Thursday, 19 September 2013



Fed up of the recent glut of CGI shark and piranha movies? Can't get excited about Shark Attack, Shark Attack 2, Shark Attack 3, Shark In Venice, Dinoshark, Sand Sharks, Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, Piranha 3DD, Mega Piranha, Snakehead Terror, The Reef anymore? It's nice to know they were making exactly the same sort of fish and mollusc-based nonsense back in the seventies, as evinced by this brace of post-Jaws obscurities that have generally disappeared from UK distribution entirely after their cinema releases. Online streaming via YouTube really isn't the best way to see these films, but short of importing discs at $10 plus shipping for a one-time view, it's the only really viable option.

In both cases, environmental damage (whether accidental or deliberate) by big business causes the local aquatic wildlife to start picking off human civilians. Barracuda: The Lucifer Project, easily the lesser of the two films, has a chemicals corporation pumping stuff into the ocean which is making the fish more aggressive - specifically the local barracudas which, having killed all the other local fish, moves in on divers and swimmers. Strangely, the movie stops being a Jaws clone about halfway through and turns into a government conspiracy thriller with a plot to make the people angrier and more violent by changing their blood sugar level, and caps everything off with a surprisingly bleak the-bad-guys-win ending. It's not helped by an inappropriate score from German synth composer Klaus Schulze that doesn't fit and doesn't help the film at all.

Much better and more fun, though still a long way from any kind of neglected classic, is Ovidio G Assonitis' Tentacles, which trumps Barracuda's relative cast of unknowns (Wayne Crawford is probably the biggest name in it) by hiring Shelley Winters, John Huston, Bo Hopkins, Claude Akins and Henry Fonda. As the title suggests, it's not fish this time but a giant octopus turned homicidal due to radio waves: it eats a toddler, a one-legged sailor, a couple of divers and a boatload of marine biologist Hopkins' bickering idiot relatives, before heading for a children's regatta (almost referring directly to Joe Dante's superior Piranha).... Does it have anything to do with the underwater tunnel built by Fonda's construction company, and can Hopkins and his two pet killer whales defeat the creature?

It's helped enormously by being bright and sunny and feelgood (Stelvio Cipriani's score has an infectiously bouncy main theme, though the big regatta disaster is backed with his music from The Great Kidnapping, a Eurocrime cop thriller made four years previously) while Barracuda tends to be dark and glum. It's a shame they've dropped off the radar in this country, particularly Tentacles, which is cheesily entertaining in a "bad, but it doesn't really matter" kind of way. I have a memory of seeing it projected in the late seventies at my local library as a kids' matinee; if I'd any idea it would become an obscurity I'd have paid far more attention to it.


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