TCM Underground: Razorback (1984) and Tentacles (1977)

Razorback doesn’t fuck around.  It begins straight away.  There’s no nonsense to it.  It establishes the mood of the film with some dutch-angled shots of a dirty, dusty Australian outback.  A grandfather, Jake Cullen (Bill Kerr), puts his grandson to bed and then, moments later, a giant truck-sized razorback boar comes tearing ass through his house, snatches up the kid to eat, runs through something that starts a fire and the house burns down.

BOOM!  Here comes the title sequence:  Razorback!

Jake stands trial for the murder of the kid because, naturally, no one believes him when he claims that there’s a murderous pig the size of a rhinoceros out there.  Due to lack of evidence, though, he is eventually acquitted of the crime.  He spends his time in the aftermath of the incident hunting razorbacks and looking for the big one, the one that killed his grandson and turned his life upside down.

Meanwhile, American television journalist Beth Winters gets an assignment that brings her to Australia, in which she investigates the destructive nature of kangaroo hunting.  Beth crosses paths with Jake and asks him why he hunts boars, to which he responds, “There’s something about blasting the shit out of a razorback that brightens up my whole day.”  She rubs the townfolk the wrong way upon arrival and some evil, post-apocalyptic-esque/punk-rock hunters run her off the road and attempt to rape her.  The violent attack is interrupted by the giant boar, who scares off the punks and then eats the American journalist.

Beth’s husband Carl (Gregory Harrison) comes to Australia looking for her, a sort of fish out of water bumbling his way through the outback on his quest for the truth.  He asks someone if he can call a cab and is told that the only taxi around these parts was back in 1953, and even then that person was dreadfully lost.  The kind gentleman gives Carl his car keys.  He is taken aback by this kindness, only to find himself spending a night in hell with the same hunters who attempted to rape his wife.  They take him kangaroo hunting.  On the hunt, they shoot and wound a kangaroo and Carl mercifully kills it by cutting its head off, but not before vomiting.

Carl spends the length of an hallucinatory montage wandering his way through the desert before he finds help, in the form of Sarah (Arkie Whiteley, who was also in The Road Warrior), a friend of Jake’s.  Together, they work together to find, and to kill, that dreaded pig… although, I mean, the pig’s just doing what a giant pig does.  Carl does eventually enact revenge on the hunters that tried to rape his wife and also left him for dead in the desert, they’re the real bad guys, but no one seems to care much about them.

Razorback is a very unpleasant film.  For a giant pig/monster movie, it’s got a nasty edge to it that feels out of place.  In one scene, Jake sends his faithful dog for help, sort of like a classic scene out of a Lassie movie, and it makes it about three minutes into the movie before it’s run over and killed.  There’s also a scene where some dogs are barking at and biting at real pigs and it looked all too real.  Dead animals are strewn throughout this picture like window dressing.  If you’re sensitive to animal deaths in film, stay the hell away from Razorback.

Razorback was directed by Russell Mulcahy, director of numerous Duran Duran music videos and both Highlander I and II.  He fills the movie with a lot of energy through inventive camera work and MTV-style editing.  It’s a great-looking movie that doesn’t know what the hell it wants to be.  It isn’t any damn fun to watch, for one thing.  It’s too stupid to be scary and too cynical to be considered goofy fun.  He’s had quite a career directing for television, which he seems to be suited for–and I don’t mean that in a shitty way.  TV seems to be where he thrives.

Tentacles (1977)

Tentacles is one of those Italian-made cheapies where the supporting cast will inexplicably be dubbed.  It was directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis, director of Beyond the Door, an Exorcist knockoff.  By the time Tentacles came around, things were looking up for him because now he was making a bigger-budgeted Jaws rip-off with an octopus instead of a shark.

Much could be said about how Tentacles is a Jaws rip-off… which I’m going to do.  Right now.  Just so that I can get it out of the way:  Jaws has everything building up to a day on a holiday weekend when a ton of tourists are going to be on the beach; Tentacles has everything building to to a big boat race.  In both films, something could have been done to have stopped this, but greedy businessmen/politicians prevented it because of their bottom line.  And, of course, both movies had to feature a decaying human head popping up while the soundtrack SCREAM-chords at the audience.  But while Jaws had a recurring, simplistic theme with ominous undertones to it (duh-dum, duh-dum), Tentacles has four notes on a synthesized harpsichord followed by a cacophonous pounding on a wooden glockenspiel.  It’s awful.

In recapping the plot, I’d like to point out that there is no main character.  John Huston is in it, and you think he’s going to be the star, but his character just sort of goes away near the end.  I guess he was no longer needed by the plot?  But, he was never useful.  He plays a journalist who doesn’t know shit.  He never figures out anything.  By the time everyone else figures out that a giant octopus is killing all of the people who wind up stripped to the bone he goes, “Oh, man, there’s a boat race going on today!  I totally forgot!”  That seems like a big thing for every major character in the film to have completely spaced on.

The closest thing we have to a main character is a whale trainer and driver named Will, played by Bo Hopkins (the psychopath in the beginning of The Wild Bunch).  You think the movie is building up to a climax where he saves his wife from the creature’s tentacles, but near the end it’s clear that the true love is between Will and his whales.  He’s kind of upset when his wife dies, but when he thinks those whales are dead?  Devastated.  He has a drunken monologue that’s obviously supposed to have the power of Quint’s monologue in Jaws, but instead comes off like a guy who wants to fuck a whale had too much to drink and revealed more than he should have about himself.

Tentacles is like one of the more boring episodes of MST3K, where the movie just doesn’t give the hecklers enough good material to work with to have quality jokes.  It’s a good-looking movie.  It’s shot well with some decent production values.  It is, unfortunately, also boring as fuck.  The problem, I think, is that an octopus doesn’t make for a very good monster.  They look too friendly.  Henry Fonda is in the film, but in two out of three scenes, he’s just sitting there at a table after having eaten breakfast.  I think the filmmakers just fed him breakfast and shot his scenes while he was in a good mood.  And the scene where the octopus attacks the boat race has to be seen to be believed.  It is so, so bad.  The octopus’s head, a rubber boulder, is halfway out of the water in close-up and then we see close-ups of badly acted screams.  It lasts like five minutes.

The only character who’s even halfway interesting is Shelley Winters as John Huston’s sister.  And, man.  She’s the worst.  She’s constantly on the verge of a panic attack and in one scene where she’s signing her son up for a boat race, she bitches about every single step of the registration process.  “Oh, it’s $5 each?  Oh, it’s 24 hours notice?”  She’s an awful character, but dammit, at least the scenes she was in were in the realm of entertaining.  She tells her son that if she was in the boat, they’d win the race for sure because she’s so great at sailing.  Her son says something about how she’s so fat, they’d need a tornado to move the boat.  She just kind of scowls and says something about him not being so smart, so he goes, “You’re plump, Mom!  But there’s just more of you to love!”

You know those fake-out scenes where someone is swimming and something pops out of the water but it’s not the monster at all?  It’s the guy’s friend playing a joke on him?  That happens twice in a row in Tentacles.  Same scene.  Same people.  By the time the octopus attacked, I was glad.