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Horror Movie--1978

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A fun little blood-drenched, low-budget B-movie.

  • Jan 19, 2012
*** out of ****

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.

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Ryan J. Marshall ()
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It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Piranha apes the plot and exploitable attrib­utes of Jaws closely but does so in a way that shows inven­tive­ness and genre smarts.  In Dante’s film, the unwit­ting heroes are Maggie (Heather Menzies), a skip-tracer who jour­neys to a rural area seek­ing a miss­ing young cou­ple, and Paul (Bradford Dillman), a reclu­sive cabin-dweller that she fast-talks into help­ing her.  They stum­ble onto the site of the dis­ap­pear­ance, a secret gov­ern­ment test­ing facil­ity with a large pool.  They drain it to look for the bod­ies and earn the ire of Dr. Hoak (Kevin McCarthy).  He informs them that said pool con­tained genetically-mutated piranha capa­ble of sur­viv­ing in both fresh and salt-water envi­rons — and the heroes have unknow­ingly released them into a large set of lakes.

From there, it’s a race against time to stop the piranha before they get to the heavily-inhabited lake­side areas.  It’s par­tic­u­larly impor­tant for Paul because his young daugh­ter is stay­ing at a camp near the lake — and there’s also a new lake­side resort open­ing fur­ther down the lake shore.  Maggie and Paul’s task is not easy but it gets even more dif­fi­cult when the mil­i­tary show up and try to silence them before they can warn any­one else.

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Movies, Horror, Comedy, Horror Movie, Written By John Sayles, Directed By Joe Dante


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