“Since the beginning of time man has roamed the Earth and dared the elements in search of adventure. But today there is a new breed of adventurer: the scientist, who explores uncharted areas of the world not for riches or adventure, but in search of answers to man’s problems of pollution and disease. Such a man on such a quest leads an ecological expedition to a primitive Latin American fishing community where they uncover the hideous fruit of atomic radiation, in the form a bizarre legend wrapped in terror and written in blood.”
Review Date: March 3, 2011
Released by: MGM/Netflix
Release date: N/A
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
We open at a scientific field camp in rural Mexico where Dr. Rick Torres (Kerwin Matthews
) and his team are conducting research into radioactive contamination. Underwater nuclear tests elsewhere in the world have spread their fallout far and wide and the fish that the local people eat has been contaminated. Rick and the other scientists on the expedition are trying to measure what effects it is having on their health. But Rick feels like he’s getting nowhere and is about to order the expedition to pack up when a mysterious specimen is brought to him. The specimen was captured down at the nearby freshwater lake, yet it appears to be a baby octopus, but with a distinctly human expression in its eyes. It is clearly a mutation that demands further research, but to do that requires money. Rick and his fiancée Susan (Pier Angeli
) travel back to civilization in order to secure a research grant.
Unfortunately for them their regular sponsor (Jeff Morrow
) doesn’t consider the specimen to be important enough for funding, and so they turn to rodeo and circus promoter Johnny Caruso, who agrees to bankroll a continuance of their field work in hopes of capturing something that he can put on exhibit. Johnny and his assistant Bobby accompany them back to their field camp, where they find the place to be a wreck, with one member of the expedition dead and the others missing. Soon the missing members return and explain that had found another octopus specimen and the dead team member was preparing it for dissection while they had gone into town to do more tests on the locals. Nobody can understand what could have killed him, but clearly it was the act of an animal. Several local authorities from the town come out to investigate, and a teenager named Davido comes with them. Davido tells a tale of how a sea monster is supposed to haunt the area, and how his grandfather was supposedly killed by it many years earlier. Claiming to have knowledge about the creature and its whereabouts, Rick decides to let Davido tag along on the expedition.
The team heads deeper into the wilderness, driving their RV over treacherous roads to explore a series of lakes linked by a river system. But as they get further and further away from civilization it becomes obvious that they are in trouble, especially when the source of the previous violence is revealed: a half-man, half octopus creature! The group attempts to capture and study the beast, but it soon becomes obvious that the monster is too dangerous and their only hope for survival is to get out while they can – if the creature lets them!
Whoever owned the rights to Octaman
during the 1980’s was clearly pretty active in selling the film, as it had no less than three VHS releases over the years. At one point Prism released it, and then at another point the Congress Video Group released it as well. But the VHS edition that most fans will probably be familiar with is the big box Video Gems release, which seems to have been the most common, and to have sported the most memorable artwork – a malevolent looking octopus man carrying a sprawled out, Pier Angeli-looking woman whose cleavage was literally bursting out of her shirt (for nostalgia’s sake, you can view that cover here
). That was one of most misleading VHS covers I ever saw, not because it promised something that didn’t happen in the movie – the Octaman does indeed carry a sprawled out Pier Angeli at several points – but because it made this extremely tame monster movie look lurid and titillating, which it is not. What it is really is a low rent and unofficial remake of Creature from the Black Lagoon
; director Harry Essex was the screenwriter on the 1954 film, and he copies most of his beats here – the discovery of the strange specimen, the trip back to civilization to put together an expedition, the capture and escape of the monster and the blocking of the only escape route by the beast. Aside from a few brief spurts of gore, Essex doesn’t update the content to take advantage of the new freedoms offered by the MPAA ratings system, and Octaman
was unleashed on the public with a ‘PG’ rating.
The predictable result of this a movie that seems dated even by early 70’s standards. Essex hauls out atomic radiation, a favorite bugaboo of 50’s horror films, and tries to graft it onto his original idea of an ancient legend come to life. There was no atomic radiation in the original Creature from the Black Lagoon
; the creature was just there. He had survived into the present day, and the reason he had a place in the folklore of the Amazon people was because he had always been there. Octaman
muddies the waters by explaining that the creature is the result of atomic fallout, yet the Mexican characters talk of a legendary creature from their folklore that is described to look exactly like the Octaman. Well, the atomic bomb was less than thirty years old when the film was made, so obviously the monster can’t be both ancient and the creation of radioactive fallout. It’s a contradiction that the script never solves.
Most of the talent involved in Octaman
were people who either remained unknown or were at the low ebb of their careers. Neither Kerwin Matthews nor Jeff Morrow made many more appearances in film or television after this thing, and this was the last film of Pier Angeli before she died at the age of thirty-nine in an apparent suicide (some reference books say that she died on the set of the movie during filming, although this seems unlikely, since she appears throughout the entire production and there are no parts that she is awkwardly absent from). The one exception is the builders of the Octaman suit, the young Rick Baker and Doug Beswick, both of whom went on to work on much bigger and more important projects. This does not mean that Octaman suit itself is all that great. In fact, it’s laughable from beginning to end. The fault is not so much the construction of the suit as the fact that the two men were laboring with a fundamentally unworkable concept. Octopi are beautiful creatures, but with an inherent menace to them. Their utter inhumanity, combined with the strange grace that propels them through the water, make them seem wondrous and frightening at once. But take an octopus out of the water and turn it into a bipedal creature and it no longer is graceful, mysterious or threatening. It is clumsy, ungainly and not menacing in the least. It is simply a guy in a suit trying desperately to move a lot of flimsy tentacles, and it never fails to elicit torrents of laughter, especially since Essex often makes no attempt to hide the monster with lighting or shadow, and many times he films it in bright sunlight that brings out every flaw in the design.
The rights to Octaman
now rest at MGM, whose logo graces the beginning and end of this presentation, which is available for streaming both on the Netflix website and onto your television via devices like the Nintendo Wii.
Quality on this presentation of Octaman
is much better than any of the previous VHS releases, although the Netflix version is a notch below that of a standard definition DVD thanks to the increased compression necessary to deliver it over the Internet. The film is presented in 16x9 mode at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The widescreen framing suits the film well, cutting off redundant information on the top and bottom of the screen. The comparison captures below will show you the difference in the framing, as well as give you a clear impression of just how much this transfer is an improvement (the source for the VHS captures was the 1986 Congress Video Group tape).
The image suffers from pixilation and is a tad soft at times, while still being miles ahead of the VHS versions in clarity and sharpness. Colors are beautifully saturated (although flesh tones are a little bit too pink) and most of the night scenes are no longer impenetrably dark and murky. For what it is this is a fine presentation and Octaman
was clearly remastered by MGM in recent years. I am told that this film has also played on MGM HD and on the now defunct Monsters HD channel.
The audio is presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono, and the sound quality is not quite as much of an improvement over previous editions. There is little audible background noise or distortion here, but the audio has a slightly muffled quality to it and dialogue is sometimes difficult to understand.
No special features, obviously.
Five or six years ago Octaman
would have been a candidate for the Midnite Movies line, but with that series moribund it seems that the best this film can now hope for is to be made some future release in MGM’s burgeoning made on demand program. While an authored DVD would likely sport better image quality and less compression than this version, in a sense Netflix is the perfect home for Octaman
. It’s hard to imagine or justify spending a lot of money for a DVD of this movie, but if you’ve already paid for the Netflix subscription then what’s the harm of checking it out? At most all you have to lose is your time, and with a couple of beers or tequila shots in you this turkey might even make for an entertaining night of laughing and trying to spot the zipper on the monster costume.
Movie – C-
Image Quality – B
Sound – C+
Supplements – N/A
- Running Time – 1 hour 19 minutes
- Rated PG
- English 2.0 Mono