July 30, 2014

Movie Review: Piranha (1979)

Tell me, how have I gotten this far in life having never seen Piranha? I am speaking of the original, not the 2010 remake (which was pretty awesome on its own). Granted, this is something I can and will say about a lot of movies (that's what I get for diving in this late in the game). Now, to be certain this is hardly among my favorites of all time, but there is definitely something about this movie that is undeniably entertaining. It is campy, silly, and fun. It is definitely a low budget gem that is a little off the rails, and something to be savored. Well, that may be a little over stated, but fun movies are fun movies, and for a lazy night this fits the bill.

This 1979 release was one of the first movies to be directed by Joe Dante. If that name seems vaguely familiar, it should because he was also behind such classics as Gremlins, The Howling, Innerspace and The 'burbs. Yes, he delivered some of the best remembered films of the 1980's. He got his start working for super producer Roger Corman. This low budget gem was directed with flair and style, telling a story of genetically modified piranhas, as conceived by writers Richard Robinson (Kingdom of the Spiders) and John Sayles (Alligator, Brother from Another Planet).

Piranha is a direct rip of Jaws. Well, maybe not a direct rip, but you can certainly see where the inspiration came from. I have even seen it said that of all the Jaws rips, this one is Steven Spielberg's favorite (I wonder what he thinks of The Last Shark? We all know Universal isn't a fan).

The movie opens with a couple hiking in the forest and stopping for a swim. It turns out there is something in the water and before long, the two fast become fish food. We pick up the story with Maggie (Heather Menzies), she is out in the forest investigating the disappearance of the couple from the open. She falls in with town outsider, Paul (Bradford Dillman). Why? Because he knows the area and she needs a guide, even if he is not pleased with the notion.

They stumble across an old military facility where the pond is that we saw at the beginning. They find a drain, open it and let the pond drain out. Crazy old scientist pops out of the woodwork all crazed about the pond. It turns out the water was filled with genetically modified piranha. Now they have been set free to head downstream to kids camps and vacation resorts. Can Maggie and Paul find a way to stop them in time? The answer is yes and no, otherwise what fun would this exercise be?

It is a race against time that finds our heroes fighting against unscrupulous military and other obstacles as we learn just how tough these fish can be. Originally designed to help the US in Vietnam, the project was scrapped and this scientist kept some of the little toothy fellows. As you can imagine, the fish get to munch on a bunch of people, with delightfully bloody results.

Piranha is a fun, campy movie that is probably more entertaining than it really should be. Besides the fun concept and the silly fish attack, there is some nice stylistic flashes throughout. Joe Dante does a nice job of showing his young skills. There are some really cool shots strewn throughout. This movie has some style to it that is worth watching for. It also has killer fish. Cool.


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