Logline: The tourist community of Ocean Beach must fend off the eight-pronged advances of a gargantuan octopus who would like to both hug and suck the marrow out of each of the maritime vacationers.
Animal of Choice: A monster octopus, blowing bubbles from below, occasionally resembling an enlarged bathtub float toy.
Thinking Ecologically: The old standard capitalist environmental malpractice creates the beast by having "damaged the water fauna," though the particulars of the inciting incident are so vague as to render the whole thing baffling. Henry Fonda runs a company that has been excavating an underwater tunnel (for some reason) and said company has been experimenting with broadcasting radio signals "above regulated levels" into (?) or out of (?) the water, which for some reason coaxes the octopus to rise from the depths and eat people who are using or are nearby any equipment that emits radio waves. OK. The oddest detail in this explanation is that Fonda-- the head of the company responsible and so (one would imagine) the likely human villain of the film-- denies direct responsibility for the time-and-money saving "experiments" and isn't lying. It seems that his second in command, with his lofty "personal ambitions," was the culprit, and Fonda chastises him and orders him to continue his tests at the proper regulated levels. The wealthy industrialist... doesn't want to save money? Tentacles has inverted my world. (This described conversation is, in addition, the last time we see Fonda or his crony, exactly one hour into the film. The company never receives its comeuppance from the tentacles of our monster).
Thinking About Animals: No sympathy for this "dang octopus." Though one character admits that it's "an animal disturbed by man's stupidity," it still steals babies from beach-side strollers and sucks the marrow out of Bo Hopkins's girlfriend and so deserves what's coming to it. What winds up coming to it is actually the most interesting tidbit of human/animal relations that the film has to offer: Hopkins, a whale trainer, enlists the assistance of two orcas to track down the octopus and rip it to shreds. His heartfelt speech to the whales, in which he tells them how his respect for them surpasses that which he holds for any human, concludes with him stating that he understands if they choose to flee captivity after the deed is done. The whales gladly attack the octopus, screeching in glee as they savagely rip chunks out of its body, and the octopus moans in pain and frustration. Naturally, the whales return to their keeper after three days of having fun in the ocean, and this is the joyous image that the film cuts to its credits on. We're left with a vision of animals glad to be used as a human instrument after destroying an animal that has rebelled, in whatever clumsy and violent way, against human instrumentation of the environment. Victory.
Evaluation in Brief: With its formidable cast, ocean setting, tentacled beastie, incredible music, and Italian origins, Tentacles was primed to be my most anticipated of this month of viewing, so it's sad to report that it's more or less a dud. The cast of veterans (John Huston, Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters) appear mostly ashamed to be slumming it in a film where rubber tentacles attack wet women and capsize bathtub boats. Moreover, the characters are underwritten and the story that they're set loose in is-- when not by the numbers-- thin and unsatisfying, leaving bizarre threads dangling and offering no real sense of resolution beyond the assurance that the big bad has been turned into octopus calamari. The film's finest moments are when Assonitis pots down all diegetic sound and allows Stelvio Cipriani's classic score to carry the often pretty visuals. A better occasional music video than a film, perhaps.