Directed by Joe Dante.
Starring Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Steele and Dick Miller.
Two teenagers going for a dip inadvertently stumble upon a government secret weapon: deadly piranha fish, planned for use in Vietnam. Accidentally released, the piranha make their way to the site of a children’s summer camp resort, and the watery carnage begins.
If Jaws is the father of the summer blockbuster, then Piranha is the father of the mockbuster. Directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins) and produced by B movie legend Roger Corman (Little Shop of Horrors), Piranha was designed to capitalise on the box office success of the classic 1975 shark thriller, and now it arrives on Blu-ray here in the UK, timed I presume to capitalise on the (slightly) increased recognition of the Piranha name following the recent 3D remake and its 3DD sequel.
Hiking around Lost River Lake, two teenagers stumble upon an abandoned secret military installation and decide to take a dip in a swimming pool, where they are promptly gobbled up by a swarm of genetically engineered mutant piranha designed as a weapon against the Viet Cong. Some time later, insurance investigator Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) enlists town drunk Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) to search for the missing teens and after tracking them to the base, Maggie inadvertently unleashes school into the river. Now it’s up to Maggie, Paul and the military to prevent a feeding frenzy as the ravenous fish head downriver towards the local water park, but not before stopping off for a little bite to eat at the summer camp attended by Paul’s daughter.
Piranha has been described by Steven Spielberg as “the best of the Jaws ripoffs” and while I haven’t seen enough of them myself to confirm or deny this, it’s certainly one of Corman’s better efforts. Sure, there’s some corny dialogue, hammy acting and occasionally laughable visual effects, but there’s some genuine talent involved in the production – including Academy Award-nominated screenwriter John Sayles (Passion Fish, Lone Star), Academy Award-nominated editor Mark Goldblatt (Terminator 2: Judgement Day), and Oscar-winning creature designer Phil Tippett (Return of the Jedi, Jurassic Park) – and it shows, with Dante managing to wring every penny out of his $770,000 budget to deliver something greater than the sum of its parts.
While not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, Piranha is miles apart from the recent rubbish that Roger Corman has been churning out for Syfy lately (see – or rather don’t see – Dinoshark, Sharktopus, Piranhaconda and so on) and if you’re already a fan of the movie, it’s worth picking up for the impressive Blu-ray transfer (well, as impressive as you’re going to get for a 35-year-old B-movie). A word of warning though, if you’re drawn to this because you’re a fan of Piranha 3D and you’re expecting to titillate yourself with a copious amount of nudity, you’re going to find yourself sorely disappointed.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Gary Collinson is a writer and lecturer from the North East of England. He is the editor-in-chief of FlickeringMyth.com and the author of Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen.