Directed by Henry Essex
Distributed by Bay View Entertainment
Octaman is kind of a tricky movie to review. That’s because the movie is in all honesty quite bad. The dialogue and the actors are both wooden, the lighting is pretty poor at times, the film stock changes throughout, some of the direction is weird, and the pacing is all over the map. Yet there’s still something I find undeniably entertaining about it, at least whenever the monster is center stage. When Octaman is on the screen doing his thing all is right with the b-movie world.
You want to talk about a monster movie where the monster is truly the star? 1971’s Octaman is the textbook definition of such a film. Without the awesome Octaman suit design, the joy of seeing it slap scientists and ranchers around and strangle them with its tentacles, ambushing them from inside their motor home (how it successfully manipulated the door handles with those tentacles is anyone’s guess), picking a woman up in its tentacle arms and carrying her off to do Godzilla knows what, watching folks try to wrangle the Octaman with flashlights and a ring of fire, without all that cheesy monster movie goodness this movie would be rightfully forgotten today.
The Octaman suit is the most memorable aspect of the film and the film’s most memorable footnote is that the creature was the first movie creation of future Academy Award-winning visual effects and make-up master Rick Baker. He would begin the 1970’s giving life to an octopus man and end the decade winning his first of many Oscars for creating the greatest werewolf transformation scene of all time in An American Werewolf in London.
With its bulbous head, veiny flesh, big humanoid eyes, perpetually open mouth, and flailing tentacles, Baker’s Octaman design walks the fine line between silly and ghastly in the most wonderful way possible. I know a lot of people criticize the suit but I would completely disagree, even going so far as to call it one of the greatest rubber monster suits in the history of cinema and one I suspect would be far more famous outside of cult movie circles if the movie was better. Octaman is the kind of movie I’d say would make perfect fodder for a remake except if anyone tried it would most likely end up with a Syfy-quality CGI octopus man that would never even come close to matching the fantastical nature of Baker’s suitmation.
The plot of Octaman is a total throwback to the monster movies of the 1950’s, particularly Creature from the Black Lagoon. No surprise given writer-director Harry Essex wrote Creature from the Black Lagoon. That wasn’t the only famous 1950’s science fiction classic Essex penned; he also wrote It Came from Outer Space. Fittingly, he loaded up the cast with actors that also hark back to that era. It would not be their finest work.
Kerwin Matthews, most famous for playing the title role in 1958’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, stars as a scientist researching the devastating effects man-made pollution and radiation are having on the ecological system of a rural Latin American locale. Assisting him is Jeff Morrow, star of such classic Fifties b-movie fodder as This Island Earth, Kronos, The Giant Claw, and The Creature Walks Among Us. Italian actress Pier Angeli is the leading lady, something she was no stranger to having been so opposite some of the biggest stars in Hollywood during the Fifties and Sixties; The Silver Chalice, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and Sodom and Gomorrah just to name a few of her more famous films. Tragically, she would die of a suspected suicide shortly after completing Octaman. One can only hope her career reaching the point of portraying the object of an octopus man’s affections played no part in her untimely demise.
Octaman I recommend strictly for fans of old school monster movies and cult cinema, as well as bad movie aficionados, and even then there’s a part of me that suggests you be prepared to fast forward when things get bogged down with dry, talky dialogue and a needlessly long cave searching scene that only results in the characters ending up pretty much back where they started.
For those inclined to do so I highly recommend you rush out and buy this “40th Anniversary Edition” DVD just put out by Bayview/Retromedia because in all likelihood this is probably the best looking print of Octaman we’re ever going to get. That’s not to suggest the print looks substandard in any way because this pristine 1.78:1 widescreen print struck from a 35mm master is as gorgeous as this film has ever and probably will ever look, far better than the print streaming on Netflix Instant Video. Something just tells this is not a title that will ever get a high-def remastered Blu-ray. And at just over $10 this disc is well worth it for all the Octaman fans out there and those curious enough to shell out a few bucks to find out.
As a bonus feature you also get a second feature film, The Cremators: Harry Essex’s even cheaper, crummier, duller, and more inept 1972 follow-up. This is another 1950’s throwback about an alien fireball that rolls over people reducing them to ash only this time there isn’t a great looking monster to save the flick from being a coma-inducing bore.
Now here’s the strange part. All of the discs extra are tailored to The Cremators, not Octaman. There’s an eight-minute interview with that film’s star Maria De Aragon, the movie’s trailer, and a special movie intro by Fred Olen Ray, all of which was clearly ported over from a previous Retromedia DVD release. I don’t know what Octaman related extras Retromedia could have come up with seeing as how most of the people involved have long since passed on and I don’t think a trailer for the film has ever existed, but there’s something disappointing about releasing a “40th Anniversary Collectors” DVD of a film, even one as rare as Octaman, and all of the disc extras are for a second, lesser film which is itself considered an extra. For the record, all three extras are more interesting to watch than The Cremators.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention one other quirk about the monster we know and love as Octaman. He sees the world via eight eyes like a spider. Why? I guess because he’s a radioactive Mexican octopus man with only six appendages. He’s Octaman, dammit! Isn’t that reason enough? That’s “Octaman” with an “a”, not “Octoman”. Don’t bother seeking an explanation for that grammatical quirk, either.
3 out of 5
1 1/2 out of 5