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August 20, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #33 - Piranha

With the '70s Cult Project well underway, and with the 3D remake due out this weekend, there has never been a better time for me to take a look at the 1978 piece of fantasticness known as Piranha.  While I'm entirely excited to see this remake - I love my Elisabeth Shue greatly - there's no way it'll ever steal the place in my heart that Joe Dante's original Jaws knock-off occupies.

Piranha stars Bradford Dillman, doing his best faux Charlton Heston, and Heather Menzies (as the standard "I'm a smart '70s woman who's not Margot Kidder in Superman" character); along with a supporting cast of all-time B movie heroes that includes Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Barbara Steele (Black Sunday), and Dick Miller (aka: Murray Futterman and/or Walter Paisley).  It also comes from a story and screenplay by none less than indie darling John Sayles, and Dante - who would go on to make a slew of loved films like The Howling, Gremlins, and The 'Burbs - directs.
The talent involved insures that Piranha - produced by legendary schlockmeister Roger Corman - won't drown in the wake of Spielberg's Jaws.  Though Piranha follows the same structure that Jaws did - late night victims, beach side attacks, resistance from those in power, etc. - Dante and Sayles' silly story of government funded mutations succeeds in creating a new adventure.  A lot of credit belongs to Steele, Keenan Wynn, and McCarthy for giving interesting performances that advances this side of the plot.  McCarthy, playing the scientist who lays out the details early in the film, is particularly memorable when he gets to shout at the screen like he did near the end of Invasion.

The action is fun too, despite the low budget effects.  I'd put a mid film attack on a summer camp - complete with a bloodied Paul Bartel tossing children on shore and a brave little girl taking to the sea in a Rudy moment - against anything I've seen in a B-horror film of this sort.  That little girl, who spends the first hour of the movie being terrified of the water, is completely one of the most amazing heroes in B-movie history, and I never get enough of the scene in which she - slowly - tries to take action.  There's never a dull moment once the carnage starts, though some of the entertainment comes from laughing at the odd editing which jumps between above water screams and the sounds of submerged buzzing piranha.
(Is the plural of piranha still piranha?  And also, while I'm asking questions, how sexy is it when Barbara Steele says Piranha with a y sound in the middle?  Piranya?  NICE.)

While I'm sure the upcoming remake will offer more blood, breasts (But will anyone say "Look, up in the sky!  It's Superman!"?), and kills than this film did, but there's a lot to be said for what Dante, Sayles, and crew pulled off here.  They managed to borrow from one of the most popular movies of their era (which would grow up to remain one of the most popular movies of all-time), not get spat upon by fans too much, and make a movie that remained a cult classic in its own right for more than 30 years.  In modern terms, this would be like Rob Zombie making a new version of The Dark Knight which features a whole gang of white trash Jokers - you just don't expect it to work.  (Of course, Rob Zombie doesn't have one millionth the creativity of any of Dante, Corman, or Sayles, so let's move on.)
So while I'll be checking out that remake this weekend - primarily because I love you, Elisabeth Shue - I'm glad I took some time to revisit the original Piranya (I sure hope Elisabeth says it that way...In Asylum Pictures terms, I'll MEGA SWOON!) tale in the meantime.  They really don't make 'em this fun anymore.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

5 comments:

Jinx said...

By God I love Piranha! Sorry, Mike, Pirahya. Can't wait for the boobilicious 3D extravaganza.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Fantastic review!!!

Trick or Treat Pete said...

Fred the Wolf and I have been discussing a little bit about that stop motion animation creature in the lab. I have decided to name him Bob.
Oh Bob, where did you come from?
Oh Bob, where have you gone?
Oh Bob, what the heck are you?
Oh Bob, you intrigue me still
Oh Bob, why didn't they explain you?
Oh Bob, will you ever return?
Oh Bob, did Barbara Steele tame you?
Oh Bob, did she take you home?
Thus ends the all too short cinematic career of Bob the stop motion animation creature from Piranha...
Dreaded Dreams
Petunia Scareum

Fred [The Wolf] said...

Yeah, me and Pete have been discussing Bob's too short cameo in this film after I reviewed this earlier in the week. I was told he was supposed to become a giant creature in the film, but I guess the budget or timing didn't allow that to happen.

Great review. It seems the remake has brought upon great memories and popularity for PIRANHA. And it's well deserved. Such a fun film.

The Mike said...

Y'know I kinda forgot to give Bob too much thought. I always wondered why a piranha had arms, but just rolled with it. I'm too easy sometimes.