Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Film Appreciation - We're in for a Nightmare

Cody Hamman shows some Film Appreciation for 1977's Tentacles.

1977 was an amazing year for movies. Several of that year's releases have already been talked about or mentioned on the blog: The Spy Who Loved Me, Smokey and the Bandit, George A. Romero's Martin, Citizens Band, The Car, Hitch-Hike, The Haunting of Julia. And among the other cool '77 movies that haven't been discussed yet, there was of course the release of Star Wars. I would've been in cinematic bliss that whole year if I had been around.

The 1975 success of Jaws had opened the gates to a flood of aquatic horrors and nature run amok movies. By the middle of 1977, William Girdler had made Grizzly and Day of the Animals, Susan George and Priscilla Barnes were having shark encounters in ¡Tintorera! on screens in Mexico (the U.S. release wasn't until '78), and Mako: The Jaws of Death had been out for a year. More were to come over the years, including the Spielberg favorite Piranha as well as the Jaws sequels.

One month before Orca, and the same week the Peter Benchley (author of Jaws) adaptation The Deep hit theatres, there was the release of one of my favorite Jaws cash-ins: Tentacles.

Filmed in California, Tentacles was an Italian co-production, and if you can't tell that from the names in the credits or the moments of obvious dubbing, it also comes through in the score by Stelvio Cipriani. In moments of building suspense or fright, a harpsichord kicks in on the soundtrack, which is fantastic.

The trouble starts when the construction of an underwater tunnel stirs up a giant octopus, which proceeds to besiege the coastal community of Solana Beach. Driven to a homicidal rage by the high frequency radio signals that are being used by the construction crew, the octopus attacks anyone it can get its suckers on and kills them with a vacuum effect that strips their bodies down to the bone and sucks the marrow dry. Unlike the victims in a shark or other sort of flesh-eating fish movie, the unlucky saps in this movie don't even have to be in the water to fall prey, the octopus can also grab them off of boats, tear the boat apart to get to them, or snatch them off the shore. The first victim in the film is a baby left sitting in a stroller beside the water.

Like the 4th of July celebrations happening on Amity Island in Jaws, the Solana Beach area is having a big event of its own concurrent with their octopus problem: the annual Junior Yacht Race, held on August 21st, which brings in a lot of tourist money. And provides the octopus with an opportunity to wreak more havoc.

The characters who populate Solana Beach are portrayed by some well known, highly respected actors: Henry Fonda as the head of the construction company, John Huston as the investigative reporter who does more to get to the bottom of this situation than the local authorities (and who goes to bed in a bitchin' men's nightgown), Shelley Winters as the sister the reporter cohabitates with. Helping Huston's character solve the mystery is man of action Bo Hopkins as Will Gleason, an oceanographer who trains a pair of killer whales on the side.

When Will's own wife ends up part of the 'pus's bodycount his outward reaction is about on par with my regular bouts of melancholy, but it still sets him off on a mission of revenge, with a plan that requires putting his whales inside a portable tank and hauling them out into the ocean. He has a deep connection to his whales, Summer and Winter, and before he sets them loose on the octopus for the climactic battle, the greatest scene in the film plays out. Will sits atop their tank and delivers an emotional monologue. While having flashbacks to the good times he's had training his whales, he asks them for their help, relates to them (people call them killers, just like they did to him on the streets), lets them know how much he cares for them and that he'll understand if they just swim off. "I know people think we're crazy. Maybe we are... Maybe we are."

Before seeing Tentacles for the first time in September of 2010, all I had heard about it was that it was a bad movie. That month, I got the chance to see it screened at a very cool event - an all-night horror movie marathon held at a drive-in theatre. This was the first drive-in experience I had had in around twenty years, and I had a lot of fun that night, kicking back in my car, eating popcorn and french fries and watching horror movies from the '70s and '80s play out on a big screen in need of a fresh paintjob. The marathon's lineup: Jaws, Tentacles, Demons, Burial Ground, and Laserblast. It was awesome. And I thoroughly enjoyed Tentacles.

Sure, Tentacles may be considered a "bad movie", but it's the sort of bad movie that's peppered with greatness, moments that are so fun and/or so absurd that it brings a smile to my face several times throughout. After my first viewing of it, I was left with the opinion that this is a movie that deserves to be more popular and more appreciated than it is. A couple years and a few more viewings later, that's an opinion I still have.

So check out Tentacles. It gets a bad rap, but there are others out there who will enjoy it like I do.

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