I thought the recent Piranha 3-D remake was a fun, entertaining movie. So, why not give the original a shot?
This earlier version is a much more serious, conventional horror flick. The gore is more limited, and the focus on T&A that the remake reveled in is mostly gone. Instead of Spring Break at a lake full of teens and piranhas from the prehistoric era, released by an earthquake, we get a river of girl scouts and fishermen and a vacation resort that's accidentally infested with genetically engineered killer fish, bred for use in war.
The two movies have little in common, other than the title, the carnage, and the ravenous fish (though they're a lot more cunning in this version). I found the remake to be more entertaining, as the extra violence, gore, humor, and eye candy made it more appealing to me. But, as a straight-forward creature flick, the original movie is worth a watch.
A couple of teenagers go missing while trekking through the woods. Private eye Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) goes searching for them, and discovers a burnt-out hermit Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) living on the mountainside who offers to help her in her hunt. McKeown and Grogan stumble upon a secluded military research centre where crazed scientist Dr. Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) is busily conducting experiments to create a strain of piranha fish able to survive in rivers and oceans, and always eager to devour anything in their way. The plan is to release these super-fish in enemy rivers, thereby making the entire river system too dangerous to use. McKeown and Grogan mistakenly release the piranhas into the local river, and realise that anyone using the river for recreation ? including the bustling summer camp miles downstream ? are now in desperate danger. The army is brought in, but instead of helping to solve the terrifying situation they seem more concerned with covering up the whole business. In particular, General Waxman (Bruce Gordon) has cause to keep the existence of the piranha secret, as he has invested his savings in the summer camp and doesn't want to scare away his paying customers. In a race against time, Grogan and McKeown try to release poison into the river to prevent the piranhas from devouring everyone in sight and proceeding to the ocean?..
Piranha is fast-moving, gory fun. It's nice to see Dillman in a heroic leading role after so many years of playing the supporting bad guy in numerous films. Menzies is fine as his partner-in-adventure, and there are great supporting roles for horror legends like Barbara Steele (as a military scientist), Dick Miller (as a cowboy entertainer) and Keenan Wynn (as Grogan's doomed buddy who lives at the riverside). As I said earlier, Rob Bottin provides some bloody make up effects that make some of the half-eaten victims look pretty yucky. The gently mocking script is by John Sayles, and is full of humorous references to earlier books and films along the same theme. The finale in which the holiday-makers fall foul of the piranha fish is packed with blood and guts, and should definitely appeal to gore-hounds. Even though the film keeps its tongue in its cheek, there are still some dumb moments along the way that mar credibility even on this level. For instance, Grogan spends much of the closing scenes underwater being attacked by the piranha?. earlier in the film we were made to believe that the piranha devoured their victims in literally a few seconds, but they seem to make ludicrously hard work of attacking Grogan while he's in the water (in fact, he surfaces after several minutes in the firing line with just a few bites, which seems somewhat fortuitous!!) Piranha is enjoyable, though, and should be well received by genre addicts.
This is a great b-grade rip-off, right off the back of Jaws success. Though it has a touch of comedy added in it, basically making it a sort of spoof/thriller.
A notable sharp script filled with a lot wit and excellent performances from the leads and amusing parts from the supporting cast make this great entertainment.
The piranha designs look good for the time when it was made and still holds up now but the key here is that they aren't clearly shown as a group or alone making your imagination go to work and the few times you see the piranhas are effective.
The music score is reasonably potent, just like that of Jaws- but it's definitely not in the same league. The sound of the attack is a sharp high-pitch bubbling sound given when they're about to attack.
The cinematography is stunning enough, both in and out of the water and not forgetting the ravishing scenery along the river. The atmosphere is just brilliant, with the suspense and tension to match that of Jaws. Director Joe Dante (Gremlins 1 & 2, The Howling and The 'Burbs) does a excellent job here with pace and the story never gets bogged down.
The whole concept of the piranha story is outlandishly over-the-top, but because of the superb laid-back performances and the ingenious screenplay, you forget the plot and just enjoy the ride. It's pretty hilarious watching people getting nibbled at first, but when you get further into the movie it becomes more effective and a little disturbing when you see a whole a lot of children getting eaten (especially when there not that annoying) and that's before they even reach the resort. There's one striking scene that's incredibly haunting because the image is perfectly laid out.
Bradford Dillman brings a lot depth and humor to his character Paul Grogan and Heather Menzies brings a charming and out-going temperament to her character Maggie McKeown. The supporting roles, Kevin McCarthy is unforgettable as the crazy doctor Dr. Robert Hoak who created and labored the piranhas, Dick Miller fits perfectly as the greedy Resort owner Buck Gardner and Barbara Steele as Dr. Mengers, Dr Hoaks ex-work mate and now working for the army.
Another very good film produced by b-grades finest Roger Corman.
Regardless, absurd first-5-minute nudity and coitus interruptus with piranhas, along with a total lack of standard horror-movie ethics about who to maim or kill (dogs, small children), and an especially ridiculous plotline involving government coverups and greedy corporate resort owners and a failed marriage... end up making a terrible film varied enough to be worth watching for sheer camp value, and to witness the quote: "The piranha are coming! You've got to believe me!"
It takes a truly inspired filmmaker to channel tongue-in-cheek horror, in-jokes and references, comedic and plentiful blood-and-gore, and to top it all off; an idea that's just down-right cheesy and perhaps even completely unoriginal to begin with. I suppose to have a hold on a select few of those things indicates a passable and developing director; but to maintain a balance in spite of all these things? That's talent.
Whether it's a good film or a bad film that his very own inspiration spawns, Joe Dante almost always seems to be having fun with the films that he makes. The director of "Gremlins", its sequel, "The Howling", and the recent "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" is a cinematic live-wire; and I can't remember a time when he wasn't up to the challenge of providing something new, exciting, refreshing, or absurdly funny. He has a good sense of humor, no doubt; but there was a time when that very humoristic style hadn't quite been grasped or established for this filmmaker, and I suppose most of that time was spent in the 1970's, when Dante was first starting out.
Let's cut to the chase. In 1978, Dante practically made a knock-off of "Jaws"; a film called "Piranha", after its titular villainous fishies. Instead of the one great white shark that inhabited the still waters of Spielberg's said masterpiece of suspense and sheer horror, the piranhas come in groups of hundreds; thousands; perhaps even millions. And instead of the ocean, these bastardizations roam a small-town river.
The piranhas had been trapped in a swimming pool located at a military testing site; in which science met live animal, with horrifying results. You see; these are not ordinary piranha, but MUTANT piranha! All the more reason to keep as many people as possible out of the waters until they, I dunno, find somewhere else to feast.
There are characters - an insurance investigator (Heather Menzies), an alcoholic-by-the-river (Bradford Dillman), and many more - although I find them secondary to the large surplus of guilty-pleasure chuckles that "Piranha" has to offer. As far as B-movie schlock goes, I'd say it's a job well-done. The piranhas are mostly animatronic, which I admired; and the gore effects are delightfully over-the-top campy. Sure, they aren't the best, but when your film is endorsed by the legendary Roger Corman; great visual effects can't possibly be your (or his) forte.
Nevertheless, this is a good looking film; never under or over-produced, and if you ask me, it delivers on its many promises. If you go in expecting a dead serious movie about man-eating mutant fish; stop right where you are and turn right around, because you are about to be disappointed. "Piranha" is the kind of flick that just loves to wink at its audience; sometimes up front, sometimes not. There are numerous nods to the killer fish/shark/animal films of the past; and in a sense, it's a bit of an early homage to the genre. And it's a pretty good one too; it is its own movie, regardless of the inspirations that it so closely respects, admires, and satirizes. It's goofy, silly, stupid fun. But given the premise, the producer, and the attached director; such antics are expected upon first glance.
In a movie like this, there are a few key aspects to its success. One is its faithfulness to the genre - which comes in the form of super-indulgent gore effects, a terrifically mad scientist (Kevin McCarthy), and a surprise extended appearance from scream queen Barbara Steele - and another is the concocted devotion from its creators. "Piranha" might not impress everyone looking for some bloody, low-budget giggles; but I'll be damned if I wasn't impressed by it. The film enjoys a semi-strong cult following these days, and I suppose it's that very following that shall keep it alive for years to come. I feel that it deserves such treatment - even if it is not a great camp classic and merely a good one - and I also think that more people should be introduced to a wonderfully corny movie such as this. So grab the popcorn and start watching; because the piranhas are a'coming to tear your ass to shreds.