Judge Gordon Sullivan wonders why horror films never take place in the afternoon.
Will Dave run out of neighbors to fee his infernal heart?
Howard Phillips Lovecraft has been in for a bit of a renaissance in the twenty-first century. Though he's been dead almost three quarters of a century, his tales of tentacular horrors from beyond space are gaining new attention. They've always been there, on the fringes, influencing generations of mainstream horror writers, but recently his stories have attracted readers looking for ways to talk about a world beyond humanity. Lovecraft's descriptions of the total insanity caused by even a glimpse of his Elder Gods seem to grow more appropriate each passing day. The new interest isn't confined to scholars and specialists, though. As The Last Lovecraft: Relic Of Cthulhu demonstrates, there's also a pop cultural angle to all this as well. We can add Night of the Tentacles to this list as it borrows bits of Faustian legend and the horrors of ol' H.P. to create a horror-comedy that nails a perfect blend between the two.
Dave (Brandon Salkil, Zombie A-hole) is a lonely artist who specializes in drawing erotic imagery of alien-human sexual encounters. The highlight of his day is touching himself while listening to his neighbor touch herself. Then, his heart gives out on him, and Lucifer appears to offer him a new heart. The only catch is that this heart lives in a box and demands flesh. How far will Dave be willing to go to keep his heart?
The crucial thing to get right with a horror comedy is tone. Too scary and the laughs don't come; too funny and there's no tension from the horror. Night of the Tentacles pretty much nails its tone. The plot is an obvious riff not only on every Faustian tale, but also other horror flick (like Little Shop of Horrors). There's just enough references to make it fun to play "spot the flick" but not so many that the film is only a collection of reference. The film is also clever at getting its digs in; of course Lucifer is a modern man, so Dave signs an "end user license agreement," an idea at which the film loves to poke fun. On the horror front, Dave is a nice and sympathetic character, and there's some genuine feeling attached to his decisions about how to maintain his heart without killing anyone, or at least not anyone who doesn't deserve it.
The flick gets a pretty solid DVD release as well. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does a fine job with the shot-on-digital look. Detail is fine, though the image looks a bit flat. Colors are a little dark, but I suspect that's intentional. Black levels are pretty deep and stay consistent. This is obviously not a film with a large budget, but that doesn't hamper this transfer overmuch. The stereo audio does a fine job keeping the dialogue clear, and the film's use of electronic music is well-balanced.
The main extra is a commentary featuring writer/director/editor Dustin Mills. He chats a lot about the genesis of the story, production difficulties, and even muses on what makes "bad" movies enjoyable. It's a solid track for the film, though a bit of behind-the-scenes footage would have been nice. There are also two trailers for Mills' previous films Zombie A-Hole and The Puppet Master Massacre.
All usual low-budget caveats apply with Night of the Tentacles. Viewers can't go in expecting Shakespearean acting, realistic effects, or high production values. Though the acting in Tentacles is better than many no-budget films I've seen, it's still not great. The effects look like someone went wild with a low-end paint program. For me these add to the charm of the picture, but some viewers might not be able to get past them. The film is also pretty explicit with its sexual material. Most no-budget horror flicks get by with a few topless women; Night of the Tentacles opens with a shot of a couple having sex, and within the first five minutes the protagonist is masturbating while listening to his neighbor pleasure herself (to a dubstep soundtrack, no less). It's not pornographic or anything, but the sex quotient of Night of the Tentacles is a bit higher than many films of its ilk and the unprepared might be turned off (pun intended).
Night of the Tentacles is an above-average no-budget horror-comedy.
Slimy, but not guilty.
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Studio: MVD Visual
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