Piranha (1978) AND Piranha II: The Spawning

Two for Tuesday brought us to night 22 of our 31 nights of horror. There have been so many Jaws imitators, I could probably do a whole month reviewing just them and still not run out, but last night I watched one of the most famous and its sequel.

Roger Corman is the king of B movies, and Joe Dante has directed some of my favorite stories (The Howling, Gremlins, Explorers, InnerSpace, The ‘Burbs), but I had no idea either of them were involved in this film.

Wikipedia says this is a parody of Jaws, and I can see why people would think that, I mean, fish with sharp teeth kill people in both of them, but after watching the movie, it seemed more like it was inspired by Jaws. There are only a few similarities and the main themes of the movies are different too. Jaws is about business and politicians putting profits before peoples safety, and Piranha is science used wrong and that we can’t trust the military-industrial complex.

I was surprised by how well made this movie is. The script is pretty solid, with things happening for reasons that make sense, and people acting true to the characters. The movie looks good and is well acted, there is suspense if not real fear and is, over all, a lot of fun. I was surprised that I liked it, mostly because I thought is was going to be something really campy and ridiculous, but it isn’t It makes me want to search out more Corman movies (there are a LOT, so I’m spoiled for choice.)

The sequel however…

I think we can all agree that James Cameron is an incredible filmmaker, but his first credited feature… we should do what he does and pretend it didn’t happen.

Unlike the first Piranha, the sequel really DOES follow a formula similar to Jaws. People die, someone sounds the alarm and is ignored because of money, bitey fish kill people until they get blown up. Seriously, they even make one of the main characters the local law enforcement, it’s like a re-creation of Jaws, with mini sharks… that fly.

Yes, I said fly. The killer fish are again genetically engineered, but these ones can fly and live out of water. It’s a stupid premise, and really unnecessary, since some of the most frightening scenes in the movie are with the divers trying to avoid the fish underwater. Especially with the out of water death scenes looking exactly like people being poked with rubber fish. If it had been played for laughs like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Killer Klowns from Outer Space, it could work, but the movie tries real hard to be a serious thriller.

I don’t blame Cameron though, he was not the originally planned director, didn’t write the story, and was fired after only two and a half weeks of filming. Apparently his name was only used for the credits, because contractually they needed an American. Which is something that didn’t make sense to me. The original performed well in the theatre, making over 14 million dollars on a sub 1 million budget, but the sequel was an Italian/Dutch production made for only a tiny fraction of what it cost for the first. I don’t understand why New World Cinema was not directly involved in the production.

In spite of everything, you can see glimpses of later James Cameron in the movie. The dynamic between Tricia O’Neil and Lance Henriksens characters mirrors that of Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss. While he may have only been involved in the actual filming for a short while, the underwater shots at the end remind me strongly of the submarine scenes in The Abyss as well.

So, I know I loved other Joe Dante and James Cameron movies, and I like the first Piranha, but not the second. So I’m going to blame Ovidio G. Assonitis and go find another Roger Corman movie to watch.

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