Monday, March 1, 2010

Top 16 Tentacles in Movies!

So lists have become a blogging staple these days. Does that mean I can't do one? Of course not. Besides, mine has tentacles.
The Top 16 Appearances of Tentacles in Film.
16) Tentacoli
A classic of late 70s beach cinema, Tentacoli (or Tentacles) is like Jaws...well without the stellar acting, well written plot, or a shark. Okay so it's not Jaws. But with a title as wonderfully original as "Tentacles" it certainly deserves a place on our list.
Oliver Hellman, the brilliant director of this 8-armed train wreck, previously ripped off other film. Turning the blockbuster Exorcist into the campy Devil Within Her, he was no doubt summoned by the evil powers that be to create a follow-up "success" to Spielberg's Jaws.
Add in some top talents of the day, including John Huston and Henry Ford, supplying meager and empty performances and you have the makings of a great cinematic gem.

15) Gezora - Space Amoeba
Perhaps one of Toho's most rediculous creations (other than Baby Godzilla of course). Over 30m tall and full of pissed off alien mutagens, Gezora has one major flaw: He can't get passed looking like an idiot covered in foam. Sure, islanders will still run from a giant man in a suit, waving foam tentacles hung from fishing line. But who wouldn't. He does however possess one skill no other Toho monster has managed to perfect. His ever reaching tentacles have the uncanny ability to transform his human victims into action figures.

14) Independence Day
The design of the aliens in ID4 never did make much sense to me. Sure when seeing the film for the first time as a teenager, they were something to behold. Giant, hideous, and only vaguely humanoid. But looking back at it all I wonder why. Walking about on the knuckles of its elongated toes, this behemoth exoskeleton seems evolutionarily problematic. Possibly trying to key into the iconic status of Ridley Scott's Alien, the ID4 biosuits seem creepy and otherworldly enough to work. But realistically they work about as well as the large anamatronics used in the film (thankfully they aren't shown that much). And while suffering from the Dalek-like issue of being a weak biological creature forced to live its existence in a devised shell, it almost seems more ridiculous than feasible (something we come to love about the world of Dr. Who, not the worlds of Roland Emmerich). So why add him on the list at all? Well if anything for the boyish humor I found in the one scene in which we first see the alien. When it breaks free of its downed ship, tentacles flailing, only to be punched in the face by the Fresh Prince. Welcome to Earth indeed.

13) Deep Rising
I'll admit, this film took a number of viewings to grow on me. But once it had, it has become one of my favorite recent campy trips. Lacking any real Lovecraftian flair or terror, it delivers a typical Hollywood style action thrill-ride with the added bonus of an unseen tentacled beast. Though it is never explained or even really explored, this beast merely exists. That is what makes this a pure brainless action film, and not a scifi thriller. It's fun, its cheesy and its wonderfully violent. And driving a jetski through the exploding set pieces of James Cameron's Titanic makes for one of the funnest climaxes in 90s movie making.

12) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
One of the best appearances of tentacles in English literature has made for some of the best appearances of tentacles in film. Jules Verne's classic adventure novel has been adapted many times into film, from the early days of the silent cinema, to the wonderful Disney full color spectacle. But director's have always had to jump one major hurdle when making this book into a film. What to do with the giant squid.
Making such a devastating monstrosity is no easy feat (especially in the era before filmmakers could just fall back on CGI). Because of this the tentacles tend to suffer from the same fate as Gezora, Tentacles on a String Syndrome: characterized by foam latex waving about with wreckless abandon. But then again tentacles don't have to be accurate to be terrorizing weapons of awesomeness.
I will admit though, under the direction of Richard Fleischer, Disney manages to pull off a faithful adaptation as well as big budget spectacle, culminating in an epic battle with a gruesome beast. Though very dated by today's standards, this film lives on as a classic of not just tentacle history, but of a great period in adventure film making. Also of note is the great 1916 silent film adaptation.

11) Star Wars
The Dianoga. The best part of this scene is probably that we don't have to smell it (months of imperial waste and do I detect a hint of wet Wookie?). But no scene in scifi history has been parodied, spoofed and referred to more than Garbage Masher 3263827 on the Detention Level. In a decidedly rare show of brilliance George Lucas actually shows us very little of this tentacled creature. We know this is due to a very strict budget, but this adds to the mystery of the beast beneath the filth. It also makes the tentacles look a little less cheesy as they grab from beneath the waters.

10) It Came from Beneath the Sea
Now this cinematic gem has a special place in my heart. Not only were the effects superbly executed by the grand master of stop-motion animation Ray Harryhausen, but it is also set in the key landmarks of San Francisco (a city under used in film by this point). The city and its iconic locales become as much a character in the film as does the dreaded giant octopus that rises from the depths. At its heart this is simply a giant killer monster movie. We have seen this archetypal B-movie before many times. It was also released 2 years after the greatest Monster vs. City in history and one of my favorite films of all time, Beast of 20,000 Fathoms. Now while it lacks the intelligence and depth of writing that Beast had. It does have some great visual thrills in which the giant tentacles lay waste to the city. And until the advent of CG it is one of the rare occasions in which we get epic scaled tentacles flailing and attacking without the aid of wire and fishing line.

9) Dagon
Stuart Gordon has been one of the few directors to tackle the worlds of Lovecraft. And while he doesn't always pull of the fear, paranoia and overwhelmingly cosmic terror that Lovecraft wrote about, he atleast gets the creepy and the crawling right. And while Dagon is not on the level of Re-Animator, it has its own charms. This is one of Gordon's Lovecraft films that I think actually gets the unsettling atmosphere correct. Rather setting it in New England, Gordon makes us feel even more the outsider as we are drug into a dark world unlike the typical american one. Bringing in the fear of being in a foreign place, that unsettling feeling tourists get when they find themselves stuck in a place without a guide, and not on a travel brochure. Adding Lovecraft's dark elder cults to the mix, amps up that fear as he builds to a tentacled climax. One of the best parts of the film is Gordon's love of the prosthetic and gore ridden. Allowing us to go far deeper than the simple fear of coming across someone with the Insmouth look. Gordon takes two of Lovecraft's most read pieces and makes them into his own twisted little horror flick. And while it was a straight to DVD fare, it still worth the look. If for no other reason than Gordon's always unique blend of nudity, gore and the wonderfully bizarre.

8)Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Now I feel this movie should get recognized for having a number of tentacly-creatures in it. And for amping up the fantasy element from the first film (I'm sorry if I need more than a few cursed undead). But I also feel the design work in this film owes a lot to Lovecraft. The kraken I will give them, as that beast has had a basic archetype for quite sometime. But I do feel that the look of Davey Jones was directly inspired by the many years of artists interpretation of the Great Cthulhu. This wouldn't bother me if the public were more familiar with Cthulhu and realize he was the original, not that everyone's drawings of Cthulhu "look alot like Davey Jones". But I have to give credit, Disney managed to up this fantasy epic and make it into something more substantial, creating a real mythos for their pseudo-historical period adventure. But while Davey Jones was cool, I mean I would give up my soul and become Davey Jones if it meant I could have a tentacle-beard. Hell I'd settle for a mere Squid-Mustache.  But as I sat in the theatre I truly sat in awe as the great tentacles of the kraken rose from the depths to rend and maim. An excitingly fun fight sequence that sadly had to end abruptly with a poor conceived cliff-hangar ending. And sadly we get so little of the kraken in the final film as it is destroyed and laid to rot on an island beach. Does no good ever come to these giant beasts of the world? How would you like it if I sent out adventurers to kill everyone who was just really tall?
(Note: I tried to avoid mentioning this but it does weigh into the list. Any film that can cause its fans to create art and photoshops that depict an "impolite" combination of tentacled creatures and Keira Knightley has to bump it up on the list. Hey Rule 34 folks.)

7) Lord of the Rings - Fellowship of the Ring
Every fantasy and scifi epic owes a major debt of gratitude to the one who invented it all. JRR Tolkien. And yes I am a die-hard Tolkien fanboy, but it is well deserved. I don't even feel there is much that needs to be said about the films either. Epic. Intense. And a visual marvel. There sound "reviewish" enough? I couldn't even begin to review those films if I tried. But we are talking about one thing, and one thing only. The Watcher in the Water. Tolkien titled an entire chapter after the thing. Its immense, an unsightly unimaginable horror that emerges from calm waters. It is the beginning of a long exciting road that shows us that no place is safe anymore. Darkness lies in wait. And sometimes Darkness takes the form of a giant tentacled cephalopod with a tooth-filled maw on the top of its head. (And we won't even mention my ridiculous attempts to fight one of these things in Lord of the Rings Online. There is a reason I play Star Trek Online now.)

6) Host
Okay so I am cheating here. The creature in this film has no more tentacles than the Cloverfield monster. The cover of the DVD does seem to depict a girl grasped in the tightening grip of a massive tentacle, but this is a bit misleading (though I will admit, it got me to buy the movie). The creature instead is a massive mutated fish, with a long prehensile tail. But like the Cloverfield beast, this thing is distinctly Lovecraftian. It is beyond our daily comprehension of wildlife, and it attacks us both physically and psychologically from the moment of its emergence from the depths. This is a great film, for creature-feature fans or not, while there is a great story of a family trying to get back their kidnapped child, taken by a hideous beast. There is also the underlying theme of Korea's recovery as a modern society still haunted by the memories of a naught too distant war. The issues of foreign powers and use of unnecessary force come quite obvious by the films climax. It is an intelligent and gripping ride, and I hope they are able to pull off the same for its recently announced sequel. This is the rise of serious Korean filmmaking.

5) Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Anyone who knows me understands that I am not a fan of George Lucas. So its funny that I would put his work on here twice. Now we have discussed the Dianoga, obviously if we are going to talk about Star Wars and we are talking tentacles we have to talk about the Sarlaac. The Pit of the Sarlaac is Lucas' desert equivalent of the kraken. If we have the evil criminal pirates of the universe floating around on their hovering barges, we have to have a 'creature of the depths'. Otherwise where is the fun in making someone walk the plank? A broken leg and some sand in your pants? Sarlaac enters stage left. Whether you prefer the regular or special edition Sarlaac, when you think about it, it is one of the most ridiculous creatures imagined. Imagine a beast evolved into a giant pit, a massive pitcher plant if you will, that has no choice but to lie in wait for some brainless bantha to lumber into it. Then not only that, but you have evolved to live on a desert planet nearly devoid of natural life. You better be very patient or have something good to read cause it could be a while. How does something with what would have to be such a slow metabolism find the strength to power reaching tentacles, blindly grabbing for blind space pilot's ankles. This is the key to George Lucas' filmmaking style. If it looks good put it in there, who cares if it works or even makes sense. We can just retcon everything later. The only canon I embrace is on the defense bridge of a Star Destroyer.
(Note:There is something distinctly non-arousing about this picture.)

4) Hellboy
Lovecraft has no bigger influence than on Guillermo Del Toro and Mike Mignola. So when the two teamed up to bring Mignola's beloved comic to the big screen we knew three things: bad, ass, tentacles. And we weren't let down. Del Toro brought us the camp, the humor, and the dark fantasy of Mignola's comic and so much more. With his love for the bizarre and fantastic Del Toro has begun to make the Hellboy series his own within the realm of the films. And what would Hellboy be if he didn't get to fight some sort of lovecraftian eldar thing. So in both films we are treated with giant, tentacle flailing beasts of otherworldly origins. I don't even remember where the edge of my seat is. And though the story and in part, the acting, takes a back seat to the visual FX and creature creations in the second film. They are still a lot of fun.

3) The Mist
Probably the darkest film on the list also has some of the most gruesome tentacle attack scenes in horror film history. Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's novella is edgy and dark. He attacks all aspects of the human condition with no holds barred. By the end we are left with the sickening taste of how disturbing it is to be human. For the worst monsters in the film are not the awful and ungodly creatures pouring out of the mist. It is human nature that is evil. Its deep stuff, and the controversial ending will leave you questioning a few things. But on a lighter note, a guy gets his chest ripped open by a barb-laden tentacle. The gore and dark thrills are certainly aren't held back, whether they come from giant spiders, grabby tentacles, or flaming flying grocery store monsters. Its an emotional and cynical ride. And if you get a chance to see it in its black and white director's cut version, it has this unplacable charm. Its twisted and out of the ordinary, and a helluva alot of sick fun.

2) John Carpenter's The Thing
The 1982 remake of The Thing is a masterwork of John Carpenter. It is perhaps one of those rare occasions in which the remake outshines the original. Carpenter, rather than remaking the earlier film, goes back to the source material, the short story, and blends it with a twisted Lovecraftian flair. Equal parts paranoia and scifi thriller, The Thing draws you into a dark claustrophobic world of creepy crawly shape-changing nastiness. With some of the best makeup and visual effects work of its time, its iconic gore-drenched scenes stand the test of time. A personal fave will always be the infestation of the dogs. The animal lover that I am, its odd that I would like this scene so much. But the bizarre gooey-ness of this transforming creature is incredible. As intestine cloaked tentacles spew-forth wrapping themselves around a yelping dog, the hellish beast grows arms and a massive gut churning maw. This thing could frighten the fur off the Hound of Tindalos. Tentacles and death abound in this film, not one one of the best tentacle-movies, but also one of the best horror films of all time.

1)Bride of the Monster
Choosing #1 was a difficult task. You would think that starting this list I would have it narrowed down, or know my top 5 easy. But instead I made a list of my favorite tentacle-movies (both in and missing from my dvd collection). I then went through the difficult task of rewatching most, researching each and trying to pin down a numbered rank for each one. Its been hard and I am not sure it would be a final decision (but seeing that this article has taken me over a week to finish writing already, I better settle).
So in the top spot I have awarded a true cinematic gem. It isn't a film you will see on any Oscar lists, or many best lists for that matter. But it was the hard determination and work of two Hollywood greats that would bring this masterpiece into being. I am speaking of course of Edward D. Wood Jr.'s Bride of Monster. Bela Lugosi's final cinematic performance (atleast for part of the film). Now this movie has nothing really to do with the typical tentacle tales, or themes of the other movies we have covered. It is at the top of this list for one scene and one scene only. The brilliant direction of Wood brings to life a desperate struggle with an appearantly uncooperative octopus. Beware the scientist who comes prepared with his own Octopus Pit! But if you find yourself the victim of such an attack, please be a good sport. You kinda have to do all the work.
The best part of this scene is that the octopus appears no more dangerous than a rubbery beanbag chair. But it would seem it is so rubbery that its clammy rash-inducing touch is enough to throw a man into the fits of insanity.

A true work of genious.

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