Monday, July 14, 2014

Piranha (1978) Review:

With all the films that are released on video that try to ride the coat tales of other popular entries in film, people forget that early on there really was only one man who did that. That man was Roger Corman, a producer who worked at creating cheap films that entertained viewers no matter what the material. Then there's Joe Dante, a director who hasn't worked with many theatrical released films, but the ones he has made have faithful followings. Dante is another filmmaker that enjoys taking ideas from popular films and turning it on its head. The thing is, Dante at least does it with a non-subtlety attitude and style. Seriously, looking at the poster alone tells you that Dante and Corman were borrowing the concept from Steven Speilberg's Jaws (1975).

Flimsy back-story but still dangerous
For the most part, the film is watchable but there are various elements that don't work. One of those elements is John Sayles' writing. It works well at building tension in how the story plays out, but the dialog and back-story to why the piranhas are in a local resort feel flimsy. Turns out, a school of piranhas were genetically enhanced to help win the Vietnam war. So in other words radio activity is the problem. It's understood that this comes from a time where it was prevalent but now it no longer is plausible. Using radioactivity as a plot device for a sea creature is no longer usable. It has been exploited since the early 50s era films. Not many of the actors that take part feel like they are that of something new either.

Bradford Dillman as a divorced drunk father of one daughter is possibly the most interesting of the bunch. And this guy was the only one to ask to have his character have more depth. So you can imagine what the rest of the characters are like. Next is Heather Menzies-Urich who plays a missing persons detective, who also looks to find the truth behind the piranha epidemic. She also becomes Dillman's love interest - without little explanation. Okayyyy,...see what I mean on character depth? Some of the dialog is silly to hear at times too. Unfortunately, these things are big parts to the film that weigh it down because they are essential to telling a good story. Thankfully, there are a enough good parts to help make it somewhat enjoyable. For example, Dick Miller has a role. And who doesn't like Dick Miller?

Mr. Miller how are you?
For one, the practical effects are quite convincing to say the least. Phil Tippett's ability to make the piranhas themselves, the gore and blood look authentic is important. I mean, even if the cast isn't the most convincing, the plot device should at least. I do question one scene however. There's a scene where stop motion animation is used and it looked great but it never served a purpose. What was the point? Kudos to using the technique but thumbs down for not giving it meaning. Jaime Anderson's cinematography is good specifically for the underwater scenes. Surely that wasn't the easiest thing to do. The editing by Joe Dante and Mark Goldblatt was competently done too. Specifically for keeping the illusion of the Piranhas looking like actual fish and not puppets. Lastly, Pino Donaggio's music was ok. It wasn’t great but at least had a theme specifically for the piranhas. That at least is recognizable. It’s watchable but not all that exciting at times.

It has good practical effects and a borrowed concept from Jaws (1975) that only can be considered flattering. However, its story and majority of its characters aren't all that different from other characters in other films.

Points Earned --> 6:10


  1. Cheesy films from Roger Corman have such a special place in my heart. There are so great to put on when you hang out with friends and just want to laugh the night away.

  2. I agree. but what did you think of The Wild Angels (1966)?