Lost River Lake was a thriving resort - until they discovered...
Year of Release: 1978
Running Time: 92 minutes (1:32)
Director: Joe Dante
Bradford Dillman ... Paul Grogan
Heather Menzies-Urich ... Maggie McKeown
Kevin McCarthy ... Dr. Robert Hoak
Keenan Wynn ... Jack
Dick Miller ... Buck Gardner
Barbara Steele ... Dr. Mengers
Belinda Balaski ... Betsy
Melody Thomas Scott ... Laura Dickinson
Bruce Gordon ... Colonel Waxman
A school of piranha are heading downstream and eating everything and everyone in their way... just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water! Produced by legendary producer-director Roger Corman, Piranha is the film that helped spawn the careers of Joe Dante(director), Jon Davison (producer), John Sayles (writer), Rob Bottin (special effects), and Chris Walas (effects). Starring Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Bradford Dillman, and Heather Menzies, as well as long time Corman-faves Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, and Paul Bartel.
Piranha. It teaches us about the self destructive nature of greed, the ultimate folly of man playing God and that it's okay to be pushy as long as you're female and slutty. Female. Very important. Nobody likes pushy men. Nobody likes slutty men. And nobody likes pushy manwhores. Go figure. But there's a more pressing issue that concerns me. One that Piranha forces us to analyze. This issue can no longer be ignored. High taxes. Piranha shows us exactly where the money is going when taxes are completely unreasonable. It goes into the development of mutants for diabolical uses. Now you're probably pointing the finger at the Democrats right now, after all, they raise our taxes through the roof to pay for shit we don't want, but not so fast. The Republicans tend to be the more brazen party, the one that gets us into wars, necessary and unnecessary. And deadly mutants can certainly give you the edge on the Field and Stream of battle. So if you ask me, they're both as guilty as O.J. Simpson (both times) and we're pretty much doomed either way we vote. Mutant creation is the one joint venture that both parties can get behind, they make a pretty good one-two punch, don't they? The Democrats raise the revenue an the Republicans draw up the blueprints. Is it any wonder the rest of the world hates us? They don't want our mutants all up in their business, so their only choices are to grin and bear us, or have mutant devastation run roughshod over them. Ever wonder how we're always getting countries to do what we want even when there's no logical reason why they should? This is why. So keep this in mind the next time you're looking over your local ballot measures. For the sake of the rest of the world, vote no. End our bullying of the rest of the world. They have just as much right to be here as we do. No money, no mutants. Cut Uncle Sam off at the kneecaps and make it clear to him. You've HAD IT with these mutants and you're cutting off his allowance this instant. Remember, a vote for tax increases is a vote for mutants and planet wide injustice. You can make a difference.
If that made no sense, it will once you've read the plot summary. If it still doesn't make sense, just go back to reading Youtube comments.
So Piranha starts with your typical American teenagers, living beyond their means, amassing debt, living off the rest of us, never working, basically being dead beats an going where they want, when they want. Fortunately, they wander into a seemingly abandoned Army base where they go over some reasons why they shouldn't hop into the big conspicuous cement pond out in the middle of nowhere, an then hop in anyway. It doesn't take long before an unseen force starts slicing them up into lunchmeat an changing the tint of the water and before you know it, the world is a better place. In the next sequence we've got a P.I. making sure everyone watching realizes that we're paying homage to Jaws with the movie concept, only her boss drags her off the Jaws arcade machine an tells her to get her hiney back on the clock. He's got some juvenile delinquents that owe him money an he wants her to go collect an break their legs so the word gets out that he is not to be crossed. We then move on to a surly drunk that lives so far out in the boonies that Sasquatches sit around the campfire an debate his existence. The drunk is such a crotchety loner that he has to get Grizzly Adams to go to town to buy his booze for em. Then the pushy P.I. broad shows up an starts tellin' him to put his underwear in the hamper an clear all the dead opossums out of his living room or she might not sleep with him later. In the meantime though, she needs him to show her where the two dead beats may have disappeared to, so they get in her Jeep an she drives it like she hates every fiber of it's being until they arrive at the Army base. They poke around there for a little while an screw around with the delicate science stuff until they find a lever that says "never ever pull this under any circumstances." As they're pulling it, Kevin McCarthy jumps out an scares the bejezus out of them an puts the rear naked choke on the drunk to try to stop em from ruining the whole universe, but the pushy broad pulls it anyway. Then a really obnoxious school bell rings an the cement pond and it's contents drains into the nearby river an the pushy broad has to club McCarthy so the drunk's eyes'll stop bulging out of his head an he'll stop doing his impression of a penis.
Then the P.B. (getting tired of typing "pushy broad") an the drunk head down to the cement pond an find some bones conspicuously missing their flesh an start to get suspicious, but they don't have time to finish getting suspicious because Doc McCarthy steals their wheels an makes a sharp turn to see how many times he has to roll it before all the ketchup packets fly out of the glove box. They scrape the doc up out of the seat cover an take em back to the drunk's house so he can cryptically warn them about how real the shit's about to get. Because he has a medical degree, the P.B. an the drunk decide he's cereal an head down river on a home made raft, because while it's never been tested and is potentially deadly, it's a little quicker than walking. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn routine allows plenty of time for the doc to provide some back story on the piranhas. Seems good ole government was trying to make a mutant fish to sic on the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war, only the Vietnamese handed our butts to us a little quicker than scheduled an they never got to use em. But they kept working on them because there's too many belligerent people in the world to ever think there won't be another war an got em pretty well honed down into aquatic garbage disposal units. Meanwhile the piranhas had a rumblie in their tumblies an swam downstream to chow down on Grizzly Adams an a father/son fishing trip. The son is able to get on top of the upturned boat while the piranhas swim around below to the tune of Hungry Eyes, an when the main characters catch up to the rest of the plot the doc jumps in the river to try to rescue the kid in what is without a doubt, one of the stupidest notions anyone has ever had, on any subject. Naturally, the doc gets devoured quicker than a tray of cupcakes at an over-eaters anonymous meeting an the drunk an P.B. rescue the kid an haul the doc's mangled body onto the raft. Only the doc's been munched on pretty good an his corpse has been chumming the water pretty thoroughly.
The piranhas develop a taste for rope at a very inopportune moment an the wooden raft starts getting serious shrinkage from all the cold water an unsexy bites. They make it to the shore just before they have to sleep with the fishes an the drunk runs for the dam like it's 2 minutes to closing time at the liquor store an stops the attendant from opening the spillway just in a nick of time. The attendant somehow knows to call the Army an they send Barbara Steel an some dead weight down to verify the situation. The drunk tries to explain to the dead weight that there's another way around the dam, only the guy won't listen because the drunk has less stripes on his shoulder than he does. Then they throw P.B. an the drunk in the stony lonesome so they can't tell anybody what that tax hike 10 years ago went towards, only the drunk an P.B. escape an head for the summer camp where the drunk's kid is. Too late though, because the piranhas went on Google an got driving directions an found the alternate route to the buffet table an they start puttin' the bite on all the brats until the movie starts sounding like a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese. After contributing approximately 10% as much to the rescue effort as his 6 year old daughter, the drunk pats her on the head an takes off to warn the next stop on the piranhas' "take a bite out of swine" tour, which just happens to be a lake side resort that Dick Miller has just opened up. They call up Dick an tell him to get those pork chops out of the water but Dick says no way cause he's playing the part of the Mayor from Jaws in this movie an he'll be damned if he's gonna miss out on the tourist bucks. Dick's forgetting one important thing though, nobody wants to buy a tee shirt if they're just gonna bleed all over it. Eventually the guests of honor show up at the party an the stage is set for for a lawsuit so big that even Johnnie Cochran couldn't keep Dick out of the electric chair.
Roger Corman's movies started improving by tremendous strides in the 70s. Sure, you'd still consider them B movies, but for those of us with any taste, the B stands for "Better than that crap they're showing in the multiplex right now." By the 70s he was churning out movies that you could actually rate using serious criteria, rather than how many strings you saw holding the special effects together. Piranha is one of Corman's best from where I'm sitting. Nude on a bean bag, for anyone wondering. The effects for the piranhas themselves, well... they look like angry bath toys. None the less, I've certainly seen worse. Much worse. And the make up effects for all the various damage the piranhas inflict look good. They don't focus on the piranhas for too long, which is for the best, to be fair though, consider how difficult it is to make a prosthetic fish for cripes sake. And make it CONVINCING. Giving them a more realistic appearance was probably possible, but when it comes to the movements? There's no way. No way could they have made a prop fish that moved like a fish, in 1978, without a big time budget, if even then. So before we get too critical of the special effects, lets consider what we're asking of 1978 special effects and consider the logistics necessary to make a truly convincing, fake piranha. For that reason, if for no other, I give these special effects a pass. The shooting locations were well scouted and look authentic, in the sense that it's not designed to be out in the deep woods for the most part. The majority of the movie takes place in areas that, while wooded, are intended to be sparsely wooded and not particularly far from civilization. If this was a Friday the 13th movie I'd call these shooting locations terrible, but it's not, so they work out well. The soundtrack is rather unincredible, I didn't find it jiving as well as it might have during the scenes in which they were set. They're not awkwardly out of place, but they seem a bit shoe-horned, like maybe they didn't bother giving the composer a script an just gave em a 3 sentence overview of the movie. It's okay though, if the soundtrack is the worst thing about a movie it's probably still managed to be a success.
Overall, if you were going to sum the movie up in a single sentence, that sentence would be "Roger Corman's homage to Jaws." Which is actually on the back cover of the DVD. Sums it up perfectly. Jaws on a smaller, B movie type scale. The Eco-horror sub-genre has been pretty well brutalized in recent years, nothing more terrifying than a CG octopus made by 2 guys making the federal minimum wage after all, but back in the 70s an 80s there were TONS of these movies. And for the most part, they're generally at least fair, in terms of the production value. They laid down the ground rules for the sub-genre back in the 70s and even though the horrifyingly bad effects prevent anything modern from being taken seriously, those rules are still in effect today. They're simple, and few. The scripts pretty much write themselves. It's tough to screw them up, with the exception of bad effects. Joe Dante, the director, isn't exactly what you'd call a genre director, although he's close to it. He's only done a few, but he hasn't really done that many movies in general, and most importantly, all his horror movies have come out well. I'd like to make that last point abundantly clear. Your movies have to be of sufficient quality before I'll consider you a genre director. Uwe Boll would consider himself a genre director. I'd consider Uwe Boll a crap factory. Important distinction here. You don't get to be in the club until you can prove yourself worthy of entry. So anyway, 15 years ago I'd recommend you check it out the next time it airs on cable, but since these days the networks have entered into a pact to have Law & Order, CSI, NCIS and Grey's Anatomy airing every minute of every day, because nobody, anywhere, ever, wants to see movies, let alone movies that haven't aired in the last decade, that suggestion's out. But there's always Netflix, which does not discriminate by release date. So if rubber fish eating loud mouthed brats appeals to you, rent it, see what you think. Recommended to fans of the Eco-horror sub-genre. With great dialog like; "They're eating the guests, sir", you pretty much can't go wrong.