I sometimes play this game with my friends: "A movie came out in 1977. It stars John Huston, Shelley Winters and Henry Fonda. What genre is it?" If I'm feeling ornery I throw in Bo Hopkins, and to be especially cruel I'll mention Claude Akins as the sheriff. People guess disaster, they guess Western, they guess wrong.
Everybody knows the 70s were a renaissance for American film-making, and we all like to impress our friends with our unknown niche discoveries in Blaxploitation, muscle-car flicks, or my favorite, the Jack Nicholson-looking-for-America genre. But hardly anyone mentions the secret weapon of the period, a formula known as "get classic Hollywood stars to make embarrassing appearances in schlock monster movies". Extra points if the monster was a natural phenomenon made horrific by human interference - killer bees, giant spiders, big smart fish. It's a strange development, these old duffers staggering around with freakish fauna. Ray Milland started the ball by producing his own weird little genre pictures in the 60s, then sliding right into THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES etc. The granddaddy of them all came in '78, THE SWARM (Fonda, Richard Widmark, half of the Warner stock company), which conflates the monster premise with the disaster genre. But there's also a bunch of lesser-budgeted fare distributed by the great Sam Z. Arkoff. Boy, did I love to see that name come up when I was five... and not really since. American International Pictures had entries like FOOD OF THE GODS (Ida Lupino, Ralph Meeker) and ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (Burt Lancaster), and this bullshit JAWS rip-off.
I don't know. Maybe I'm asking too much of a giant octopus movie when I insist that the octopus not make human breathing and growling noises while it's underwater. Or that the movie not be named after appendages octopuses don't possess. Or that informed experts take along more than a spear gun when they go hunting a cephalopod big enough to sink a yacht. But what I really don't like about this movie is its near-competence.
To be truly enjoyable, a bad movie has to try really hard and fail really big. TENTACLES opens with a bold move in this direction: an establishing shot of the seashore filmed through a taxi window, with the camera housing reflected in the glass. There's a nice touch to the radio dispatcher's patter laid over the whole sequence, as if that's gonna bring home the realism of a movie about an octopus that climbs into parks to eat babies. Even better, the taxi disembarks a man with a wooden leg, whose face we don't get to see, whose limp and funny shoes are established so firmly that one would never expect that neither those shoes nor that leg will come up again.
Unfortunately, the movie veers sharply from here into dull, mildly credible mundanity for much of its running time. There are wonderful elements, like the casting of Bo Hopkins as a marine biologist. Or the time when this character, in the course of investigating mysterious aquatic deaths, blithely advises his wife to go boating. Or his tender 3-minute monologue to his pet orcas. Mostly though the movie consists of Shelley Winters as the brunt of fat jokes, Claude Akins looking constipated, and John Huston smoking his cigar in every available location. Occasionally Henry Fonda makes a phone call from his single set, or interacts with the only other human being in his part of the movie.
The human carnage is extremely mild, a choice more likely related to the director's limited imagination than to any considerations of taste. Ovidio Assonitis has made movies about deformed psycho slashers, airborne transvestite nymphomaniacs, and women raped by devils, plus he ends this movie with the torturemutilation of a real live octopus by hand puppets painted like killer whales.
Review by rhinocerosfive-1 from the Internet Movie Database.