheap as this film is, and it certainly is, there’s a production value to it that isn’t as radically removed from the A-list studio pictures of the day as today’s cheap schlockfests are.
I wonder exactly why that is. There are shots in Tentacles that feel like they could have come out of Jaws. Film stock, lighting, all of that. Why is there such a radical gap between today’s cheap B movies and the studio pictures?
It wouldn’t be fair to compare Tentacles to something like Sharktopus because as cheap and schlocky as Tentacles is there was still a real production team behind it with a budget. Not a massive budget, but they were still able to pay Henry Fonda, John Huston, Shelley Winters and Bo Hopkins to do this horrible movie.
Still there seemed to be a level of professionalism that hardly exists in the like movies of today. There could be more money back then because of the drive-in market and low cost of crew.
I don’t know, but the movie made me think on it a bit. Not bad for a horrible Jaws rip-off.
And I usually like Jaws rip-offs. Great White, Piranha, Alligator, Alligator 2, Blood Beach… okay, Blood Beach is a stretch, but you can’t deny Jaws’ influence. Hell the poster’s tagline was a play on Jaws’. “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water… you couldn’t get there!”
There’s a fun to these movies and some of that fun does make it into Tentacles. If only there was as much care put into the character work as there was in casting great past-their-prime actors we’d have something you could like unironically.
Story-wise it's nothing new. Developers are building some kind of underwater tunnel and an overzealous evil rich guy is using technology that sends out high pitch radio waves ("way over the legal limit" we're told in the movie) that is killing fish and disturbing the ecosystem. And, apparently, also pissing off a giant octopus enough to eat babies and get a taste for human flesh.
No kidding, in one of the movie's better moments, the octopus eats a baby... off camera. If it was on camera this would be one of my favorite movies of all time.
John Huston's a reporter trying to figure out why bodies are appearing in the tide, Shelley Winters is an annoying mother who allows her son and his friend to go out racing schooners, Henry Fonda is the CEO of the corporation blasting the tunnel that somehow creates this monster and Bo Hopkins is an Orca trainer at a local sea park.
That sounds like a lot of people, but the only one that really matters is Hopkins. After his wife it tentacled to death he makes it his mission to take out the octopus. The rest of the cast have half-arcs, the beginnings of a character that don't really ever go anywhere.
The dialogue in the movie is just head scratching. It’s like something an ESL student who just saw his first movie would write. There are moments that aren’t far removed from “Hi there, I’m your sister and you’re my brother and our parents are dead and I’m fat and you’re single!”
Every line is explaining the story or character to the audience, not actually telling a story or creating someone even partially believable.
Look, I’m not expecting Shakespeare out of a movie called Tentacles, but there’s having fun and there’s scraping by. Look at other cheesy films from this era… From Blaxploitation (Coffy, Black Belt Jones, Truck Turner) to horror (Black Christmas, Devil Times Five) you can tell the filmmakers gave a shit. Sometimes the focus is just on having a good time, but here there is no focus other than “this is how they did it in Jaws.”
You know what this movie reminds me a lot of? The Swarm. Both are really bad movies, but have high level actors involved in a substandard production. I like Tentacles more than The Swarm but that’s more because The Swarm is, like, 487 minutes long.
There are takes where actors flub their lines and still keep going. John Huston at one point says they’re going after a Giant Squid, not an octopus. Shelley Winters has a minute long scene where her character seems to be obsessed with the amount of urine her preteen son’s best friend releases in a day. Henry Fonda spends 80% of his screentime on a phone. There’s no resolution to the majority of characters in favor for a big octopus vs. killer whale fight… which is cool, don’t get me wrong.
If there’s one aspect they didn’t cheap out on it’s the effects. That’s not to say that the giant octopus looks real and threatening in any way, but I was expecting something much, much cheesier than what I got.
Also, Stelvio Cipriani’s pounding score is surprisingly good. It doesn’t fit the movie at all, mind you, but it’s a great adventure score.
But good lord it’s painful to watch these great actors try to keep a shred of dignity while appearing onscreen in this movie. You’ll feel bad for Henry Fonda and Bo Hopkins and Shelley Winters. John Huston seems to be having a good time, though. He doesn’t have the same embarrassed look in his eyes that Fonda has throughout the movie.
Final Thoughts: For a fan of schlocky ‘70s cinema this is certainly worth a watch and it stands heads and shoulders above what passes itself off as B grade cinema today, but that by no means excuses the amateur hour execution of this film. If you want a water based horror movie from this era that’s genuinely fun look at Roger Corman’s HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP or PIRANHA. Corman got it.
Currently in print on DVD: YES
Currently available on Netflix Instant: YES
Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles:
Tuesday, October 5th: BAD RONALD (1974)
Wednesday, October 6th: THE ENTITY (1983)
Thursday, October 7th: DOCTOR X (1932)
Friday, October 8th: THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X (1939)
Saturday, October 9th: THE TENANT (1976)
Sunday, October 10th: MAN IN THE ATTIC (1953)
Monday, October 11th: NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)
See ya’ tomorrow for the cult classic made for TV movie BAD RONALD, put out by the good folks at Warner Archive!
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Oct. 4, 2010, 9:47 p.m. CST
Oct. 4, 2010, 9:52 p.m. CST
After reading that review, couldn't wait to start watching. thanks for the Netflix heads up on these movies!
Oct. 4, 2010, 10:04 p.m. CST
Oct. 4, 2010, 10:08 p.m. CST
It was pretty awful, but there were certain things about it that were kind of fun. And I did mention to my nephew when we were watching it how cool the music was.
Oct. 4, 2010, 10:12 p.m. CST
by frank cotton
but i'll be damned if i can remember it at all. must have smoked a whole lot of weed...
Oct. 4, 2010, 10:16 p.m. CST
Oct. 4, 2010, 10:39 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
I love that the cut octopus scene in The Goonies is still mentioned in the final cut of the movie.
Oct. 4, 2010, 10:52 p.m. CST
by jimmy rabbitte
It took three whole posts, for a testicle joke. Guys, we're slipping.
Oct. 4, 2010, 11:28 p.m. CST
I've been ranting to people for years about the differences between vintage trash and modern trash, but just like trying to explain good bad taste vs. bad bad taste, hardly anybody gets it, or cares. Look at a 70's B flick like Bloodusucking Freaks, arguably one of the finest films ever made, and compare it to something like Zombie Strippers. Holy fucking shit. The trash fans thirty years ago had it fucking made. <br><p> Modern B-movies just seem cynical to me. They're actually made to be stupid, they're made for snarky fucking asshole teenagers who think they're better than everything and enjoy watching crappy movies they can make fun of. Then they say, "it's so bad it's good!" No. It's so bad it's just fucking bad. At least the guy that made Blooduscking Freaks was genuinely pouring his heart and soul (and maybe some other body parts) into his film.
Oct. 5, 2010, 12:08 a.m. CST
by Big Dumb Ape
This was on Turner Classic Movies only a few weeks ago, late at night, and since I couldn't sleep I decided to just lay on the couch and give it a watch. And, man! I remembered seeing it in the past, but I had forgotten JUST how shitty a movie it was!<p>Worst of all, it committed the biggest crime of all: NOT ENOUGH SHOTS OF TENTACLES GRABBING AND GROPING BIKINI BABES!!!
Oct. 5, 2010, 12:19 a.m. CST
There are exceptions of course (good movies of all kinds abound from all eras) but the trend of which you speak rings true.
Oct. 5, 2010, 1:07 a.m. CST
There are definitely some good B movies being made, though not much stateside. I adored the onslaught of horror that was coming out of France a few years back, but even that has slowed down substantially. <br><p> What I miss was when low budget didn't have to mean cheesy, and exploitation or horror didn't have to mean camp. That's why I love it when something like Session 9 is made. A truly independent low budget horror film without a grin on its face. <br><p> I can't even do Rocky Horror shows anymore, because what I see as a really sharp, witty little movie (or play), is now seen by most as an excuse to shamelessly cry for attention, screaming unfunny stream of consciousness jokes over O'Brien's far funnier dialogue. Kids these days!
Oct. 5, 2010, 2:44 a.m. CST
..low budget, pulpy, horrific... but of course, it's a timeless masterpiece. Now even the "so bad its good, but not really" movies seem to cost at least 60 million.
Oct. 5, 2010, 2:47 a.m. CST
Really? I watched this film a couple months back on TV. I could barely make it through. The time time before that was when I was a little kid at my grand mother's place. I remember being so creeped out at the time; I had to go to the bathroom badly. I was so afraid that the creature was going to get me though the toilet (I'm not joking - I was terrified). Anyhow, the movie's crap. "The Swarm" on the other hand is by no means a great film, but very entertaining. I own it and will be watching it again. You got more out of "Tentacles" than I.
Oct. 5, 2010, 2:48 a.m. CST
sort of like Caligula in that "why is this bad movie got so many good actors in it?" sorta way, but without the porn and a couple shelves down of actors. Owwww!!!
Oct. 5, 2010, 3:51 a.m. CST
by Paul T. Ryan
Melbourne comedy act Cinema Fiasco do a live show featuring a different 50s to 70s schlocker each month, and they tackled this about a year ago. I swear if it hadn't been for their gags over the film, Tentacles would have been nigh-unwatchable. Sure, it has many of the tropes of primo so-bad-it's-good cinema, but was so flat and dreary that it would be difficult to sit through on its own. The orca-hand-puppets-ripping-apart-a-dead-real-octopus-carcass finale really must be seen to be believed though.
Oct. 5, 2010, 4:06 a.m. CST
...they always promised more than the actual films delivered! Some of the posters were really unnerving - films like Dead and Buried, Humanoids of the Deep, Tintorera (that jumping shark poster - shudders lol) Food of the Gods, The Fury, Ruby...their posters and trailers were great! All crap films though, but classic crap!
Oct. 5, 2010, 5:04 a.m. CST
by Mr Nicholas
Oct. 5, 2010, 7:21 a.m. CST
by Jack Burton
Man, that flick scared the shit out of me and I watched it for the first time last year. I'm not sure I would call the precursor to Halloween a "B" movie. I'm enjoying this column, Quint. Any way you can tell us ahead of time if a movie is available on demand rather than the day of the review? I absolutely plan to watch this on demand now, it's been years since I've seen it and the only thing I remember is the trailer scene when it snatches the baby. Should be a fun one to watch with the kids because watching crap monster movies and ripping on them has become a very enjoyable family activity lately.
Oct. 5, 2010, 7:43 a.m. CST
from the 70s such Barnaby Jones, Cannon, etc. When the voiceover guy would say "with tonights special gueststar William Shatner". <br> <br> As marineboy said and I agree, those 70s posters were great and better than the movies. <br> <br> Still remember thursday and friday newspapers in the 70s with all the movie ads that took up a whole page alone. Jaws even had a full page to itself when it was so popular one friday.
Oct. 5, 2010, 7:45 a.m. CST
very few actors about these days with the class or ability of Fonda. Was on a set for a forthcoming movie recently and the actors were mainly preoccupied with their cell phones, never mind the script! Let's have an industry revolution now please :s
Oct. 5, 2010, 8:48 a.m. CST
is an underrated gem. I'm interested in Quint's opinion on this.
Oct. 5, 2010, 9:04 a.m. CST
Oct. 5, 2010, 9:33 a.m. CST
by Nice Marmot
. . . the only thing better than Barbara Hershey's awesome tits is Barbara Hershey's awesome tits as fondled by an entity.
Oct. 5, 2010, 9:44 a.m. CST
..."Bad Ronald" and why is a very young Stephen Colbert featued on the DVD cover? (Yes, I'm kidding!)
Oct. 5, 2010, 9:51 a.m. CST
I too was a puzzled by "Black Christmas" being lumped in with the cheese dip. Now "Devil Times Five" is a real good example of how a movie can cheese it up and still bring the dread, but Clark's little masterpiece? Never saw it, myself. Not calling you out, Quint, just wondering if you weren't thinking of "Silent Night, Deadly Night" or something...by the way, these AMAD's are great fun, and if you haven't seen it yet, I'd love to read your take on "The House of Laughing Windows". Real fucking creepy, that one.
Oct. 5, 2010, 9:53 a.m. CST
a million Japanese porn fantasies were born.
Oct. 5, 2010, 10:21 a.m. CST
I never forgot the baby scene with the stroller in the water, or the climactic battle between the giant octopus and two orcas. Flippin' classic! I found this on DVD as an MGM double feature with Empire of the Ants--another flippin' classic!
Oct. 5, 2010, 10:22 a.m. CST
I have 3 older sisters, and we all sat down to watch this movie when we were kids, it was on the Saturday night horror movie show on local TV. It fucked them up for *years* :-P
Oct. 5, 2010, 11:27 a.m. CST
by The Reluctant Austinite
Today's low budget films don't do ballyhoo with cool posters and deadly serious trailers with husky voiced narrators. I also firmly believe that shooting on film, with the grain that gives the picture, makes films like this seem much more professional than shot-on-digital-video crap. The film makers WERE more professional; any kid can grab a digital camera and call himself a director. Also, the film makers took the movie seriously even when the subject matter was absolutely ridiculous. There was no obvious tongue in cheek and so it's more fun to watch. You can't laugh at something that's already laughing at itself to difuse any of its inadequacies.
Oct. 5, 2010, 12:07 p.m. CST
I got nothing.
Oct. 5, 2010, 12:34 p.m. CST
Part of the reason why things look better is that folks had to educated to light film stock so that it was anything other than garbage. Once you had that education sometimes you found yourself working in "the boonies" cause money is money. So what if you are lighting for a giant octopus picture. Working with video doesn't require that discipline.
Oct. 5, 2010, 2:48 p.m. CST
Don't they have a cure for that?
Oct. 5, 2010, 4:47 p.m. CST
by Harry Weinstein
Watch it back to back with PIRANHA 2 THE SPAWNING.
Oct. 5, 2010, 6:02 p.m. CST
MonsterQuest did a whole episode of nothing trying to say that Mega-giant Octopuses existed off of Seattle. Then they actually get live footage of a purported sixty foot or a hundred foot giant squid off of the Sea of Cortez. Now that was freaking fantastic. Tentacles and giant sea monsters make horrible movies watchable. YAY!
Oct. 5, 2010, 10:35 p.m. CST
I remember the one sheet for this movie, because I was walking out of Star Wars for the first time in '77 and saw it in the theatre lobby. Think that year I watched "The Gargantua" and "Island of the Mushroom People" for the first time as well. My little kid nightmares were in overdrive that year.
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