A serious contender for Greatest Crap Monster Movie Of All Time, TENTACLES may, at first glance, appear to be an American movie. It’s set on a Californian beach resort and the stars include John Huston (yes, him), Shelley Winters (yes, her), Henry Fonda (surely not?), Claude Akins (more believable, this one) and Bo Hopkins (well, we all kind of expected him to show up). But scratch ever so slightly beneath the main credits and you’ll find an altogether more Italian flavour to these salty proceedings. TENTACLES is directed (and I use this term very loosely indeed) by Ovidio Assonitis (stop laughing at the back or you’ll be forced to watch this one again). For those of you who may be unaware, he’s the man who took Juliet Mills, fresh from her success co-starring with Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder’s AVANTI! and got her to dribble green vomit and swear a lot in the beyond daft nudie satanic sleaze epic BEYOND THE DOOR, effectively ending her film career. Here Mr Assonitis is hiding behind the name Oliver Hellman, as well he might, considering the delights that are about to be revealed to us.
See actress Delia Boccardo hoisted up by a huge fake rubber tentacle! See real tentacles wrapped around a model boat that’s probably in Ovidio’s bathtub! See Shelley Winters say wee wee to two twelve year olds, while wearing a hat so voluminous she’s probably got a bottle of gin hidden inside it! Experience edge of the seat suspense as you wonder if Bo Hopkins will actually finish the line of dialogue he’s started!
Something is killing the residents of a small resort seaside town. A baby gets plucked from the roadside, and a man with one leg gets all his bone marrow sucked out, at least according to the least charismatic doctor ever to grace a rubbish Italian horror film. Reporter John Huston is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, while we ponder why he dresses in a floor length stripey robe that makes him look like Gandalf on stilts. At least he appears to be acting without the aid of the ingestion of a considerable quantity of alcohol, something which, alas, cannot be aid of his onscreen sister Shelley Winters. He recruits oceanographer and ponderous speech expert Bo Hopkins to his cause and together they investigate. It turns out the Trojan Tunnelling Company (I believe some smutty humour may be enjoyed at the expense of this name by US movie enthusiasts) has been using some kind of radiofrequency thing they shouldn’t have been using (and believe me I’m providing more detail here than the script does) which has woken up a giant octopus. Henry Fonda is the boss of Trojan, apparently acting all his lines in his back garden because he refused to walk any further than that for a film of this calibre. I don’t blame him one bit.
There are some more killings, including pretty Sherry Buchanan (who went on to get her vocal cords cut in Marino Girolami’s bonkers ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST) and the not pretty and very obese indeed Franco Diogene, the man responsible for displaying quite possibly the largest underpants onscreen in the world ever in Andrea Bianchi’s STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER. Bo’s wife Vicky (Delia Boccardo) gets eaten by an enormous back-projected octopus, and then it’s time for the highlight of the film - the annual yacht race.
Despite all the efforts of Bo and the local police constabulary (which consists of men in helicopters holding up handwritten signs saying ‘Go Back’) our boating contestants seem oblivious to the large polystyrene octopus head that is being propelled at speed through the water by several Italian special effects men. I don’t actually think these creatures pop their heads up like this before they close in for the kill, but I suppose if a dorsal fin is good enough for JAWS, then a big plastic octopus head is probably seen as going one better in someone’s warped universe.
The octopus head rushes forward. People cower and fall off their yachts. Not a drop of blood is spilled. The entire thing is appallingly shot and edited. To cap it all, Stelvio Cipriani’s music is great but completely inappropriate for a scene that should have at least some degree of suspense. Just typing all this makes me want to watch it again.
Bo sets off after the beastie, taking his favourite killer whales with him in a big tank. The film can’t hope to plunge the giddy depths of crapness of the boat race attack, though, and the film rather fizzles out as a couple of glove puppet killer whales tear apart a real dead octopus from the fishmonger’s. Despite his wife and most of the rest of the cast being dead, Bo shares a few jokes with his Italian boatmate chum before sailing off into the sunset followed by his whales.
TENTACLES really is one of the worst directed films I have seen in ages (and that includes all the Jess Franco movies I’ve reviewed on here). Characters are often introduced from behind and sometimes with the backs of their talking heads obscured by shrubbery. At the beginning there are long takes of nothing but people’s legs and feet as the looped in dialogue helps TENTACLES to compete with anything by Ed Wood. Even when we do have to see some faces, the camera angles are so low you wonder if the chap shooting them either had very little legs or was so fed up with being on set he spent the entire time sitting down. As mentioned above, Stelvio Cipriani’s music is great, but it's completely inappropriate much of the time, and feels as if it was composed for several other different films entirely.
Is there a worse Italian giant killer octopus film out there? I don’t know. But as far as I’m concerned there definitely isn’t a better one. As winter draws in TENTACLES is just the thing to make you smile on a cold night, and for that it deserves a special place in monster movie history.