Blu-ray. Second Sight
Dante's Piranha proved to be an unexpected hit
on its original release, and has subsequently been remade twice
– once as a lacklustre TV movie and more recently as a demented
3D shocker – and yet it still feels like an under-appreciated
film. It's not that people don't love it – it's just that
everyone, myself included, tends to forget just how good it is.
This is a film that should have been a disaster – a low
budget film with an inexperienced director that involved extensive
special effects and underwater sequences – a combination
that had caused enough trouble for the film's big budget inspiration,
Jaws. But this is a movie that rises above what
it should have been, and it holds up remarkably well even now.
The film stars B-movie favourite Bradford Dillman and Logan's
Run TV star Heather Menzies as a mismatched couple searching
for a couple of missing people who stumble upon an abandoned military
base and drain the pool, accidentally releasing a school of mutant
piranha into the local river. As they set out to warn to local
population – accompanied by mad scientist Kevin McCarthy
– the military, led by Barbara Steele, swing into action
to cover the whole thing up. Meanwhile, there's a summer camp
full of kids and the newly opened resort run by Dick Miller along
the way, offering up lake-loads of people for the hungry piranhas
to chomp on.
More influenced by old school monster movies like The
Creature from the Black Lagoon than Jaws,
Dante's film is a great example of the sort of no-nonsense exploitation
cinema being produced by Roger Corman in the 1970s. It's fast
paced, witty and manages to slip plenty of anti-militaristic and
social commentary into the action without ever seeming heavy handed.
John Sayles, writing the first of his exploitation movie screenplays,
produces characters who are well-rounded and believable, and keeps
the dialogue sharp. He and Dante are helped by a great cast that
also includes Paul Bartel, Belinda Balaski and Keenan Wynn.
special effects, though crude, hold up pretty well (including
the odd little stop motion monsters that are slipped into the
lab scenes), and the movie doesn't skimp on the gore, with chewed
up body parts and mutilated limbs a plenty. There's also some
gratuitous nudity and enough car chases, crashes and explosions
to keep most action fans satisfied.
A great, lively, fun and old-fashioned monster movie, Piranha
is a delight. And this new Blu-ray edition looks great and is
full of extras, including a lively commentary from Dante and producer
Jon Davidson, some great 8mm behind the scenes footage (again
with commentary), outtakes and a 'making of' that is pretty badly
put together and pretty poor quality, but does feature a lot of
the cast and crew discussing the movie. A nice selection of supplementary
material for a film that would be an essential purchase anyway.
IT NOW (UK)