A different kind of eight legged freak.
Just what the message of Octopus is supposed to be evaded me until I sat down this morning and suddenly it struck me; it's a vicious condemnation of modern counter-terrorist intelligence gathering protocol. Oh, that and the old "don't go dumping toxic chemicals" message, but that's far less exciting. The first of these messages might seem less likely than the last, but trust me, read on and all will be revealed.
The story opens with a Russian sub being hounded by an American vessel sometime in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. The Russian commander is extremely reluctant to be taken alive because his boat is carrying lots of sinister barrels with biohazard symbols and some urgent-looking Russian captions emblazoned upon them. Up to this point, the production values seem reasonable, as although the sub interior is sparse and gaudily lit, the exterior torpedo and submarine shots are largely well executed. When the Russian crew receive a hasty American sinking, however, doubts begin to surface (how ironic) as to the competence we're about to encounter. Obviously unable to afford to rent a water tank, rather than flooding the set with gallons of water the director has somebody sprinkle the men with a weak shower, whilst the cameraman shakes his recording equipment and the crew obligingly stagger from side to side in the finest traditions of Star Trek. We see some of the dubious barrels hitting the ocean floor, leaking goo (I think the colour was 'Clich? Lime Green'), have a huge title logo thrown in our face, and then things change pace nicely.
Fast forward to the year 2000, and now we're at the American Embassy in Bulgaria, where we meet Roy Turner (Jay Harrington), a young and inexperienced CIA field agent and Henry, a fat old bastard who yaks on about Stalin and the real 'action' haven taken place back in '52. We know they're nice guys because they nip out to buy a cute little Bulgarian girl some chocolate, but as they do so the nefarious terrorist 'Casper' (Ravil Issyanov) wanders freely about the embassy disguised extremely unconvincingly as an old granny, handing out explosive packages to all and sundry.
Obviously miffed at the ensuing carnage (who's Roy going to give the chocolate to now?), the heroic pair give chase to the fleeing Casper, Henry in particular looking quite the part as he holds his gun like a girl and his heaving tits threaten to take out both his eyes. As both men close him down, Casper drops an explosive charge next to a car, which poor old Henry chooses to provide cover as a small exchange of gunfire takes place. Roy notices the charge just in time to shout a despairing "Heeeeenrrrryyyyyy!", at which point the lethargic old coot notices several pounds of TNT inches from his feet, moans "ah, shit" and gets thoroughly blown up.
As he is mourning the passing of his mentor, Roy lets Casper escape in a hijacked taxi, but wait!; Henry isn't dead! He unloads on Casper's Ford C4 Explodalot which obligingly combusts, careers about the road a bit and then goes flying up a ramp cunningly disguised as a watermelon stall. Henry finally bites the big one having died a hero, and for some reason Roy pulls Casper from the car seconds before it blows up a second time. The action cuts to a darkened limousine in which two CIA men are discussing the necessity of extracting Casper from the area before his people come looking. Having described him as "the world's leading terrorist", they decide that flying him out is a non-starter. Instead, they decide a much safer method would be to put him onboard a nuclear submarine and get him out that way. Hmmmm. What's more, the sub's captain, Jack Shaw (David Beer, arguably a leading figure in these kinds of productions) grounded his last submarine and so is currently on manoeuvres to keep him out of trouble. If you're thinking this all sounds rather contrived then that's because it is.
And so Casper is loaded onboard with Turner as his guard, and we are introduced to Shaw; a man who seems to have very little concept of authority. His men spend most of their time mucking about and playing strip poker with Dr. Finch (Carolyn Lowery), a young scientist from the Oceanographic Institute who is onboard to chart changes in current and sealife in an area known as "The Devil's Eye"; an area so dangerous Finch claims it "makes the Bermuda triangle look like a duck pond".
Meanwhile Casper's people are hastily organising a rescue bid, which again is a hugely contrived and complicated affair. They have satellite photos of the submarine (although one of them is taken from the side, begging the question "what kind of satellite are they using?") and have hatched a plot to steal an ocean liner. Casper somehow, presumably telepathically, knows that he has to launch the sub's distress beacon so they can find and rescue him, apparently ignoring the fact that submarines traditionally tend to be submerged and hence difficult to get into from a bloody cruise boat.
Amidst various scenes of posturing by Shaw ("I was a hero too, you know. I captured a boat full of Iraqi troops during the Gulf action"), and blatant flirtation by Finch towards Turner, we see the terrorists taking control of the liner (apparently by simply shooting a room maid), and then finally the octopus of the title takes a bite out of the sub. It's worth noting that this ludicrous plot exposition has now consumed the first forty minutes of a ninety minute movie, which should give you some indication of how painfully contrived it all is. Following the first attack, the crew are thrown into disarray as word of a giant sea monster spreads from the mouth of Finch, with none of the usual initial disbelief accompanying such claims. Perhaps aware of how much time has already been wasted in the set-up, things now gather pace considerably.
Casper uses the diversion provided by the octopus to escape his captors by dislocating his thumb and slipping from his cuffs, yet even though his disappearance is noticed immediately, nobody makes much of an effort to find him. Presumably the threat of "the world's leading terrorist" with his hands on a nuclear arsenal is not enough to disturb Shaw and his ragtag crew, and instead they seem content to marvel at the thought of a huge plate of radioactive calamari. Casper slits the throat of a crewman with a broken ketchup bottle, mercifully saving on the effects budget by providing it's own 'blood smearing' illusion. He then captures Finch and persuades her to hack the sub's computer and launch the beacon he needs to signal his comrades.
Amidst much macho posturing, again almost entirely by Shaw, the creature continues to attack, the upshot of which being Shaw, Turner, Finch and Casper escape to the surface in a mini-sub whilst the main vessel inexplicably explodes. The reason for this may well have been explained at some point but I was somewhat distracted by more interesting things like a clock ticking and counting the corners in my room. This has the plot-pushing effect of reuniting Casper with his terrorist friends (the cruise ship was rather conveniently only 20km away) and perhaps fooling lesser viewers into believing that the octopus is dead.
How wrong they'd be, as the rescue of Casper is hindered by the creature's Henry-like resurrection for one last attempt at victory. Again, Casper drops a bomb, which an injured Shaw attempts to take care of whilst Finch and Turner go after the escaping criminal mastermind. Our tentacled anti-hero here takes on the role of Homeland Security Chief, eating and crushing anyone wielding a gun who looks vaguely central-European in origin whilst leaving the passengers well alone. Casper himself meets a somewhat gratuitous end as witnessed in the above picture, with the octopus shoving a tentacle through his belly, out through his mouth and then around the helicopter he is escaping in, crashing it into the sea. This is the point I made earlier about the movie's message; without the giant mutated sea-creature, Casper would have escaped to victory, portraying our intelligence and military forces as impotent. Or something.
The only problem now is repaying the creature's good work by blowing it up. Turner takes Casper's bomb (Shaw having failed to disarm it) and returns to the mini-sub, piloting it towards the advancing beast. Showing a previously unseen level of Houdini-like bravado, Turner waits until there are eight seconds left on the timer before attempting to escape, surfacing successfully as the beast meets an explosive end. Quite how you get out of a submarine and safely far away enough to avoid annihilation in a mere eight seconds is beyond me, but far be it for a mere mortal such as myself to doubt the first-class training on submarine escape techniques and speed-swimming the CIA undoubtedly has access to.
Octopus is a complete mish-mash of a film, and when you think about it, there was really no need for the octopus to be in it. If you were to chop out the 1962 segment at the start and any appearance or mention of the tentacled one, it would actually work just as well, and no doubt be slightly more plausible. It's as if the script writers got so carried away with the 'drama' (I use the word loosely) and focus on Casper that they forgot about the sea monster altogether, hastily chucking it back in at the end when they realised the mistake.
It's a movie with few redeeming features. The cast are utterly disposable, although Lowery and Beer as Finch and Shaw respectively show a knowing humour for the nonsense all around them. The individual scenarios are comical enough to inspire sympathetic mirth, but as a combined entity the effect is one of utter disarray that undermines the later attempts at humour the script turns to redeem itself. The effects are passable at best, and the interior design of the subs beggars belief, with wide-open spaces and comical neon lighting that makes them look like a location from a videogame, not to mention the fact that they all seem to have a crew of less than ten.
There's enough laughs here to warrant some investigation, but on the whole the movie is so disjointed that it cripples itself irreparably. Fans of monster movies will no doubt have seen similar stuff done better on countless occasions, and it is with trepidation that I now face the challenge of enduring Octopus 2 for your benefit. You owe us one, you lucky sods.
Craig Disko surfaces long enough to award Octopus 2 out of 5 low budget baguettes.
David Beecroft (Capt. Jack Shaw)
Carolyn Lowery (Dr. Finch)