A scuba diving instructor, her biochemist boyfriend, and her police chief ex-husband try to link a series of bizarre deaths to a mutant strain of piranha fish whose lair is a sunken freighter ship off a Caribbean island resort.
Ovidio G. Assonitis
After a sudden underwater tremor sets free scores of the prehistoric man-eating fish, an unlikely group of strangers must band together to stop themselves from becoming fish food for the area's new razor-toothed residents.
The private investigator Maggie McNamara from Lyon Investigation is hired by the wealthy J.R. Randolph to find his niece that has disappeared with her boyfriend. Maggie seeks out the lonely... See full summary »
Scott P. Levy
A baby alligator is flushed down a Chicago toilet and survives by eating discarded laboratory rats injected with growth hormones. The small reptile grows gigantic, escapes the city sewers, and goes on a rampage.
Michael V. Gazzo
Piranha (1978) had some documented production problems. There were last-minute cast changes, underwater cameras that kept breaking down, union woes, and unusable second unit footage. It still went on to become one of New World Pictures' biggest hits. See more »
The water skier is doing his runs on the river. He is wearing a orange life jacket, but when he falls into the water the jacket is yellow. See more »
Piranha is a film more self-aware than most of the post-Scream crap to come out of Hollywood. The film knows it follows a formula. In an early scene, we meet the protagonist Maggie playing a Jaws arcade game -- acknowledging the film it shamelessly rips off. It knows it packs a clichés punch with its characters as well as showing off that trademark Roger Corman cost-saving devices. It knows it carries an obligatory anti-war message as a product of the 1970s. And Piranha brings with it an appropriate sense of humor towards its material.
So watching the film, I found myself despising the formula it follows; however, I couldn't help but appreciate how the film never takes itself too seriously. Good thing too, because the other protagonist, Paul, represents one of my greatest character pet peeves -- the self-serving social reject SoB who gets talked into tagging along who eventually evolves into something sympathetic. I can barely stomach that character type in this goofy ride, I don't think I could endure another character like that in a straight movie. Thank you Joe Dante.
Most films will toss out a painfully contrived excuse to get the adventurous Maggie and the hermit-wanna-be Paul to run through the plot together even though no amount of logic or reason could possibly yield that result, but not Piranha. Oh no. It doesn't even bother with an excuse, it just defies logic and common sense to put the two together and doesn't ask questions. Thank you John Sayles.
Of course, I still hated Paul, but that's okay. With any luck he'll wind up Piranha bait.
Keenan Wynn plays a colorful old man who lives out in the same neck of the woods as the Paul character, and he confirms the viewer's suspicion that Piranha opts for less realistic characters in favor of silly caricatures. This prepares the viewer for the big balding camp activities administrator, Earl, who encourages little kids to overcome their fears by essentially calling them sissies for having said fears. Also the evil Colonel Waxman who is evil solely because he represents the US Government around the same era in history as the Vietnam War. And let's not forget the cocky highway patrol trooper who informs the main characters, "Don't try nothing 'cause I got my gun right here in my left hand." What I find most amusing about Piranha is the fact that the "good guys" (Maggie and Paul) are the two characters most deserving of a crucifixion over the events in the film. These characters waltz into an abandoned Government test facility and start pushing buttons without asking any questions, or even attempting to go through the right channels, or find out anything about this once top-secret and highly classified test facility. They metaphorically walk into a antique shop blindfolded while swinging a baseball bat, and it's the store owner's fault for leaving stuff out. But they said they're "reawwy, reawwy, sowwy, and it'll nevah happen again." Is it any wonder that no one believes their word about the river that bypasses the dam? I mean, most sane people hesitate to take directions from a guy who just ran full speed face first into a brick a wall.
Piranha's story, in essence, describes two characters who screw up, and spend the rest of the film trying to fix it while the narratives desperately tries to lay blame on its villain of the day. In a straight horror flick, this would no doubt irritate me; however, in this caricature jamboree of clichés it feels right. Especially with Dick Miller playing the "corrupt" businessman and owner of the aquatic park, and Barbara Steele playing a scientist associated with the project that generated the killer piranha -- both characters in league with the evil Colonel Waxman, thus villains by default. And, honestly, you can't go wrong with Keenan Wynn, Dick Miller, and Barbara Steele in a film like this.
What about the stars of this film? The piranha's themselves? There's a certain charm to the hyperactive fish going into epileptic convulsions while their teeth shred away at human flesh and, of course, the foggy silhouettes that stiffly pass by the camera like glorified cardboard cutouts. In other words: fun low budget creature effects whose flaws only enhance the viewing experience.
Unfortunately, the mayhem the Piranhas cause generally falls short to the point of, dare I say, boredom. The fish begin to bite, and the scene degenerates into a mass of extras kicking, screaming, splashing, intercut with convulsing piranhas feasting. The chaos in frame drags on with no arc, no climaxes, barely any visible progress. At best, every now and again, Joe Dante offers hints of a mass exodus from the water at such a casual pace that it's difficult to believe these people's lives are at stake.
Having said that, I must confess that I respect and appreciate one of the climaxes where Joe Dante not only places a child's summer camp in danger, but also follows through by having the piranha actually attack the kids. An apparent Hollywood taboo despite the fact we're talking fiction -- where's the suspense of children in danger when the viewer knows a mainstream studio won't dare go there? Sad that this parody has more balls than some of its serious horror film brethren.
That self-awareness and sense of humor separates Piranha from the pack, and saves it from the same bashing that other creature features would receive. However, it does not grant Piranha total immunity. While littered with flaws, Piranha is not afraid to acknowledge what it is, it's not afraid to go against Hollywood taboos, and it's not afraid to mock itself. And hey, you get a dose of Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Mark Goldblatt, Dick Miller, Keenan Wynn, and Barbara Steele all in the same package. If that's not worth the price of a rental, some popcorn, and a few laughs, I dunno what is.
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