Piranha (1978)

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Piranha (1978)

Post  BoG on Thu Mar 04, 2010 5:12 pm

Let's see...what movie about a killer fish was one of the biggest movies of the seventies? Oh, yes, Jaws in '75. Enter...Roger Corman - producing rip-off artist extraordinaire. Only.. he, writer John Sayles and director Joe Dante don't just throw in another shark into this tale; no, there are a whole bunch of killer fish in this one. This picture has an easygoing charm absent from most other 'eco-terror' movies of the seventies (Night of the Lepus, Empire of the Ants, etc.), which always took themselves way too seriously. The two main characters here (played by Bradford Dillman & Heather Menzies) seem to understand they're trapped in the middle of an absurd scenario. Their verbal banter is like a low-rent sci-fi horror version of Tracy & Hepburn (or Bogart & Hepburn from "The African Queen"). There's even the dark silly irony that these two heroes actually cause the problem of the movie, by letting loose the lethal fish into the river, despite crazed Kevin McCarthy's best efforts to stop them. And check out the brief stop-motion animation of a little creature, reminding me of Harryhausen's Ymir, for no other reason than as a bit of a tribute.

The other reason for the picture's success is the editing, which stresses suspense, quick cuts of the nasty fish and a clever use of the unknown under the water. Some of the victims should, by rights, be able to pull their legs or arm out of the water before the attack is fatal, but the little monsters seem so effective, the victim is paralyzed by their attack for a few crucial seconds, and it's all over. Well, that's my take on it, anyway. Some of the characters are outright parodies of the usual stock horror film clich├ęs: the creep general (yes, it's the army's fault), the odd female scientist (Barbara Steele), and the rich opportunist (Corman/Dante regular Dick Miller). There's also the outright goon, Paul Bartel as a camp counselor. This is also guerrilla-style film-making - you know, no permits, paying a local to expose her breasts (the reason I saw this twice in the '70s). But it's this method which sometimes gets the best results. I think Jim Cameron had to use it for some scenes in his The Terminator in '84. BoG's Score: 6.5 out of 10
fishy trivia: There was another movie called Killer Fish about a year later with the same threat, but it was much less effective. Then, of course, Piranha 2:the Spawning - a weak semi-sequel, by, waitaminnit - Jim Cameron!
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