If one named Twilight Zone: The Movie (1980), The Howling (1981), and Piranha to many of the hardcore horror elites and fans, they likely beam a fun grin, when asked what they have in common, some stating cool b-movies, then throw in Gremlins (1984) and overwhelmingly retort with Joe Dante. Yes! That man has created some delicious wickedly fun movies over the years, and his first in the horror genre comes Piranha; I should state that he did a thriller-comedy entitled Hollywood Boulevard (1976) prior to this production. However he was aided by the wonderful screenwriter talents of Richard Robinson (Kingdom of Spiders ) and the first from John Sayles who many known for his other b-movie projects Alligator (1980) and The Howling (1981) who often sprinkles some cheesy but amusing dialogue into the mix. Then assisted by one of the industry’s most successful executive producers Roger Corman, and then founded New World Pictures, which distributed the film to the masses in 1978.
A few interesting tidbits, first Universal Studios had originally initiated the motion to sue New World for spoofing the conceptual design of Jaws (1975), which in my humble opinion don’t quite see how that works, yes the characters might seem similar if looked through a funhouse mirror while drunk, but then the argument seems weak. Nevertheless, when Steven Spielberg saw an advance screening, he loved it and the lawsuit became moot and Universal dropped the issue. Next, in the 1970s man versus nature was a huge rage in the horror genre market, from Grizzly (1976) to Day of the Animals (1977) and even Long Weekend (1978), it was a saturation onto the fans, this time no different and Corman placed his signature maneuver nothing was/is taboo or forbidden, hence the placing of children into peril, something previous down by other filmmakers including the Oliver Hellman’s Tentacles (1977). The movie itself has proven to have a long lasting footing in the genre, a sequel emerges in name association only called Piranha II: The Spawning (1981), which was the directorial debut of James Cameron, and then later remade as television movie Piranha (1995). By 2010, director Alexandre Aja released another remake, Piranha 3D this time a tad more enjoyable, with carnage candy and it spawned a remake in 2012 called Piranha 3DD . Wow, talk about the influence of one film’s impact on so many careers and trek munching through the genre.
Young lovers David and Barbara backpackers take it upon themselves to climb through a hole in the fence and skinny dip in the blackened depths of an abandoned military base’s pool and swiftly become the entrée by the titled creatures. These ferocious predators had been adopted to high survival situation and increase sensory/intelligence levels; they have the ability to devour a cow in mere minutes. Shortly afterwards an insurance investigator Maggie (Heather Menzies (Sssssss ), though some might recall her from The Sound of Music film) and her drunken sidekick Paul (Bradford Dillman (Moon of the Wolf )) venture to this same base, investigate a laboratory and see a sea creature reminiscent of that later found in The Gate (1987), but they venture down to that same pool which released the water into a nearby the river. Soon enough a mad-Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers )) makes a shocking appearance giving the backstory of his pool and experiments, there the movie starts an upswing in tempo, with the piranha heading downstream nibbling on drunken fun loving fisherman named Jack (Keenan Wynn (The Devil’s Rain )) . Our heroes try to evade the authorities both police and military, as they try to stop them and in water threats. This enters genre favorites Barbara Steele (Shivers ) as Dr. Mengers who knowingly breaks the fourth-wall of acting in special scene (Look For It!) and a subplot involving Dick Miller (Chopping Mall ), as Buck Gardner. Paul hurries to rescue his daughter Suzie at a summer camp on the same river, this is a busy and popular river, that contains a cheap version of a Lost River Lake Resort run by Buck and serving as a smorgasbord. Yummy!
There are a number of other factors that make this a cut above the average B-grade fodder, including a wonderful cast that includes the ever talented Dick Miller and also wonderful professionals Dante and Corman, and who sadly passed on in 2019 noted on the Remembrance of the Dead pages of The Horror Times. In addition, there’s plenty of the cast that Dante would have in roles in his future production including Belinda Balaski (Betsy) who had one the tasty conclusion to her character in this flick.
The movie clearly contains a proper plot, well-thought out and yet held to Roger Corman’s rules for a b-movie, blood, boobs, and some cheesy dialogue all proves to go a long way in the film. Of course the cast helps, but also those behind the camera prove their contribution first the makeup artist Rob Bottin who has worked on countless projects such as The Fog (1980) and Robocop (1987) and visual effects by Phil Tippett (Starship Troopers ), then add in the music from the legendary Pino Donaggio (Body Double  and Dressed to Kill ) creating an orchestral score for the movie, hence giving a truly intense scene raising the overall production much higher for the critics and audiences. Lastly, if curious how the sound effects were created for the piranha swarming attacks and munching feasts come the nerve racking dentist drills.
The movie, stands well over the passage of years, and it’s a true nature horror film, more than merely wildlife running amok environmental horror, as the species herein is enhanced for military conquest. However, that stated it can fit into your 50th-anniversary for Earth Day being celebrated here in 2020, or whenever anyone suggests going on a summer camp adventure, if Friday the 13th (1980) does scare you, and Summer Camp Nightmare (1987) seems unheard-of then perhaps this might give some incentives to stay away. It definitely delivers the gore, bloodshed, panic and fear when you wonder what lies under the murky depths and maybe how your tax-dollars find them spent for genetic modifications in the name of national security.
- A hideous death lurked unseen in the river…
- They came downriver in their thousands. Their teeth could strip a living man to the bone in seconds.
- Lost River Lake was a thriving resort – until they discovered…
- They’re here…Hungry for flesh! Who can stop them?
- There’s something in the water at Lost River Lake. Something you can’t see…something you can’t feel…until it’s too late!
- .. you were shocked by the great white shark – Now… you are at the mercy of 1000 jaws!
IMDb Rating: 5.9/10
Baron’s Rating: 6.0/10