Octaman (1971) | Directed by Harry Essex
Colour | 79 Minutes
Written by Harry Essex | Starring Pier Angeli, Kerwin Mathews, Jeff Morrow
Who doesn’t adore Mexican sci-fi/horror cinema? Whilst consuming everything from 1968’s The Batwoman (review) to 1970’s Santo and Blue Demon vs. the Monsters, I stumbled upon the poster for Harry Essex’s Octaman and I knew I had to track down a copy of this 1971 creature feature! There was something reminiscent about the humanoid octopus… As it turns out, I was already quite familiar with Essex’s monstrous creation! Even if you haven’t seen this movie, you’ve likely seen the titular creature.
A brief clip from Octaman was featured in Joe Dante’s comedy/horror sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch; referred to as “The Attack of the Octopus People” during ‘Grandpa Fred’s House of Horrors’ by the late, great Robert Prosky! Another Octaman clip is featured in Tom Holland’s fangtastic Fright Night; referred to as “Mars Needs Flesh” by the legendary Roddy McDowall, as vampire hunter Peter Vincent. Pretty neat, huh?
Dr. Rick Torres (Kerwin Mathews) and Susan Lowry (Pier Angeli) lead a scientific expedition to a remote fishing community in order to research radioactive pollution in the water. Blood samples, previously taken from the local natives, provide evidence that they have been exposed to high levels of radioactive contamination. The source? Fish from a nearby river. Unfortunately, chemical changes produced by the underwater detonation of atomic materials have been carried by tides and currents to all parts of the world. This contamination has also mutated the marine life, as evidenced by a small, land-dwelling octopus captured by one of Dr. Torres’ colleagues!
Why a cephalopod was found in freshwater, we shall never know! Regardless, hoping to be granted more funding Dr. Torres travels to the International Ecological Institute to present his discovery but is greeted with a lukewarm reception from Dr. John Willard (Jeff Morrow). Dr. Willard is not particularly impressed by the specimen (now dead!), nor is he enamored with Dr. Torres’ research thus far; deciding to cut all funding completely.
Meanwhile, another strange mutated specimen is discovered and prepared for dissection. But unbeknownst to the crew, a horror heap from the nuclear trash dwells in nearby contaminated waters; the bloodthirsty half-man, half-cephalopod Octaman!
“Now maybe you’ll agree the safari’s over…”
Harry Essex is no stranger to monster movies, having co-written with Arthur Ross what is arguably the greatest creature feature ever committed to celluloid, Creature from the Black Lagoon! And with a creature costume from Rick Baker and Doug Beswick – known for their later SFX work on An American Werewolf in London and Star Wars respectively – what could possibly go wrong?
A Mexican-American production, Octaman is a throwback to the nuclear horror schlock of the 1950s but lays bare the trials and tribulations of 1970s low-budget filmmaking. Taking on directional duties, Essex shot the titular eye-gouging octamutant from just about every angle; his tentacles squeezing every ounce of suspense from the movie. This amateurish style of filmmaking is exacerbated by Robert Caramico’s oversaturated, ugly cinematography and Robert Freeman’s haphazard editing. Continuity is often ignored and the plodding pace makes Octaman a slog to navigate through its polluted waters.
But Essex co-wrote Creature from the Black Lagoon, so the screenplay must be where Octaman’s strength lies, right? Wrong! During one scene, after a fire is ignited outside that encircles the terrified Octaman, Dr. Torres, a supposed ‘scientist’, suggests that “the fire will burn up the oxygen all around him”… I can appreciate certain absurdities when watching a movie about an 8ft mutated octopus, but what the actual fuck!? Did I mention a cephalopod was found in freshwater? Fresh-fucking-water!
The rubbery monster costume – designed by an uncredited George Barr – looks unconvincing, with stationary facial features, and tentacles connected by wires that flop about aimlessly, but this just adds to Octaman’s overall charm. Read Morgan brings life to the Octaman with his lumbering presence; a feat deserving praise considering the limited vision he had when in costume. Add a spattering of gore and the late, great Pier Angeli (her last credited movie) to the proceedings and there is a lot of fun to be had with Octaman, if not taken too seriously!