Tentacles (Tentacoli)

Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis
Screenplay: Jerome Max & Tito Carpi & Steve Carabatsos
Stars: John Huston (Ned Turner), Shelley Winters (Tillie Turner), Bo Hopkins (Will Gleason), Henry Fonda (Mr. Whitehead), Delia Boccardo (Vicky Gleason), Cesare Danova (John Corey), Alan Boyd (Mike), Sherry Buchanan (Judy), Franco Diogene (Chuck), Marc Fiorini (Don)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1977
Country: Italy / U.S.
Tentacles Blu-ray

Jaws made so much money in the summer of 1975 that opportunistic producers immediately fell all over themselves trying to churn out as quickly as possible any kind of aquatic horror movie that might capitalize on the success of Steven Spielberg’s marauding great white shark. The vast majority of these were lazy, low-budget efforts, often made overseas—Tintorera: Killer Shark (1977), Orca (1977), Barracuda (1978), Up From the Depths (1979), and Alligator (1980), to name a few. There were a few bright spots, including Joe Dante’s semi-parody Piranha (1978), but most of these films were cheap cash-grabs whose greatest asset was their poster art.

High on any list of Jaws knock-offs is Tentacles (Tentacoli), an Italian production that tried to pretend it was an American film by assembling a cast of Oscar-winning old-school Hollywood titans, including John Huston, Shelley Winters, and Henry Fonda, and miring them in an inane plot about a giant, man-eating octopus that takes up residence just off a California beach. Director Ovidio G. Assonitis, who was credited as Oliver Hellman in the American release, had recently made his directorial debut with the Exorcist rip-off Beyond the Door ( Chi sei?, 1974). He had worked since the early 1960s as a prolific film distributor, bringing to Italy more than 900 films, mostly from Asia. He then started producing his own films, many of which sought to cash in on the success of other, better ones: Man From the Deep River (Il paese del sesso selvaggio, 1972), which started the Italian cannibal subgenre, was inspired by A Man Called Horse (1970); Who Saw Her Die? (Chi l’ha vista morire?, 1972) was a late entry in the then-popular giallo genre; and Laure (1976) was an attempt to cash in on the notoriety of Just Jaeckin’s X-rated softcore hit Emmanuelle (1974).

Nobody would accuse Assonitis of being a good director, but he was timely (Variety reported he had started prepping Tentacles in October 1975, while Jaws was still in theaters), knew what sold, and endeavored to milk as much as could from his budgets. Unlike some of his earlier films, Tentacles was not a low-budget effort. A 1976 profile of Assonitis in Variety pegged its budget at around $3.5 million (which was the original budget of Jaws before it blew up) and noted that he had hired Wally Gentleman, a special effect supervisor on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to handle the 90-foot artificial octopus built for the film.

The story, which was written by Jerome Max, Tito Carpi (a prolific scribe of more than 100 B-movies), and Steve Carabatsos (The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark, Hot Pursuit), takes place over several days and attempts to weave together three major subplots on the mainland while the octopus lurks in the waters offshore. Huston stars as Ned Turner, a gruff, hard-drinking local journalist who is investigating the ill effects of an underwater tunnel being constructed by Henry Fonda’s Mr. Whitehead (Fonda only appears in a few scenes, and he shot all of them in a single day at his own house because he had recently had heart surgery). A marine expert and orca trainer named Will Gleason (Bo Hopkins) is brought in to investigate, as well, and the whole thing builds to a climax involving a boating race, one of whose competitors is the teenage son of Tillie Turner (Shelley Winters), Ned’s divorced sister. The narrative similarities to Jaws are undeniable, although you can’t say it ripped off Jaws 2’s boating scenario since that movie came out a year later (perhaps they somehow got ahold of an early script draft). Credit should be given to the screenwriters, though, for dreaming up a final battle between the octopus and a pair of orcas, which doesn’t really work, but doesn’t lack for ambition.

Like so many films of its ilk, Tentacles feels cheap and lazy, belying its healthy budget. Huston and Fonda mostly look bored, while Winters overacts, perhaps in an attempt to compensate. Bo Hopkins, a character actor who had appear in a number of Sam Peckinpah’s later films, including The Wild Bunch (1969), The Getaway (1972), and The Killer Elite (1975), is the most grounded character, which isn’t saying much since none of the film’s attempts at creating a human dimension works (which, of course, is part of what makes Jaws stand out from its numerous imitators). Assonitis tries to get as much suspense as he can out of the giant octopus, but the creature never really instills much fear. The mechanical effects are minimal (apparently, they had a lot of technical problems), and the use of a real octopus makes it look diminutive and silly, rather than enormous and threatening. Some of the photography by underwater director Nestore Ungato is quite good, but it isn’t nearly enough to make up for how sluggish the majority of the film is. However, one must give credit to Assonitis for his willingness to step out of bounds from time to time, namely in an opening scene in which the octopus snatches a baby who is parked dangerously close to the water’s edge. We don’t see the child’s demise, but the very fact that Assonitis would sacrifice such an innocent in the opening scene suggests the possibility of a much more dangerous movie than the one he ultimately made.

Tentacles Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Radio spot
  • DistributorKino Lorber
    Release DateApril 12, 2022

    From what I can tell, the image on Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray of Tentacles is not a new scan, but rather the same transfer that was used on Scream Factory’s 2015 Blu-ray release, which also featured Reptilicus. It’s a bit disappointing that a new transfer wasn’t commissioned, especially since they created such awesome new cover art. Nevertheless, the transfer still works well enough, although it certainly betrays the film’s age with an image that looks just a tad faded and has some moderate speckling here and there, although no signs of significant print damage. Despite its healthy budget, the film has a generally cheap look that fits well enough with its tone, and the mix of footage doesn’t always cohere. The underwater photography is some of the best stuff visually, and it looks very great, with strong detail, color, and contrast. The original monaural soundtrack is presented in a clean DTS-HD Master Audio mix that sounds fine. The supplements are limited to a theatrical trailer and radio spot.

    Copyright © 2022 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Kino Lorber

    Overall Rating: (1.5)

    James Kendrick

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