B-movie producer Roger Corman is legendary for giving some of the biggest names in the film their first break. He was among the first to hire Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, and 1978’s Piranha also had more than its fair share of people getting some of their first film experience.
Director Joe Dante went on to helm the likes of Gremlins and Innerspace, and it was the first screenplay of John Sayles, who later directed Passion Fish and Lone Star. Editor Mark Goldblatt won an Oscar for Terminator 2, Rob Bottin is now a legend in make-up special effects, and Phil Tippett has an Academy Award for his special effects work on Jurassic Park.
It’s an astonishing amount of newbie talent for what was designed as a bit of a cash-in parody of Jaws, but it helps ensure that what is a rather daft film is very entertaining.
Two young lovers break into a seemingly abandoned secret facility and decide to go for a swim (as you do), but get more than they bargained with when they’re attacked and killed by ravenous, mutant Piranha. Private investigator Maggie (Heather Menzies) is sent to find out what happened to the missing duo, which brings her into contact with the curmudgeonly local drunk, Paul (Bradford Dillman), who reluctantly ends up helping.
The headstrong Maggie barrels headlong into a situation she doesn’t understand, which results in the release of the Piranhas into the water system. Soon the fish are racing downstream, straight towards where kids and families are enjoying the summer holidays. However if the ravenous creatures get to the ocean, there’ll be no stopping them.
The movie liberally borrows plot elements from Jaws, right down to local dignitary who doesn’t want to clear the waters at the busiest time of the year. However it’s all done with its tongue firmly stuck in its cheek, a good sense of humour and a fast pace.
For a movie with no budget and little time to shoot, the effects and gore are pretty good. In the special features you get to see quite how rough and ready everything was – plastic piranhas on sticks, shots they had to zoom in during editing so you don’t see the hand holding the fish – but it all works well when its put together on-screen by a young and talented cast. It’s nothing earth-shattering but it is fun.
Don’t expect amazing picture quality on the Blu-ray though. It’s definitely a step-up from DVD, but due to the fact that this is a cheap movie from the 70s, there’s a fair bit of grain and the clarity isn’t amazing. It’s not bad and it’s about as good as you could hope without a major restoration, but don’t expect it to look like the latest Hollywood blockbusters do in 1080p.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac