Tentacles (1977)

OCTOBER 6, 2010


Before you read any further, scroll down and press play on the first Youtube clip. Then scroll back up and continue reading about Tentacles. If you’re still reading when the music stops, simply press play again. Because this music is amazing, and I think it should be playing at all times of the day. It occurs during one of the more bafflingly edited scenes in the movie, which is saying quite a bit, because this is one gonzo Jaws ripoff (I should probably note that it’s a co-Italian production, which explains most if not all of the “huh?” moments).

So in this scene, the giant octopus is about to attack a bunch of folks who are racing their sailboats. As this amazing music plays, we see a confusing sequence of people falling off boats, people on the beach laughing and having a good time, and a mother (Shelley Winters!) frantically trying to get a hold of her kid (who looks young enough to be her grandson but whatever), who is one of the racers. One could watch the scene and assume everyone drowned, especially when they show a wide shot of a bunch of overturned boats and no other movement, but it seems they all live, returning to shore moments later.

Another somewhat confusing scene, sadly, is the climax. Hero Bo Hopkins convinces some dolphins (and I mean convinces – he talks to them for a while, pouring his heart out – if you weren’t watching the scene and just listening to his words, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a guy asking his girlfriend to take him back) to help him kill the octopus (“Help me kill the octopus” is the actual line), and they do! But you can’t really tell what’s going on, it’s just a bunch of close-ups of an octopus and a dolphin and things thrashing around, with occasional shots of the human heroes (hard to tell which one’s which) trying to get away. I mean, I understand what is happening – the dolphins are tearing the octopus to pieces (!) – but it’s difficult to get a bearing on anything; your mind just sort of fills in the information based on context.

But it’s all part of the charm that is Tentacles. The aforementioned boat race is of course, this movie’s “4th of July” – we learn about it in the first two minutes of the movie, just in case we weren’t sure that this was a Jaws ripoff (and one of the first, I might add). To its credit, they don’t really do a lot of “close the beaches!” (well, “cancel the boat race!”) stuff, but it’s the same sort of feel, and other scenes borrow directly from Jaws as well, including an attack that is exactly like the sequence where Robert Shaw dies, with the fish smashing the back of the boat, causing its prey to slide down into the water and to their death. But there are a number of unique attacks too – I particularly liked the one where a girl sees what looks like a rogue wave heading toward her (spoiler – it’s the octopus), which smashes the boat and kills them all. This is followed by an odd, “touching” moment where we get this long, very wide (but slowly tracking in) shot of folks on the beach watching the bodies get recovered, as if this was the aftermath of a terrorist attack or something. They’re not even important characters!

These folks are some of the many Italians who appear in the movie despite there being no explanation for why they have seemingly all migrated to California. It’s a little distracting, and it seems some of them are dubbed, but again: charming. One guy is a big fatso with surprisingly decent swimming abilities, and of course the women are all beautiful; it’s just funny seeing them in the same movie with heavyweights like Winters and John Huston (plus Henry Fonda in a small role). And they certainly make the most out of Winters’ time, giving her several of completely useless scenes, like when she discusses the process of filling out the registration form to get the kids in the race.

Unsurprisingly, the kills aren’t exactly eye-catching. They get a little better as they go (the first one we really “see” is just a guy swimming into an ink cloud), but none are particularly memorable. I mean, Bruce never worked but we still saw Robert Shaw in his mouth – we never get that sort of explicitness here. And don’t say “It’s PG, of course not!” – Jaws was PG too.

Oddly, when I wrote down my note about the soundtrack, I wrote “Tarantino” next to it. I was referring to the fact that the music I posted (which better still be on!) sounded like something he might use at random in one of his movies. Oddly enough, he DID use some of this film’s score (albeit not that particular piece) in Death Proof, according to the typically borderline illiterate gibberish on the IMDb board. It’s been nearly four years since I saw that movie, so I can’t remember if it’s true or where it was used if so. But I don’t doubt their claims – anyone know for sure?

So it’s a little slow and not as viscerally satisfying as I expected from an Italian Jaws ripoff (from the guy who replaced Cameron on Piranha II no less!), but it’s definitely a delight and worth a look for fans of the sub-genre. And it’s on Netflix instant, which means a sadly increasing number of you will get to watch it in your preferred format.

What say you?


  1. I have to agree. Listening to the music while reading the review made me want to go watch this right now, even if the review wasn't that complementary.

  2. Rock on, BC! And now shameless pluggery: If you're in the market for something even worse that manages to rip off both Jaws AND Tentacles, stop by 31 Flavors of Terror and behold the awesome Sharktopus!


    Obviously I'm nowhere near BC's level of ability, dedication or expertise, but I'm having fun. If you can't get enough scary stuff in October, stop on by and say hello!

  3. Nice. That music sounds like Goblin playing a James Bond theme song.

  4. Back in the day I was a huge Jaws fan. I saw the movie several times and became obsessed with sharks. I had even read the book before the movie came out. That was forth grade. Had Star Wars not come out two years later, I might have been an oceanographer now.

    Well, back in '75 I had an idea for another movie. Instead of a shark it would be an octopus, and therefor had to be called Tentacles. Clearly the movie makers were operating at the intellectual level of a 9 year old.

    I also had a Bear movie in mind, called Claws, but the studio decided to call it Grizzly (1976) and use Claws as a secondary title.

    I have a great idea for a film! It's called Beaks!

  5. I was able to read the entire review AND all of the comments before the music concluded.

  6. Aren't they killer whales? (Not dolphins?)

  7. Yeah, but you know, I'm an idiot.

  8. To be fair, if I remember correctly, killer whales actually are dolphins and not whales, so...

  9. Orca are in the porpoise family of aquatic mammals, not dolphins. Yay useless trivia!

  10. Actually, last time I checked (which was about 5 seconds ago), the killer whale (aka orca) is an oceanic dolphin. Feel free to look it up.
    All I'm trying to say is that BC was not necessarily wrong in calling it a dolphin just because it was a killer whale if a killer whale is a type of dolphin.


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