Saturday, April 23, 2011

Aquatic Killers: Piranha (1978)

Well, I finally got it.  After a long time of waiting, I got my hands on a copy of Piranha, courtesy of Shout! Video's release and Blockbuster's Chapter 11 filing.  Their loss is my gain.  The original 1978 film is all about ripping off Jaws, but it is so much more than that thanks to Joe Dante.  As one of Corman's 'students,' he stepped out of the shadows with this film and followed it up with stuff like The Howling (before the shitty sequels) and Gremlins.  You get a good idea why he has been so successful (well, until Looney Tunes: Back in Action) with this film.  I'll be light in key plot details here, as I would like to encourage the DVD sales.  Hey, don't look at me that way- I can be SPOILER free sometimes!  Put away your 3-D glasses as we prepare to watch the original...
We get a Jaws-style opening as some people are killed by the titular fish.  To the film's credit, this actually is an event that drives the plot!  I'm looking at you, every After Dark Horrorfest film ever!  A woman is sent in to find the pair, but only after taking the time to play the Jaws video game for some sort of home video game system.  Seriously, someone tell me what that thing is (see the last picture)!  She gets a tour of the area by the town drunk just by batting her eyes at him and just being persistent.  They inadvertently release the fish into the lake, which may prove dangerous for the guy's daughter at her camp.  The worst part- the camp is run by Paul Bland!  Okay, it's just Paul Bartel, but that could almost be worse!  The pair are attacked by Kevin McCarthy (R.I.P.), but they fend him off and take him with them.  He tells them what they did, leading the pair to get in a raft.  By the way, that stop-motion piranha with legs- entirely-pointless.
The narrative splits between a couple of the movie's sub-plots.  The camp has its share of moments, including a bit where we almost see some nudity from one of the Counselors before Bartel shows up.  Damn you, Bland!  We also see bits from the nearby resort, which is run by Walter Paisley- I mean, Dick Miller.  It's a common mistake, you know.  We later learn that his resort is funded in part by the General behind the military experiment that created the fish.  Why?  Why not, I guess?  The heroes, meanwhile, go down the river and get attacked by the fish.  They rescue a kid and keep moving, only to run into the General and...Barbara Steele.  That's random, but okay.
Our heroes are captured by the military in order to keep them from talking.  They escape with relative ease, however, in a scene that's a bit anti-climactic.  They knock out one guard and are driving away- wow.  The fish run afoul at the Camp, a scene that surprised me quite a bit.  In the remake, the victims had to all be teenagers or young adults.  The hero's daughter manages to escape as the two leads try to get to the resort in time.  Unfortunately, the fish manage to take out a good chunk of the people there.  They even attack people doing a water show, a scene that would later be used in Jaws 3-D.  Our hero comes up with a really bizarre and dangerous plan to take out the fish.  Not surprisingly, this works, although he's a bit worse for wear.  Of course, the fish survived to star in Piranha II: The Spawning, as well as the 1995 remake and the one from last year.  Pesky fish.  The End.
Those fish be crazy!  The plot of this movie is nice and simple.  Unlike Razortooth, the sub-plots feel more natural as they congeal with the rest of the story well.  They aren't just there to take up time.  The acting is not the film's biggest selling point, although a lot of it is good.  Many of the actors- including McCarthy, Keenan Wynn and Miller- take this very seriously, as opposed to playing this for laughs.  It's the right approach, quite frankly.  When you try to make me laugh so overtly in a horror film, you take me out of the whole thing.  That said, the film has some humor in it.  It is a Joe Dante film, after all.  I love the bit where our heroine tries to distract the guard at the camp by saying 'Look- it's Superman' and then flashes him too.  Which one were you trying?!?  Seriously though, this is a fun film and I'm glad to see it get a nice, fancy DVD release.  Let's see if we can get that with some other Joe Dante films in the future.  Take us away, Jaws video game console...
Next up, I celebrate a religious holiday that has become all about rabbits and candy.  Don't worry- I found another killer rabbit film to review.  Stay tuned...

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