03 April 2010


1978 was a good year for horror films. Dawn Of The Dead, Halloween and The Amityville Horror all terrified entire audiences at a time. Jaws 2 was threatening to be nearly as good as the original, and The Swarm was bravely unsuccessful attempt to continue the mutated-animals-gone-mad theme. In amongst all this was Piranha.

Later, its director, Joe Dante would move on to The Howling, Gremlins, Innerspace and Small Soldiers. For now, then, it would be charitable to put Piranha down to inexperience. Piranha must, one feels, be the woeful evidence of a sharp learning curve. It's entertaining, in a way, but mainly because of its inedequacies.

A distinct lack of originality mars the film from the very beginning. Clearly taking a leaf from Jaws' script, a couple of teenagers ignore all common sense and gleefully strip off before plunging into the dark and ominous stretches of a mysterious, fenced-off pool. An entire troop of cellists immediately begin to play an appropriately dirgeful score, whilst the young chap complains bitterly about being a bit bitten. However, ignoring both the unusual nibbling and the sudden orchestral interest, the two bravely plunge on for the centre of the pool whereupon they are unceremoniously devoured. None of the cellists help, incidentally, choosing instead to perform a rousing chorus of appropriately spooky music.

This dodgy beginning quickly leads on to a dodgy middle and, eventually, a rather dodgy end which carefully leaves the way open for James Cameron's tacky sequel - yes, he's another director who has benefited from the sharp learning curve of early mutant animal horror. Within the dodgy middle portion we discover the usual stuff - secret government experiment, accidental release into large river, that kind of thing. Oh, and the large river just happens to be full of kids. And people on boats. Stupid people on boats, come to think of it, who can't seem to withdraw a limb from the water once they've realised that something's not quite right. It's the foaming and the bright red 'blood' that tips them off, albeit a little slowly.

There is only one conclusion. It's parody. It has to be. Writer John Sayles, sitting down to his first screenplay ever, must have decided to take a piranha-sized bite at Jaws and produce the perfect parody. But if it is parody, then deadpan simply doesn't describe it. There is no hint of intentional humour, no tiny glimpse of sarcasm at work. The whole film, from beginning to end is a non-stop rollercoaster of really bad horror, littered with cliche and stock characters, however entertaining it turns out to be. And it is entertaining, in its own way. Desperate for 94 minutes of fun? Then rent it, but don't buy...

Piranha was originally released in 1978, starring Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies and Kevin McCarthy. The most notable of these is McCarthy, who starred in the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Originally, Eric Braeden was cast in Dillman's part, and though he pulled out to pursue an alternate project, some of the swimming footage still shows Braeden.

No comments:

Post a Comment