Countdown to Halloween: Rich Chamberlain on Octaman (1971)
ABOUT OUR GUEST
Rich is the best friend a monster kid could have! Not only is he a talented writer and podcaster on his own, but he's my partner in crime on "The Classic Horrors Club Podcast." Even if we didn't have so many of the same interests, I would enjoy spending time with Rich and his lovely wife, Karla. They're good people and I'm lucky to know them. I could continue praising him and saying how much I appreciate him, but let's see what he has to say about a movie that puts the quotation marks around the word "classic.."
It started out like most Saturday nights in the early 80s. My mom was headed to bed as Dad and I were staying up late to watch Creature Feature with Crematia Mortem. You never knew what you were going to get. Was it a Peter Cushing or Boris Karloff classic? Or was it some weird Euro horror? No, because on this night it was…Octaman! And the craziness of this flick is still burned into my brain.
I recently sat down with my wife Karla to watch Octaman (1971) on glorious High-definition Blu-ray. I’m lucky to say we’re still married. Now, she loves classic horror and good monster flicks. However, this one hurt her scientific brain. I’m not sure whether it was the science part or the bad acting or the costume, or maybe all three. In any case, she held on by a thread. As for me, I found that within the first minute of the film, it crossed the line of “so bad its good” when we see Octaman coming at us in the dark in the opening credits. Nothing like trying to keep the suspenseful reveal of the monster a mystery.
On the surface, Octaman is clearly a homage to monster flicks of the 50s, most notably Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). However, whether intentional or not, it never comes close to reaching the same classic level. Kerwin Matthews was 13 years removed from his days as Sinbad and only two more movies away from the end of his career when he stepped into the role of Dr. Rick Torres. Jeff Morrow was also an accomplished actor but together they are more often than not buried behind the excellence of David Essex. Okay, maybe not so much. David was the son of director Harry Essex and starred in only two films, both of which his father made. There’s an obvious reason for that.
So what is Octaman about? A scientific expedition in Mexico is researching the effects of radiation on nearby water sources when they discover a mutant baby octopus. It turns out that momma (or daddy) is close by and none-too-happy. The scientists fight for their lives as the Octaman rages in the night (and day) for revenge. If it was 1959, that would have been enough to entertain the audience. However, with an increasingly more sophisticated cinematic crowd in 1971, it was an outdated approach to monster flicks.
For years, I swore Octaman only had four tentacles. The actor’s arm counted as two with an empty rubber tentacle attached to each arm counting as two more. However, upon this revisit, I can now clearly see two small rubber tentacles on the back calf of each leg. Now, the real question is whether or not he’s walking on feet or the last two tentacles. After all of these years, I might have to concede those are tentacles he’s walking on.
If Joe Bob Briggs was to review this movie, he’d surely have to mention the “octa fu” as there was plenty of it. Octaman’s tentacles were lethal weapons and had to be the most powerful on record. Barney Fife has nothing on the Octaman who can punch his way through a man’s chest. Even Hong Kong Phooey would run in fear when Octaman becomes a twirling dervish of terror.
Despite all the flaws, Octaman is definite fun for a late night viewing. The Octaman costume might have been a little simplistic for modern audiences but it is all the more impressive once you realize it was the first film creation by the legendary Rick Baker and made on a shoestring budget. A better budget might have created something more realistic but, as it is, it adds to the charm that is Octaman. And while Harry Essex might have only directed four films, as a writer he is a legend with Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space to his credit. In a different era, Octaman might have done better. As it is, it’s perfect for the late night Creature Feature.
ABOUT THE COUNTDOWN
We all have them... stacks of movies we've purchased, but never watched; or, movies on the DVR, filling them to capacity. This year for the annual Countdown to Halloween, I'm going to make a dent in my "stack," watching one movie a day for the month of October that I've never seen, then writing about it.
Well, I'm going to cheat a little. Assisting me this year are a number of "guest bloggers" that I've invited to participate by commandeering classichorrors.club for a day. These are all people whose blogs I read, whose podcasts I enjoy, and/or whose existence I simply appreciate. It's an experiment, but I hope you'll enjoy reading some new perspectives.