Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster Jaws has spawned so many rip-offs that it has almost become a genre all its own — with Star Wars rip-offs being the only rival in sheer numbers — but today we will look back at one of the early rip-offs by those crazy Italians, a film called Tentacles. With this film, director Ovidio G. Assonitis decided to go with a monster of the sea other than a killer shark, and so he chose a giant octopus for his movie’s aquatic antagonist, with eight arms to hold you, sadly, we aren’t talking “giant” as in Ray Harryhausen’s classic monster movie It Came from Beneath the Sea, instead, we get an octopus slightly bigger than your average skiff.
The plot of Tentacles centers on crusading reporter Ned Turner (John Huston ), who believes that the recent bizarre deaths of a baby and a peg-legged sailor all portend an upcoming catastrophe, and then we have marine biologist Will Gleason (Bo Hopkins ) who is brought in to discover what is ratcheting up the death toll in Solana Beach, California. This film has all the standard tropes of the genre, such as the authorities trying to downplay the deaths so as not to cause a panic — in this instance, it’s Sheriff Robards (Claude Akins ) — and we also have scenes of the medical examiner being unable to explain what could have caused the skeletons to be stripped clean, which is all to set up the standard hero claim of, “This was no boating accident.”
We do get a subplot about the illegal testing of high-pitched frequencies in an underwater tunnel construction project, which is what has pissed off the giant octopus and caused its feeding frenzy. This leads to scenes with Mr. Whitehead (Henry Fonda ), the president of Trojan Construction — which, sadly, has nothing to do with the mass production of condoms — arguing with his lackey (Cesare Danova) who’s cutting corners for these tests, yet this development is never actually resolved and seems to exist for the sole purpose of padding out the film’s run-time and providing a paycheck for another slumming Academy Award-winning actor. Unfortunately, John Huston and Henry Fonda aren’t the only Hollywood legends dragged into the mess; we also have Shelley Winters as Ned Turner’s promiscuous sister, and her contribution to the film is to shuffle around two little boys who want to enter the local junior yacht race.
The production of Spielberg’s Jaws was infamous for the problems they had with the robotic shark; “The shark is not working, repeat, the shark is not working,” and Tentacles was not immune to these types of problems either, as their million-dollar, life-sized replica of a giant octopus promptly sank to the bottom of the sea when they put it in the water. This resulted in the film having very few shots of the octopus attacking people, subjecting audiences to endless POV shots and horribly murky underwater moments with a real octopus. The few times a “puppet” of the giant octopus was used varied between the ridiculous and the outright lame and mostly consisted of the head of the octopus barreling through the water like the conning tower of a submarine.
At one point in the film, Will Gleason entreats his two killer whales for their help in taking on the giant octopus, “I don’t want it this way, but if I release ya and you go away, I want ya to know I’ll understand. All right, enough said. I gotta go now. If you feel anything… you talk to me. Make some noises. I know people’ll think we’re crazy. Maybe we are… maybe we are.” I’m not sure if this particular monologue was intended to be moving, and you can tell Bo Hopkins was giving it the ole college try, but even the likes of Robert Shaw couldn’t have pulled off that ludicrous speech. That the two orcas didn’t tell him to go fuck himself is the only real surprising moment in this film.
• Composer Stelvio Cipriani’s use of a harpsichord for the creature’s main theme was a rather odd choice and doesn’t quite match up to the theme for Jaws by John Williams.
• John Huston and Shelley Winters both starred together in another Italian classic called The Visitor, and that film made about as much sense as this one, but was, at least, a lot more entertaining.
• The film was horribly dubbed but what is even worse is that many of the incidental characters were dubbed by Italian actors with heavy Italian accents. A strange decision considering the film is set in California.
• A flotilla of kids being harassed by an aquatic monster was a key element of Jaws 2.
• The day is saved by the two “Sea World” attractions coming to the rescue, which were later used as a plot element in Jaws 3-D. It’s nice to see American studios ripping off the Italian rip-offs.
• Tentacles does have a much higher body count than Jaws, but Ovidio G. Assonitis failed to make us care about any of them.
• The murky underwater photography and lack of good monster shots are the chief failings of this film.
If Tentacles were to be convicted of anything, it shouldn’t be for being a rip-off of Spielberg’s classic but, instead, it should be sentenced to the abyss for being monumentally boring. The Italian film The Last Shark was a much more entertaining Jaws rip-off, with its one goofy-as-hell puppet, while Tentacles is simply a soggy mess that provided mortgage payments for a trio of Hollywood legends. If you want to watch movies about a giant octopus on a rampage, avoid this film and track down the superior films like It Came from Beneath the Sea instead.
Movie Rank - 3.5/10
If seeing toy Killer Whales savage the corpse of an octopus is your thing then this may be the film for you, but if entertainment and fun is something you seek than avoid Tentacles at all costs.