(Special Transmission For Fans of Nick Cato’s “Suburban Grindhouse Memories” Column: It’s not gone. Things have just been moved around. Nick’s column will now be posted on the last Wednesday of each month. In its place every other Thursday will now be “Transmissions to Earth.”)
TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH:
Movie Review by L.L. Soares
If ZAAT (which I reviewed last week) sounded bad to you, wait until you get a load of OCTAMAN (also from1971, the same year as ZAAT).
If you like to be surprised by how the monster looks later in the movie, you’re out of luck. Not only does the monster in OCTAMAN appear early in the movie – he’s standing around waving his tentacles at us in the OPENING CREDITS, as if to say “Hi everybody, here I am!”
Scientists are in Latin America studying the effects of underwater bomb detonations on a village that lives primarily on seafood (they find traces of radioactivity in the water! Wow, big surprise!), when one of them finds a baby octopus with big, staring red eyes, and it makes a squealing noise. I’m not sure why they don’t just say “Yeah, it’s a funny looking octopus, so what?” but instead they find this to be some momentous find and go back to the lake where the guy found it.
Once there, they let the octopus go, and the very rubber-looking creature crawls (badly) back into the water. Meanwhile, the hideous OCTAMAN is watching them curiously. One of the locals, who was hired by the scientists, is about to dissect another little octopus and the angry OCTAMAN appears, covered in suckers, and waving its tentacles around as it trashes the place and bitch-slaps the guy to death. It takes the little one away, which suddenly throws the movie’s title into suspicion. Is it really OCATMAN? Because its actions sure seem a lot like those of a mama protecting its young! Yes folks, this might just be, the original OCTAMOM!
When Dr. Rick Torrez (Kerwin Matthews) finds out his funding has been pulled, he goes to a carnival owner named Johnny Caruso and his partner Steve, and Johnny agrees to fund Rick’s research, as long as he can have first crack at the half-man /half fish creature that is part of local legend. The police come to investigate the murder, and then leave taking the bucket with them that formerly held the little octopus (“Let’s take this in case we get thirsty!”). It seems even traces of these things can draw the horrifying Octaman, who tracks them for awhile before killing them. The way this thing will kill you is by either hugging you to death or slapping you. Over and over again, until you’re all bloody. Oh, it can also jam a tentacle into you like a spear when it wants to. But mostly it loves slapping.
Rick, his girlfriend, Susan Lowry (Pier Angeli) and their team (including the carnival guys) drive around the coastline in a Winnebago, looking for the monster, while another local, Davido (David Essex) tells them stories his grandmother told him when he was a kid, about an octopus that walked on land like a man.
Just when they’re about to dismiss the monster as a myth, it attacks – several times. And of course, as in all of these movies, it takes a real liking to the woman of the group, and keeps trying to carry her away.
They finally slow the creature down by shining light in its face (it hates that!) and making a ring of fire about it (to suck out the oxygen around it!). It collapses and is wrapped up in a net, but regains its strength soon after a rain storm revives it.
The story reminded me of THE CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON (1956), and it turns out that director/writer Henry Essex wrote the screenplay for that Universal classic. In comparison, however, OCTAMAN is pretty horrible.
The monster is shown constantly throughout the movie and it is an early creature creation by make-up and special effects master Rick Baker. It’s almost like the filmmakers spent most of their budget on the monster suit and wanted to get their money’s worth, showing it off as much as possible. While it looks interesting enough with its big red bulging eyes and circular mouth surrounded by tiny teeth (all set in a big, bulbous head), the monster is made of rubber, and so, it only has one facial expression (much like our old buddy, ZAAT!). No matter what it does, or how angry it gets, its face never changes, which is pretty laughable. It doesn’t take long to forget whatever is cool about the costume and just focus on how silly it is.
Another odd thing is that the eyes are big and human-like, and yet when we see things from OCTAMAN’s point of view, it’s through segmented insect eyes!
Toward the end there is a big showdown in an underwater cave (just like in CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON – what a coincidence!), and the monster causes an avalanche to trap the humans inside. At this point, most of them just give up, talking about conserving oxygen so they can stay alive longer. But Davido is sent through an opening to find help. It’s about two minutes before Davido wiggles his way to the beach outside, and he goes back to get the others. Pretty absurd that it was so easy to escape, and yet most of the cast just gave up and considered themselves done for. Talk about lazy! If not for Davido, they’d all be still trapped in that cave, whining about the oxygen.
Harry Essex also directed the Mickey Spillane adaptation, I, THE JURY (1953) as well as another monster movie, THE CREMATORS (1972), but his writing credits go all the way back to the Lon Chaney Jr. flick, MAN MADE MONSTER (1941). He also wrote the screenplays for the science fiction movie IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953), based on a story by Ray Bradbury, and the noir classic KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952). Seems to me, Essex should have stuck to screenplays instead of directing.
There is really nothing about this movie to recommend it. The plot is barely there. The acting ranges from so-so to just plain awful (they didn’t even have credits at the end to determine who played what). There are a few slow parts where nothing happens. And the monster is pretty goofy.
You might get some chuckles out of OCTAMAN, but that’s about it.
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares