After watching trash movies for a while, you start to realize that for a movie to be true crap and awful in every way, it's GOT to be Italian. I would have thought there was almost nothing one could do to suck all the fun out of a killer mutant animal movie, but you know folks, we've always got something left to learn.
This is from schlockmeister supreme Samuel Z. Arkoff, and stars John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins and Henry Fonda! The concept was obviously to front-load the cast with [aging, desperate] American stars and count that the audience SIMPLY WOULDN'T NOTICE that everyone else is European and the setting looks nothing whatsoever like America. Which would be totally fine, if the movie weren't awful.
We open along a coastline [I think we're supposed to believe this is California] where a particularly unctious mother with oversized glasses and a sing-songy voice is cooing over her unseen child. Meanwhile, something evil is approaching and climbing up the rocks toward her. Her friend drives by and stops in the road to talk to her. Mom leaves the baby unattended to go chat. Now here's where a little touch o' Italian that actually works is employed: as Mom talks, the stroller is in the background, and we're just staring at it, knowing that a second later we'll look back and the little kid have become an octo-snack, which is exactly what happens. Next scene, a full-grown fisherman gets snatched right off a dock. Is no one safe?
Now we join John Huston as journalist Ned Turner, who lives with his sister Shelley Winters as--oh my God, I never wrote down her name! We'll just call her Shelley or Mom, as her young son Tommy is also on hand. Anyway, Ned and Shelley have a long talk seemingly designed to make sure we all know that they are sister and brother. It is readily apparent that Shelley is a fairly sad lush, starting her drinking in the morning hours, and we are left to assume that she gave birth to Tommy at the age of 48 or so? And her husband is...? Amazing it it is, starting from here, she will only grow MORE horrifying over the course of the film.
But who's the evil developer? you ask. There has to be some evil developer who is putting profits above human lives, right? And to be sure there is. His name is Gleason, and he visits Henry Fonda as the owner of some company or whatever. It would seem that they're building some kind of tunnel or whatnot out in the ocean and Gleason is pushing things too fast and using unsafe methods. Why, just the kind of methods that unleash giant bloodthirsty octopi. Fonda tells him that he'd better be all on the up-and-up, because this is Fonda's name he's representing. This role allowed them to put Fonda's name near the top of the credits, without him ever really having to do anything and clearly without asking more than one or two days of work.
Now we meet Bo Hopkins as Will, who both trains killer whales and also does deep-sea oceanographic work. He has a beautiful wife named Vicky, who, like all women in the film, just happens to have a European accent. He and his team go diving to look for some radio equipment having to do with the drilling [I guess?] and there is a loud static sound on the soundtrack everytime we see them touch one. To let us know it's radio equipment? Anyway, they soon happen upon the octopus, which we actually see a tiny bit [I mean we see a close-up of a regular-sized octopus], and something [the octopus?] causes some kind of underwater landslide, which the other diver is kind enough to just sit silently and let slowly, slloowwwly fall on his head and finally trap him below the rubble. You know, more people should be cooperative with landslides. And by now you'll realize that no, it's not just you, there are long passages of this script that really ARE incomprehensible.
We now return to Shelley Winters with her young son and his friend, Jamie. I have no idea where Jamie came from. Shelley makes an innocent comment about how maybe she can have just a TINY bit of ice cream even thought she SHOULDN'T and her brat child blurts out "Mommy! You're plump! There's more of you to love!" That reminds me, have you ever heard the female comedian who had some routine about "One day my child said 'Mommy, you're fat!' And I knew I had to do something. So I picked up the phone... and I bashed that little brat across the face!"
SPOILERS > > >
Meanwhile, Vicky has a long [LONG] scene in which she is worried that Will would spend any time in the water with such a dangerous and as-yet unidentified predator out there. Why, even THREE MINUTES in the water is enough for him to be savagely slaughtered. Then there's some "comedy" about this obese guy married to a hot young woman [Italy, remember] and he is finally persuaded to go in the water, whereupon you have to sit through not one but TWO false scares. Then there's something you don't see every day--two legs sticking straight up out of the water and being dragged about. Anyway, turns out Vicky's not safe on this boat [and why was she out on a boat anyway if she's so worried?] because the octopus rips the back of the boat off! Poor Vicky gets thrown in the drink and eventually gets... you know, whatever Octopi do.
Now I haven't mentioned that throughout we have this appalling synth score making all sorts of "Bwweawww" sounds, alternating with continental lounge music of the 70s. And there was kind of a cool scene where these guys dive and they find all these fish pointed straight down, noses touching bottom. Turns out they were all dead. Oh, and they've been finding victims that have had all the marrow drained out of their bones and suchlike. Then someone looks at a victim and says "There's only one thing big enough and powerful enough to do that--it's a giant octopus!" Which I thought was rather jumping the gun--so they've had giant octopi around these parts before?--but whatever, fuck I know about giant octopi.
Now there's a extravagant directoral touch that I have to say I kind of admired. Slightly. You have a big seaside park and you have a large group of people standing assembled, staring at the sea, and the camera slowly pulls back past the parking lot. Then it pans slightly to the left and starts zooming in again--one continuous shot--until we focus on Will, being comforted about his wife's death! Holy lord, did something kind of good actually happen here?
Okay, now at last we can concentrate on the full horror of Shelley Winters as she appears here. She is the kind of arrested development nightmare mom who tries to get in on her kids' fun and seems always not more than a cross comment away from a major depressive episode and perhaps one or two suicide attempts. For example, she has entered her son and Jamie in this yacht contest, where both kids, not more than eleven, will be on their own out in the open ocean--despite her knowing that there is a dangerous menace out there tearing people apart. Then she dresses is a sailor's striped shirt and little white cap, like some sort of overgrown Shirley Temple, and has bought the kids walkie-talkies, one of which she will keep, so she can constantly make comments while the kids are out trying to sail. Then we that the "yachts" in this "yacht race" are tiny, single-piece sailboats that might accommodate two people at the very most. They're basically slightly bigger sailboards. And Shelley is sending her kids out into the open ocean with them--dangerous enough even if there WEREN'T a killer octopus out there. Incredible.
Luckily, the balance is about to be redressed. But first, a guy says "I've heard the suckers on an octopus are like the claws on a tiger!" at which point a deputy says they're actually worse. Then fun is to be had as the octopus attacks the yacht race. All we really see is boats falling over--for an interminable period while there is no sound, just music [it would be terribly artsy if it weren't incomprehensible]. And just when you think it's going pretty well, you see the octopus rushing Shelley's boy Tommy and friend Jamie [we actually see an octopus head above water rushing at them] and then--we see the sail sinking straight down! And I was like "No shit! Did this movie REALLY just kill off Shelley's son?!" and THEN--you see this wide expanse of ocean, ALL the boats overturned, and not a person, living or dead, in sight! And at that moment I'm like "NO FUCKING WAY--Did this movie just kill off about FORTY SMALL CHILDREN?!?!" Because, well, not like I am in favor of the deaths of young children, but boy, that would sure be audacious! Perhaps enough to redeem a great portion of the movie. And during this whole time Shelley is running around screeching into her walkie-talkie--as IF this thing is going to work over a distance of miles--for her kids to contact her and looking all desperate and heartbroken.
But then, all potential goodwill is forever, irredeemably lost as suddenly, out of nowhere, a ship appears loaded to the scuppers with RESCUED KIDS! Yep, as if by a MIRACLE, all those kids got sucked up by the invisible rescue boat [as we did not see it during all our wide shots of the open ocean and overturned boats]. God, this movie is just sub-amateur. Then we see the disadvantages of not being a major character's child when Jamie does not return! And his mother, who had entrusted him to Shelley the whole time, SUDDENLY shows up just in time to greive for him. Shelley shows no recognition that SHE was entrusted with care of the boy and it was SHE who entered him in the dangerous race, without consulting his mother. Look, things get lost and broken. It's nobody's fault.
Then we have Will and another fisherman out on an ocean vessel, delivering more inanities such as that octopi have "a sense of foresight." While this is going on, we are hearing dolphin-type sounds, and they discuss bringing along some kind of animal, but we never SEE what they're talking about, nor have we been told they ARE bringing anything. Then jaws will drop as we see Will go out and sit on top of this large orange cylinder--again, we have no idea what's inside--and begin HAVING A LONG ONE-WAY CONVERSATION with whatever creature is inside. You will just be staring at the screen with your mouth open as it goes ON and ON.
So he's talking forever and ever, and STILL we haven't seen what he's got hidden in there! Nevertheless, we're hearing all kinds of gooey music and hearing him utter teary confessions such as "You have more love in your heart than any human I've ever known!" What--even his late wife? That's a harsh emotional realization. Turns out he's got his two prize trained killer whales in there, though I don't know how much love he's got for them confining them for two days in a canister in which they can barely turn around, if at all. Let's see how much love they've got in their hearts after THAT.
So then we start hearing a bunch of "scary" music although not a dern thing is going on. Then there's a big crunch and it looks like that octopus didn't like that orange container with the two orcas, and crushed it. Now Will's best friends are GONE! Looks like a sad day. But of course the orcas lived--and are high-tailing it out of there! I forgot to mention that there are some heavy emotions being felt because although the orcas will probably attack the octopus, they're also now set free and aren't coming back to live in Will's tank anymore, and he'll have NO ONE to love him now. Except, you know... MISTER HAND. Hand party! And this is decades before Internet porn, the poor fellow. How our forefathers suffered.
Meanwhile there is also some diver or whatever down under who is coming up in a decompression chamber, when that pesky octopus, who seems to follow mankind's intentions quite closely [maybe he's bugged the ship?] crushes the thing, and the hapless diver decides not to try to escape, but just to sit there and die. All looks lost when--look! It's mankind's aquatic friends! The orcas come back and start munchin' on the octopus. At least that's what I THINK is happening, because all I can really make out is a bunch of blurs and sound effects [octopi roar like lions, we learn]. If I had to guess I would surmise that they made two killer whale rubber hand puppets, and then used them to attack a real, really pissed-off octopus. That's my best guess. After enough time, we are left to assume that the octopus is dead, and the two orcas say "Later!' and are outie.
Then it seems that Will and his other oceanographer buddy are going to run off to Africa together! Why, love CAN bloom anew! Way to open yourself to new possibilities, Will! I gotta hand him that. Then the orcas come back and wave their fins and make faces and you know, whatever else Sea World trains them to do.
< < < SPOILERS END
Now, you may have noticed that I barely mentioned the top-billed actor, John Huston. That's because his part is completely peripheral to the main action--he is just an observer who shows up every now and then--and after a while he just plain vanishes from the movie. This movie has cleverly gotten some big-name American actors to put on the poster, but assigned them to peripheral roles that don't require them to do much of anything. Witness Henry Fonda, who just shows up a few times to scold the corportate guy, and that's it. Probably shot all his scenes in one day. Winters is given the most to do, and even that consists mostly of wearing idiotic hats and looking worried. That is, after acting like an imbicile for a long stretch.
Anyway, as a whole? It won't kill you, and if you like killer animal Jaws rip-offs you'll probably be amused. And it has that kind of overheated atmosphere unique to Italian horror. But as a film it's just horrendous, and most of the time you're just kind of sitting there in wonder at what a total load of crap it is. Hmmm yeah, and that's about all there is to say.
If you're a killer animal movie aficianado.
EMPIRE OF THE ANTS is packaged with this film on a single disc.