Tentacles/Reptilicus: Double Feature [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (18th July 2015).
The Film

After debuting four nature-run-amok titles on Blu-ray just last month, Scream Factory has gone even bigger by bringing two behemoths of the sea to hi-def. “Tentacles” (1977), the Italian-produced California-filmed giant octopus thriller, and “Reptilicus” (1961), Denmark’s approximation of a prehistoric creature feature, are just the sort of Saturday night schlock fans of entertainingly bad cinema yearn to see. Surprisingly, “Tentacles” – a shamelessly enjoyable riff on “Jaws” (1975) – is not at all terrible, and it features a number of venerable actors who have shown up to do slightly more than simply collect a paycheck. The real star of the film isn’t the titular octopus, though; it’s composer Stelvio Cipriani’s jazzy, psyched-out score that never quits – seriously, his compositions are practically wall-to-wall. “Reptilicus”, on the other hand, is a turkey big enough to take out an entire city. Without even getting into how stilted and laughable the effects work is, what bogs down the film’s scant 80-ish minute running time are a cookie cutter script and some out-and-out horrid acting… and yet, for some inexplicable reason I was totally invested in seeing it through to the end. Monster movie junkies: this double feature is your bread and butter.

Despite being an Italian production, “Tentacles” was shot in and around San Diego, CA. The story begins with a series of mysterious disappearances and deaths that occur near the California coastal town of Ocean Beach. Ned Turner (John Huston), a local reporter, digs deep into the matter and the only connection he can find between the victims is they were all in close proximity to a radio. Not a whole lot to go on. He does, however, learn of the underwater construction being done by the Trojan company, which is run by Mr. Whitehead (Henry Fonda). Turns out their operation has been using radio signals that have angered a gargantuan octopus, and it’s now getting revenge by eating the locals.

There are a few subplots running in “Tentacles”; surprisingly, they don’t all convene at some point in the film, either. The focus is mostly on the octopus, and not the humans, as we see it indiscriminately eat one person after the next. Any human drama and investigation takes a backseat to unbridled eight-legged mayhem. Huston’s reporter angle is never anything more than an excuse to put the legendary actor on screen (and I’m not complaining), and Fonda – who had a pacemaker installed prior to shooting – quite literally phones it in, as his character spends a lot of his screen time making calls. The most curious subplot focuses on Tillie Turner (Shelly Winters) and her grandsons’ upcoming boat race. Really, this storyline only exists to give us the film’s greatest sequence – a jazzy, seemingly endless boat race that is awkwardly edited and absolutely overwhelmed with Cipriani’s score. It’s such a bizarre scene, yet it’s in keeping with the movie’s unique nature.

The creature that owns the titular tentacles is actually realized somewhat impressively. “Jaws” P.O.V. shots aside, when the film does show off the beast it’s either via minimal, but commendable, practical FX, or using a live octopus, which blends in with the miniature work way better than I had expected. Director Ovidio G. Assonitis (helming under the pseudonym “Oliver Hellman”) wisely chose to show just enough to sell a scene to audiences without lingering for so long that the illusion dissipates. Even the grand finale, wherein two orcas take on the big ‘pus, doesn’t look half as laughable as it could have.

But the real star here is prolific composer Stelvio Cipriani’s cranked-up, high energy, groovy score that is easily responsible for half of my enjoyment with the film. I’ve been a big fan of his work for years (if you’re not familiar, do yourself a favor and seek out his scores – especially 1977’s “Un’ Ombra Nell’ Ombra”) and this is definitely one of his more memorable works. Cipriani must have agreed with that assertion, too, because he repurposed some of this score for “Concorde Affair ‘79” (1979).

On the flip side of this beastly double feature is “Reptilicus”, the oft-mocked Danish creature feature. If there were ever a monster movie that seems like it was made with the intention of going straight into the annals of comedy fodder, this is it. It’s never a good sign when your rampaging ancient terror from the sea is overshadowed by one of the film’s co-stars, who in this case is an oafish, dimwitted night watchman, eternally clad in overalls and never without a buffoonish expression. This is a film for the hardcore monster movie aficionados. Not because it’s replete with the goods we want to see, but because it’s so unquestionably terrible that only those with the tolerance to watch something like “Godzilla’s Revenge” (1969) will have the will to make it to the end.

During a drilling operation workers find the remains of an ancient creature’s tail section. Scientists place it in a nutrient-rich room, sealed off, where it begins to show signs of regenerating. But into what, exactly? A reporter suggests they call it “Reptilicus”, which the Head Scientist agrees with on the spot. Good thing the first dude who stood up didn’t suggest “Reptail” or… hey, that’s actually not half bad. Anyway, this thing keeps on growing and growing until one night, during a power outage, it escapes (after suddenly growing very large very quickly) and begins smashing up the Danish countryside. It can also spew… something; it’s a sickly fire/slime that looks like – forgive me – acid jizz. It also “eats people”, by which I mean a puppet operator allows its mouth to dangle while a person resembling a Colorform come to life is optically swallowed.

The military can’t seem to stop it, either. Hard to imagine why when their strategy includes bombing indiscriminate locations in the sea, hoping to hit it. Unknowingly, they actually succeed, but the charge merely severs Reptilicus’ foot; that’ll grow back in no time. The mammoth monster resurfaces and begins another assault, this time on downtown Copenhagen. The military has a new plan: to administer a massive dose of a sedative that just might bring the beast down. Or kill it. They’d be happy with either outcome at this point.

This is a difficult film to get through unless you’re in the “right mindset” for something so laughably absurd. Let’s pretend the acting isn’t stilted and wooden and simply terrible, and that the story isn’t barely there – there’s still the issue of the eponymous animal, which looks like a dried turd molded into the shape of a snake, with eyes pressed into the “head”. I’ve seen headless snakes give a more convincing performance than this dime store monster-on-a-stick. This is, of course, part of the “Reptilicus” charm, but it’s also an acquired taste not favored by many. This is one of the few times I might suggest watching a film for the first time with a riff track of some sort enabled.

Denmark showed an appreciable sense of spirit by making their own monster movie, but it’s understandable why they never made another. Without the silent, goofy wit of Dirch Passer, as the numbskull night watchman, there’d be virtually nothing of value on screen. This is primitive ‘50s low-budget monster movie making, done in the 60's. It would play perfectly to the right bawdy crowd on a Saturday at midnight. Watching it at home, alone? It’s the cure for insomnia.

“Tentacles” film rating: C+
“Reptilicus” film rating: D+

Video

“Tentacles” glides onto Blu-ray with a beautiful 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded picture. Scream Factory didn’t spring for a restoration here - and they didn’t have to because the print used here looks spectacular. The 70's aesthetic is in full effect, with all the glory of Technicolor present on the screen. Colors are vibrant, the beach-y atmosphere of Ocean Beach sells a sunbaked aesthetic, contrast is stable and grain looks very filmic and natural. There are some strong examples of fine detail evident in the many close-ups seen throughout. I am a big fan of how films of the 70's looked and this Blu-ray captures that era perfectly.

A new HD restoration was done for “Reptilicus”, bringing it to home video for the first time in widescreen – 1.66:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encode. Scream Factory deserves all the credit for commissioning this new master, which is clearly the best this film has ever looked. There are still many flecks and instances of dirt, though these are minor issues considering how nice the restored print looks. Don’t get too excited; the low-budget roots are still very apparent. The color fluctuates sporadically, and detail is still at a low. One shot early on of the monster’s tail looks ghastly, riddled with ghosting and sub-VHS resolution. The worst shots are those showing off the monster. Expect to see plenty of scratches, dirt and general ugliness whenever it’s on screen. This is for the best, as it helps to cover up the poor effects work a bit.

“Tentacles” video rating: B+
“Reptilicus” video rating: B-

Audio

Both films are given identical audio options, in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track – stereo for “Tentacles”, mono for “Reptilicus”. The dialogue, dubbing and sound design on each title is emblematic of AIP, which means they get the job done without being too flashy or sonic. Dialogue is clear and balanced on both, while effects are given moderate separation to spread the track out a little. There’s not much on the low end of the spectrum, and there’s a tendency to sound very front-loaded. Still, no major complaints for either one. Subtitles are included in English.

Extras

Both films are light in the extras category, featuring just a theatrical trailer, photo gallery, and a radio spot each.

“Tentacles” contains the following bonus features:

A theatrical trailer (1080i) runs for 1 minute and 1 second.

A photo gallery (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 1 second.

One radio spot runs for 58 seconds.

“Reptilicus” contains the following bonus features:

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 58 seconds.

A photo gallery (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 41 seconds.

One radio spot runs for 1 minute.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

For my money, “Tentacles” is where it’s at – a breezy score, loads of classic actors and effects that don’t take you out of the film. Basically, the exact opposite of “Reptilicus”, which I still managed to enjoy despite its lack of anything artistically viable.

The Film: C Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: C- Overall: C+

 


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