Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy
Review by Brian M. Sammons
After the blockbuster that was Jaws came out, everyone wanted a piece of that “terror from the depths” pie. There were movies about killer alligators, killer crocodiles (because crocs are so different to gators), killer octopus, and Orca about an actual killer whale. But one of the best, if not the funniest, was the Roger Corman’s 1978 production; Piranha. As a Corman picture, this movie has just been released in a special edition from Shout! Factory as part of their Roger Corman’s Cult Classics line. But after over thirty years, does this movie still have bite (heh)? Well let’s dive in and find out.
To start off, you’ve got to give this movie credit. After a couple of typical teens go swimming where they shouldn’t, and thereby become fish food, the film starts off with the plucky heroine of the piece playing a Jaws videogame. That right there sets this Jaws rip off head and shoulders (that’s a Jaws joke that I hope you get) above all the other Jaws rip offs. This movie knows exactly what it is, it’s fine with it, and it’s just here for a good time. And a good time is exactly what Piranha provides.
A bickering man and woman go looking for the two missing teens up at a largely abandoned military test facility where the government was doing odd experiments with aquatic things. The pair encounters the kooky scientist, played with panache by Kevin McCarthy, and inadvertently let loose a whole school of genetically altered super piranha into the nearby river. These little eating machines can survive in cold, fresh water and breed like rabbits, and they are making their way down the river, munching on anyone and everyone they encounter along the way. That includes not only a vacation resort filled with tourist but a summer camp full of little kids. Can our two heroes save the day from not only the deadly fishies but the military who wants to cover everything up, the stereotypical cops who won’t listen until its too late, and the greedy resort owner who won’t close the beaches down no matter what?
One notable piece of trivia about this movie is that it marks the directorial debut of Joe Dante, who would later go on to make the movies; The Howling, Gremlins and Innerspace. Even at this starting point of his career, much of Joe’s trademark style is evident, as is his love for veteran character actor, Dick Miller.
Shout! Factory once more puts out a stellar collection of extras for both the DVD and BD. There’s a commentary with director Dante, a making of featurette, bloopers and outtakes, trailers, a still gallery, a poster gallery, radio and TV spots, and a nice addition of extra scenes that was used to pad out the time, not to mention replace some of the bloody bits, of this film when it was aired on network TV.
Piranha is another throwback to the era of drive-ins and fun exploitation flicks, the kind of movies that just aren’t made today, and the kind of movies I greatly miss. It is a good addition to the Corman Cult Classic line of videos and a great movie to have in your collection for whenever the mood hits you for some watery, bloody, good times.