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Piranha (1978)

DVD Cover (Scream Factory)
Movie Connections:
Piranha
> Piranha (1978)
> Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1982)
> Piranha (1995)
> Piranha (2010)
> Piranha 3DD (2012)
> This Isn't Piranha 3DD... It's A... (2012)
Genres / Traits:
Horror, Natural Horror, Fish
Director:
Joe Dante Joe Dante
Starring:
Bradford Dillman Bradford Dillman
Heather Menzies-Urich Heather Menzies-Urich
Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy
Keenan Wynn Keenan Wynn
Dick Miller Dick Miller

5.4 / 10 - Overall Rating

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When flesh-eating piranhas are accidentally released into a summer resort's rivers, the guests become their next meal. --IMDb
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Review by Chad
Added: February 19, 2009
Let's take a trip back to the mid-seventies, shall we? A little film about a big shark was eating up the box office and taking in record amounts of cash, and as anyone experienced in the world of horror knows, imitators would soon follow. However, how do you use the momentum of a movie dealing with a giant shark without, you know, using a giant shark of your own? Killer squid? Bass? Crabs? There's really not a whole lot of aquatic life that is scary aside from the great white, and any low budget filmmaker would be hard-pressed to top Jaws with a direct copy. So, what do you do to capitalize on that film without using a shark? Why, you change things up so that there's not just one giant threat, but instead, hundreds of tiny ones: hundreds of razor-toothed piranhas, to be exact.

If you've seen Jaws or any of the other "man versus nature" releases, you already know how this one plays out. It all begins with a couple of kids hiking through the woods, where they come across an abandoned military base with a huge "No Trespassing" sign prominently displayed over its chained gates. This being a horror flick and all, they ignore the sign and and enter the site, where they encounter what appears to be a gigantic swimming pool. What do all fresh-faced teens do when they encounter a body of water in a horror movie? They peel off their clothes and jump in for some skinny-dipping under the moonlight, that's what. Unfortunately, they discover a little too late that this was not a swimming pool as originally imagined: it was a holding tank for the genetically-engineered piranha that the army developed for to use during wartime, and being the hungry little bastards that these fish are, it doesn't take long before our teen lovers are reduced to a few strips of cloth and a whole lot of bones.

Moving ahead in time by a few weeks, we meet up with Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies), a private investigator who has been hired to find those two missing persons. Her searches lead her out to the boonies, where she meets Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman), a mountain man who just so happens to live not far from that military base. The two decide to work together after a little persuasion on the part of Maggie, and they eventually wind up at the military site. After finding evidence that the two were indeed there in the not too distant past, Maggie decides to drain the pool to see if they somehow managed to drown in it. A crazy old scientist (Kevin McCarthy) comes out of nowhere to stop them, but it's too late: the pool has been drained, and all of its contents have been flushed out into the nearby river... the river that runs right through a nearby summer camp, and the same river that is the main attraction of a recently-opened Aquarena. Whoops. Our heroes quickly realize that they must warn both the summer camp and the resort about the little problem that is heading their way, but naturally, nobody believes them even after mauled bodies start turning up left and right.

Folks, I'm not going to lie: Piranha is a bad movie. With that said though, it's also one hell of a fun movie, and even though you could run down the list of what makes a good movie and come up just about empty with this little number, I dare any horror geek to watch it and not come away satisfied. It features hammy acting, mediocre special effects, an implausible storyline, and yes, it even serves us one of those "A sequel is already in the works!" endings that leaves us with little closure for the film that we just sat through. However, it also features a pair of heroes who are likable enough to keep us interested, and with Roger Corman aboard, I shouldn't even have to tell you that it delivers all of the staples of a "so bad it's great" b-movie. Plenty of blood? Check. Explosions? Indeed. High-speed car chases? Yes sir. Plenty of boobies and scantily-clad women? You know it.

Piranha is one of my guilty pleasure movies, and I'm not afraid to admit it. This is one of those films that wouldn't cut the mustard with any "legit" film critic even if they were to ignore the blatant ripoff of Jaws, but for someone like me who just wants to pop in a movie and have a good time with it, it delivers in spades. The storyline is completely implausible in the real world but makes perfect sense after you check your brain at the door, and even though it does slow down a bit towards the middle, there's very few dull moments to be found from start to finish. Throw in gore effects that range from "perfectly acceptable" to "downright great" and spice it up with plenty of references to other horror classics and you've got yourself a film that will win over most horror fans who have made the unfortunate mistake of skipping this one.

Overall, there's not much more than I can say about this one. Do you want a horror classic in the strictest sense of the word? Skip this one if so, but if you're in the market for a movie that will deliver ninety minutes of sleazy fun alongside all of the staples of any self-respecting horror flick ("blood, boobs, and beasts" as our good friend Joe Bob Briggs said), few releases will top this one. 8/10.
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