Italian Horror Showcase: Tentacles (dir by Ovidio G. Assonitis)


Okay, tell me if this sounds familiar.

There’s a beachside resort town, one whose survival is pretty much dependent upon tourists and big business.  If you give the tourists a reason to not show up, the town dies.  If you give big business a reason to build their factories and their underground tunnels somewhere else, the town dies.

Unfortunately, something bad is happening in this little town.  People are going in the water and they’re never returning.  It appears that they’re being killed by some sort of giant sea monster, even though the authorities swear that it’s simply impossible.  The town’s leaders are putting pressure on the sheriff to cover up the crimes.  A scientist shows up and thinks that everyone he meets is an idiot.

It’s not safe to go in the water but people keep doing it!

Now, you may be thinking that it sounds like I’m describing the plot of Jaws but actually, I’m talking about an Italian film called Tentacles.  Released in 1977, Tentacles was one of the many films that was directly inspired by the success of Spielberg’s film.  Jaws was such a phenomenal success that it was ripped off by filmmakers across the world.  That said, of all the people ripping off Spielberg’s film, the Italians brought an undeniable and frequently shameless flair to the Jaws knockoffs.

Tentacles is a bit different from other Italian Jaws films in that, this time, the threat does not come from a shark.  Instead, it comes from a giant octopus!  That’s actually a pretty good twist because, in real life, an octopus is actually more dangerous than a shark.  Not only are they bigger and considerably smarter than most sharks but if they get enough of their eight arms around you, they can literally squeeze you to death!  I mean …. agck!  Say what you will about sharks, I imagine getting eaten by one would suck but at least it wouldn’t take long to die.  Whereas if an octopus gets you, you would actually be aware of it squeezing you to death and oh my God, I’m never getting in the water.

Anyway, in Tentacles, the octopus is snatching babies off of piers and sailors off of boats and it’s using its octopus powers to rip their skin from their bones.  It also attack scuba divers by firing ink at them.  The sheriff (Claude Akins) says that it’s nothing to worry about but Ned Turner (John Huston), a hard-boiled reporter, thinks that there’s a story here.  Ned’s in town visiting his sister (Shelley Winters).  She has a ten year-old son who enjoys sailing.  Uh-oh….

Henry Fonda shows up for a few very brief scenes, playing the head of a company that built the underwater tunnel that somehow mutated the octopus.  Fonda looks incredibly frail in his scenes (and apparently, he filmed his part while recovering from heart surgery) but his performance in Tentacles still isn’t as cringe-inducing as his performance in The Swarm.

Also showing up is a marine biologist named Will Gleason (Bo Hokpkins).  Fortunately, Gleason owns two killer whales so, after the octopus kills his wife, Gleason sends out the orcas to track it down.  Before doing so, he gives them a pep talk.  Apparently, killer whales respond to positive reinforcement.

Tentacles is unique in that it’s an Italian production that managed to rope in a few well-known American actors.  It’s an odd film to watch because, on the one hand, the film is full of risible dialogue and it’s painfully slow whenever the octopus isn’t attacking anyone and no one really seems to be that invested in any of their characters.  (When the octopus kills a baby, the actress playing the baby’s mother underacts to such an extent that the scene becomes almost surreal.)  This isn’t like Jaws, where you actually care about Brody, Quint, Hooper, and the Kintner boy.  On the other hand, the octopus itself is actually kind of frightening so, on that very basic level, the film works.

In the end, Tentacles is one of the lesser Jaws rip-offs but you’ll never forget that octopus.

 

Blues On The Downbeat: ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (United Artists 1959)


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Desperate men commit desperate acts, and the three protagonists of ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW are desperate indeed in this late entry in the film noir cycle. This is a powerful film that adds social commentary to the usual crime and it’s consequences plot by tainting one of the protagonists with the brush of racism. Robert Wise, who sharpened his skills in the RKO editing room, directs the film in a neo-realistic style, leaving the studio confines for the most part behind, and the result is a starkly lit film where the shadows of noir only dominate at night.

But more on Wise later… first, let’s meet our three anti-heroes. We see Earle Slater (Robert Ryan ) walking down a New York street bathed in an eerie white glow (Wise used infra-red film to achieve the effect). Slater’s a fish out of water, a transplanted Southerner drifted North, a loser and loose cannon…

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Cleaning Out the DVR #16: Keep Calm and Watch Movies!


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All last week, I was laid up with sciatic nerve pain, which begins in the back and shoots down my left leg. Anyone who has suffered from this knows how  excruciating it can be! Thanks to inversion therapy, where I hang upside down three times a day on a table like one of Bela Lugosi’s pets in THE DEVIL BAT , I’m feeling much better, though not yet 100%.

Fortunately, I had a ton of movies to watch. My DVR was getting pretty full anyway, so I figured since I could barely move, I’d try to make a dent in the plethora of films I’ve recorded.., going all the way back to last April! However, since I decided to go back to work today, I realize I won’t have time to give them all the full review treatment… and so it’s time for the first Cleaning Out the DVR post…

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Recipe for Disaster: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (20th Century-Fox 1972)


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Although 1970’s AIRPORT is generally credited as the first “disaster movie”, it was 1972’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE that made the biggest splash for the genre. Producer Irwin Allen loaded up his cast with five- count ’em!- Academy Award winners, including the previous year’s winner Gene Hackman (THE FRENCH CONNECTION ). The special effects laden extravaganza wound up nominated for 9 Oscars, winning 2, and was the second highest grossing film of the year, behind only THE GODFATHER!

And unlike many of the “disasters” that followed in its wake, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE holds up surprisingly well. The story serves as an instruction manual for all disaster movies to come. First, introduce your premise: The S.S. Poseidon is sailing on its final voyage, and Captain Leslie Nielsen is ordered by the new ownership to go full steam ahead, despite the ship no longer being in ship-shape. (You won’t be able to take…

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A Movie A Day #356: The Delta Force (1986, directed by Menahem Golan)


Last year, at this time, I set a goal for myself.

I decided that, in 2017, I would review a movie a day and I nearly succeeded. I didn’t review a movie on the day Chris Cornell died.  I missed a few days in March due to a sinus infection.  Including the review that I’m posting below, I reviewed 356 movies in 2017.  According to the year-end stats, my most popular reviews were for Heavy Metal Parking Lot, Slaughter, Body Chemistry 3, Body Chemistry 4, and Beatlemania.

Since tomorrow will be the start of a new year, this is going to be the end of my A Movie A Day experiment.  In 2018, I’ll still be watching movies and posting reviews on this site but this is my final daily review.  For my final Movie A Day, I picked the greatest movie of all time, The Delta Force!

Produced by Cannon Films, The Delta Force starts in 1980, with a helicopter exploding in the desert.  America’s elite special missions force has been sent to Iran to rescue the men and women being held hostage in the embassy.  The mission is a disaster with the members of Delta Force barely escaping with their lives.  Captain Chuck Norris tells his commanding officer, Col. Lee Marvin, that he’s finished with letting cowardly politicians control their missions.  Chuck heads to Montana while Lee spends the next few years hitting on the bartender at his local watering hole.

In 1985, terrorists led by Robert Forster hijack an airplane and divert it to Beirut.  Among those being held hostage: Martin Balsam, Shelley Winters, Lainie Kazan, Susan Strasberg, Kim Delaney, and Bo Svenson.  The great George Kennedy plays a priest named O’Malley who, when the Jewish passengers are moved to a separate location, declares himself to be Jewish and demands to be taken too.  Jerry Lazarus is a hostage who spends the movie holding a Cabbage Patch doll that his daughter gave him for luck.  Former rat packer Joey Bishop plays a passenger who says, “Beirut was beautiful then.  Beautiful.”  Fassbinder favorite Hanna Schygulla is the stewardess who refuses to help the terrorists because, “I am German!”

In America, General Robert Vaughn activates The Delta Force to rescue the hostages and take out the terrorists.  As Lee Marvin prepares everyone (including Cannon favorite, Steve James and, in a nonspeaking role, Liam Neeson) to leave, the big question is whether Chuck Norris will come out of retirement for the mission.  Of course, he does.  Even better, he brings his motorcycle with him.

Anyone who has ever seen The Delta Force remembers Chuck’s motorcycle.  Not only did it look incredibly cool but it was also mounted with machine guns and it could fire missiles at cowardly terrorists.  It didn’t matter whether you agreed with the film’s politics were or whether you even liked the movie, everyone who watched The Delta Force wanted Chuck’s motorcycle.  As the old saying goes, “You may be cool but you’ll never be Chuck Norris firing a missile from a motorcycle cool.”

The Delta Force is really three different films.  One film, shot in the style of a disaster film, is about the hostages on the plane and their evil captors.  The second film is Lee Marvin (in his final movie role) preparing his men to storm the airplane.  The third movie is Chuck Norris chasing Robert Forster on his motorcycle.  Put those three movies together and you have the ultimate Cannon movie.  The Delta Force was even directed by Cannon’s head honcho, Menahem Golan.  (Years earlier, Golan also directed Operation Thunderbolt, an Israeli film about the raid on Entebbe, which features more than a few similarities to The Delta Force.  Golan received his first and only Oscar nomination when Operation Thunderbolt was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.)

The Delta Force is also the ultimate 80s movie.  It opens with the Carter administration fucking everything up and it ends with the Reagan administration giving Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris the greenlight to blow up some terrorists.  There is not much nuance to be found in The Delta Force but it still feels good to watch Chuck beat the bad guys.  Top that off with a shameless score from Alan Silvestri and you have one of the greatest action movies of all time.

At the end of The Delta Force, as cans of Budweiser are being passed out to rescued hostages, an extra is clearly heard to shout, “Beer!  America!”  Then everyone sings America The Beautiful.

That says it all.

A Movie A Day #211: Deja Vu (1985, directed by Anthony B. Richmond)


Damn, son.  I’ve seen some bad movies before but Deja Vu is something else altogether.

Around the mid-80s, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus decided to prove that Cannon Films was capable of doing more than making movies about Chuck Norris refighting the war in Vietnam.  Golan and Globus had already made money, now they wanted respect.  Teaming up with respected directors (Robert Altman directed an adaptation of Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love for them) and casting actors who had slightly more range than Chuck Norris or Reb Brown, Cannon tried to go the prestige route.  Some of the Cannon’s quality movies actually were good movies.  The same year that Deja Vu came out, Cannon’s Runaway Train scored several Oscar nominations.  However, Deja Vu is a far more representative example of a Cannon prestige film.  It may have had higher production values than Missing in Action but it was still a Golan/Globus production through and through.

Nigel Terry (best known for playing King Arthur in John Boorman’s Excalibur) plays Michael, a screenwriter who views a documentary about a famous and tragic ballerina and is shocked to discover that she looks just like his actress fiancée.  (Both roles are played by Jaclyn Smith.)  Michael is even more shocked when it turns out that he looks exactly like the ballerina’s husband.  Convinced that his girlfriend is the reincarnation of the ballerina, Michael researches her life and murder.  Meanwhile, his fiancée starts to act strangely.

Deja Vu starts out a merely mediocre, slowly paced and miscast.  (There is no chemistry whatsoever between Nigel Terry and Jaclyn Smith.)  But then Shelley Winters shows up, playing a Russian psychic named Olga Nabokova. As soon as Winters started to deliver her lines in one of the least convincing Russian accents that I have ever heard, Deja Vu made the leap from being merely bad to being a cinematic trainwreck.  While Terry and Smith sleepwalk through their roles, Winters and, later, Claire Bloom (cast as the ballerina’s mother) chew up every piece of scenery that they can get their hands on.  Though the plot may be so predictable that it will cause viewers to have deja vu of their own, it must be said that, eventually, Deja Vu becomes so bad and misjudged that it is impossible to look away.  Golan and Globus may have had Oscars in their eyes when they decided to produce this prestige pic but instead, they won the laughter of anyone who comes across it on TV.

 

Happy 100th Birthday Robert Mitchum!: THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (United Artists 1955)


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Regular readers know I’m a big fan of Big Bob Mitchum, having covered nine of his classic films. The self-effacing Mitchum always downplayed his talents in interviews, but his easy-going, naturalistic style and uncanny ear for dialect made him one of the screen’s most watchable stars. Whether a stoic film noir anti-hero, a rugged soldier fighting WWII, a romantic lead, or a malevolent villain, Mitchum always delivered the goods. Last night I watched THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER for the first time, and his performance as the murderous ‘Reverend’ Harry Powell just zoomed to the top of my list of marvelous Mitchum performances.

Mitchum’s Powell is totally amoral and totally crazy, a sociopathic killer who talks to God about killing women, those “perfume smelling things, lacy things, things with curly hair” that The Lord hates, according to Harry. He’s sexually repressed to the point he must murder in the name of God to…

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