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Scream Factory Double Feature

Savant Blu-ray Review


Scream Factory
Street Date June 16, 2015 / 24.97

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Scream Factory delivers the monsters in June, a pair of American-International Pictures releases from different decades, both with a theme of a menace on the loose. The specimen from 1961 is an old-school giant monster, the kind that requires mustering an army to put down. It's got quite a reputation as a picture for horror completists: critic David Cairns has a major blog theme going called, 'See Reptilicus and Die," to justify looking up every oddball horror picture in a childhood reference book.

The second movie is an Italian production from 1977 produced immediately in the wake of a certain Steven Spielberg blockbuster from a couple of summers before. Like its predecessor, it did reasonable box-office, proving that giant monsters never go out of style, no matter who's making them.

1977 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 81 min.
Starring John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins, Henry Fonda, Delia Boccardo, Cesare Danova, Claude Akins.
Robert D'Ettore Piazzoli
Original Music Stelvio Cipriani
Written by Steven W. Carabatsos, Tito Carpi, Jerome Max
Produced by Ovidio G. Assonitis, E.F. Doria
Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis (as Oliver Hellman)

Tentacles is a bizarre cheapie that got everyone's attention in the summer of '77 -- what the heck are John Huston, Shelley Winters and Henry Fonda doing in a movie about a killer octopus?   Making a living, that's what. A look at what was being released in 1977 proves that most established actors other than Charles Bronson and Richard Pryor had to take what employment was available. Greek film entrepreneur Ovidio G. Assonitis started by throwing together a bad sex film and then moved on to a number of different genres. Not much later he struck gold with Beyond the Door (Chi sei?), the infamous Exorcist rip-off with Juliet Mills. That show played everywhere; I remember a large 3-D display 'poster' on the side of Westwood's National Theater depicting a giant window frame with blowing curtains.

Tentacles is clearly the result of a close study of Jaws. The screenplay is silly, but not terrible, and the production is respectable, sometimes polished. All that the movie needed was a slightly better monster... and maybe a reason to exist beyond scooping up box office dollars left over from the Spielberg picture. Universal clamped down on a couple of Jaws rip-offs involving sharks, but couldn't stop copycats employing Octopi and schools of Piranha. And what were Jaws 2 and 3 if not homegrown rip-offs?

A boatman and a baby, and then two scuba divers are killed off of Solana Beach, with their bodies found crushed and drained of fluids. Reporter Ned Turner (John Huston) dogs Sheriff Robards (Claude Akins) for details and is soon accusing Trojan Construction, the builders of an underwater tunnel (?) of doing something to cause the killings. Trojan Prez Mr. Whitehead (Henry Fonda) is furious with his executive John Corey (Cesare Danova), who is 'going beyond limits' with some kind of underwater radio signal (?) that may be upsetting the local marine life. Robards calls in oceanic expert Will Gleason (Bo Hopkins), who insists on going into the water over the protests of his young wife Vicky (Delia Boccardo). But the killing doesn't stop. Whatever it is out there plucks people like snacks and crushes boats as if they were toys which they are. Ned's sister Tillie (Shelley Winters) chooses this time to enter her son and his friend in a boat race down in Escondido... which is like ringing a lunch bell. Meanwhile, Will Gleason turns out to be a closet 'whale whisperer.' He asks his two killer whale pals (named Summer and Winter) to help him kill this bad, bad monster, whatever it may be.

I was surprised by Tentacles... it's not good but it's also not incompetent, and I can see why distributors and theater chains would peg it as a good contender for summer exhibition. The color is bright and the people are attractive. The gore quotient is limited to one gnarly head floating in the water, so bring the kiddies! The gnarly head is of course a copy of the noggin that provided Spielberg with one of his best 'boo!' moments. Don't expect the same level of surprise, but do prepare for a feeling of déjà vu. There are many, many shots from the point of view of the octopus, at and below water level, snooping on bathers and boaters. This includes peek-a-boo games where we don't know if someone's about to be surprised by a pal, or yanked below the water. A regatta of little sailboats -- that match so closely we can guess they were all provided for product placement purposes - bobs abandoned on the water, every sail sideways-down. For a moment we think that our ambitious super-mollusk has eaten every last blonde-haired white kid in the race, like the poem from Alice in Wonderland. But no, the brats all show up on a boat in the next scene.

Not so amusing is a scene where director Assonitis uses traffic flashing by and a long lens to recreate Spielberg's scene of Chief Brody trying to keep an eye on the bathers. A baby in its stroller disappears as a passing bus blocks our view. It's a successful gag in that our familiarity with the Jaws scene lets us know exactly what's going to happen. But how much fun is there in killing babies?

Henry Fonda tosses his role off in two or three scenes on a patio (his own?), talking on the phone or reaming out his bad-guy underling, Cesare Danova. Assonitas knows not to offend the powers-that-be: Fonda's big boss is unaware of his company's wrongdoing; that creep Danova is responsible. Nixon would have liked this movie. It's amusing seeing John Huston fulfilling a role that someone like Robert Forster, Michael Moriarty or Harry Guardino might have done. With no sign of foot-dragging or attitude, Huston plays the part straight and gives the producer his money's worth. As for Shelley Winters, she'd been slumming around for a decade already, taking a job in any production with a payroll. She even does what she can to brighten the part, referring to her overweight status. But that doesn't make up for the 'dramatic' turmoil she undergoes, crying at the beach because her boy might have been gobbled up during the boat race.

Claude Akins holds up the cardboard Sheriff's part in fine form. What all of these actors have in common is that none of them go out on the water or have any contact with the monster. All someone like Henry Fonda would need is for production stills to show him wrestling with a rubber octopus, like Bela Lugosi in Bride of the Monster. Fonda might lose his lucrative television ad revenue: "G-A-F Kodacolor prints!"

Bo Hopkins is the one name actor who goes monster hunting, which means that he gets the drunken 'Quint' speech. Bo opines that the menace has to be a giant octopus, the same way you or I might decide the porch deck has termites. He also has to carry on conversations with his beloved whale friends, which he tows around in a big, floating, orange trailer thingy. "I need your help," whispers Bo's Will, and the two mighty orcas come to the rescue.

The movie was filmed in Southern California, but with many ocean scenes obviously shot at someplace like Capri, with clear water and attractive, rocky cliffs. Tentacles needs a good monster, and doesn't really get one. The monster is only seen in limited cutaways; even Spielberg knew that audiences eventually want a face-to-face encounter. Octopi are cool but even lively specimens don't look threatening or big when filmed with macro photography. The octopus scenes lack a sense of scale, which doesn't come with long lenses and no sense of setting or visual context. When the killer whales attack, maybe what we're watching are large whale hand puppets darting in and out. Many octopus scenes seem to use a large dead animal -- it looks a little slack but the detail is excellent.

One attack comes together and makes an impact. Will's wife Vicky is played by the beautiful Delia Boccardo, who can be seen in some good movies, like Massacre in Rome and The Year of the Cannibals. Vicky's boat finds another vessel crushed and half floating in the water. Her sister and brother are apparently lost. As they cruise back, Vicky sees something pursuing them, furiously splashing water in all directions. The destruction of the second boat is so fast and violent, we don't miss not seeing the monster clearly. And Ms. Boccardo's shift from sadness to panic works too. Even a turnip like Tentacles can have its moments.

Scream Factory's Blu-ray of Tentacles looks great, with the widescreen (2:35) image looking clean and colorful. Since all the 'effects' are done in the camera and no opticals are employed, the picture has a clean look. It's filmed in Technovision, which is an improved anamorphic system by the man who developed the superior Totalscope format. Can't fault the image, although director Assonitis overuses the long lenses. Stelvio Cipriani's music is played mostly on an electric organ. He favors little staccato riffs, as if the film were a sea-going Spaghetti western.

A trailer is included, plus an ad art gallery and a radio spot.

1961 / Color / 1:66 widescreen / 82 min.
Starring Carl Ottosen, Ann Smyrner, Mimi Heinrich, Asbjorn Andersen, Bodil Miller, Bent Mejding
Cinematography Aage Wiltrup
Miniatures Kaye Koed
Film Editor Sven Methling, Edith Nisted Nielsen
Original Music Sven Gyldmark
Written by Ib Melchior and Sidney Pink
Produced by Sidney Pink, Samuel Z. Arkoff
Directed by Sidney Pink

At the low rung of movies about giant monsters attacking cities... no, wait, there are some pictures from the Far East that deserve that honor more than Reptilicus, the first and to date last creature that attacked Copenhagen. The story of the making of this mini-epic has been covered before; I'll direct readers to my 2001 review of an older MGM DVD to catch the prevailing gossip about the crisscrossing complaints, accusations and preposterous claims of Sidney Pink, Samuel Z. Arkoff and to a lesser extent Ib Melchior. This review will examine the film as it is, rather than make a forensic case of causes and crimes. Just remember that no matter how dismissive this notice might sound, we 8-year-old-kids-at-heart LOVE Reptilicus. Why? Because it represents movies we liked because we were too young, open-minded and unspoiled to reject them when they were new. Junior monster fans should like this one, as long as they're old enough not to be spooked by the title serpent creature. It's puppet-rama time in the Low Countries.

Oil drillers in Lapland, far above the arctic circle (where there's plenty of sunny, bright trees and vegetation) haul up a core sample of prehistoric flesh from a frozen bog deep below the earth, which is transported to a Copenhagen Akvarium / research establishment. The flesh proves to be alive and growing; eventually a lightning storm frees it from its holding tank. Soon thereafter the army has a real problem on its hands when it reappears as a completely regenerated monster, crawling (and in the original Danish version, flying) across the landscape, crushing buildings and eating farmers. The authorities have no luck ridding themselves of the scaly, snake-like dragon, until they corner it in the main square in downtown Copenhagen.

A long time ago on a rainy Wednesday, this eyewitness attended a matinee alone in an almost empty theater. There for all to behold was an utterly fantastic monster with a weirdly wicked fanged snake's head and gloriously spangled multicolored scales. It looked great. It spat huge volumes of lime-green acid vomit. An entire city seemed to be fleeing from its path of destruction. Imagine my disappointment much later, when as a teenager I caught up with Reptilicus once again on television. The monster was a wiggly marionette. It moved like something from Kukla, Fran and Ollie.

Researcher Kip Doto was the first to report on the original Danish cut of Reptilicus, which was a few minutes longer and to some extent a separate production. It was directed by Dane Poul Bang, who also supervised the version Sidney Pink directed for A.I.P.. Look a bit on the web and you can see clips of the Reptilicus monster flying, in two separate sequences from the Danish cut. The effect is so poor that few will regret its loss. The Danish version also contains a kiddie musical number performed by the Akvarium's goofball janitor, Petersen (Dirch Passer). When not getting shocked by the electric eel, Peterson leads some bored-looking kids in a song called "Tillicus." Kip Doto's book explains that the late Dirch Passer is a beloved entertainer in Denmark; the VHS release of the film there is marketed as being part of the 'Dirch Passer Collection.'

Overall, the Danish cut is slack and shapeless, although it does have more effects shots than the U.S. cut, especially in the first tank battle. But A.I.P.'s finishers and editors added several important touches: the animated green slime, which adds some visual interest, and the animated farmer being eaten, which doesn't. The U.S. editor cuts things at a snappier pace and gives the monster a better introduction. The sequence with the drawbridge actually has an impressive stunt, not particularly well filmed, of a score of bicyclists tumbling into the river. Another cut, barely a second long, shows that the Danish effects man Kaye Koed constructed an entire bridge miniature. I assume the American editor cut it so short because there are obviously no people on the model bridge. Also, as in all of the effects footage, the depth of field is so shallow that only one end of the bridge is in focus.

Finally, the title sequence and music are cut better in this American version. Perhaps to make up for lost footage, A.I.P. also includes an almost four-minute travelogue sequence that incorporates a song, "Tivoli Nights".

The English language dramatic scenes contain some truly poor direction, indicating that Sid Pink just plain didn't know what he was doing. The actors speak slowly and never overlap dialogue... actually, they talk as if they were told to leave big gaps between lines. It's soporific to an extreme. We recognize actor Robert Cornthwaite voicing the Akvarium's Professor Martens; Cornthwaite reads his lines almost exactly as he does playing a scientist thirty years later in the satirical comedy Matinee. The dialogue is so bad, it's quotable, although you won't hear the bizarre way it is performed:

General Grayson:  "I'm a soldier Dr. Martenson, not a scientist. That's the way I know how to kill."
Professor Martens:  "Then learn another."

Captain Brandt:  ' "You'll have to fire point blank --- at very close range!"

Reptilicus has always been something of a visual mess. Many of the effects shots appear to be dupes, indicating that the originals may have been held for the Danish cut. The American editor decided that the shots needed to be slowed down, for many of them have been step-printed. The halting motion only makes them seem odder. It also looks as if some of these were duped from print material, as the image is riddled with large scratches and digs. Were they going to replace them with better opticals?   Maybe Sid Pink wouldn't part with the negative, or Sam Arkoff was just too cheap.

Scream Factory's Blu-ray of Reptilicus is everything a monster lover wants, a colorful and sharp widescreen transfer. The film elements are often quite grainy, with a lot of built-in schmutz. As Sid Pink framed the show every which way but upside down, I have a feeling that the new scan does some repositioning to keep things in the frame. Compositions never looked right on the older DVD, but most of this version looks wider and better balanced. Color and contrast are also the best I've seen, outside of those irrational faux-memories from childhood. Just one shot, of the regenerating monster tail in the Akvarium's special holding room for monster parts, is somewhat scrambled, with mistregistered colors bouncing all over the place. It's all of four seconds long and I've never noticed it on any other transfer, so it goes in the inoffensive "huh?" column.

Scream's producers include a large gallery of American poster art, stills, lobby cards, etc. One lobby card is truly pathetic. In a two-shot, one of the film's actresses is giving out a distressed scream, one more convincing than anything in the movie. But right next to her sits Professor Martens, looking totally uninvolved, as if he didn't know photos were being taken. It's surreal.

The original trailer can't hide the monster but still gives an impression of excitement. Little kids would have been intrigued. A local radio spot pairs the movie with two other thrillers, borrowing several taglines from other monster movies -- this is the kind of ballyhoo we remember from the days when A.M. radio ruled.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Tentacles and Reptilicus Blu-ray Double Bill rates:
Movie: Tentacles Good -- , Reptilicus: Fair ++
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Still galleries, trailers, radio spots
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? Yes; Subtitles: English
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: May 31, 2015

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2014 Glenn Erickson

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