EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|PIRANHA (director: Joe Dante; screenwriters: story by John Sayles and Richard Robinson/John Sayles; cinematographer: Jamie Anderson; editors: Mark Goldblatt/Joe Dante; music: Pino Donaggio; cast: Bradford Dillman (Paul Grogan), Heather Menzies (Maggie McKeown), Kevin McCarthy (Dr Robert Hoak), Keenan Wynn (Jack), Dick Miller (Buck Gardner), Barbara Steele (Dr. Florence Mengers), Shannon Collins (Suzie Grogan), Belinda Balaski (Betsy), Richard Deacon (Earl Lyon), Bruce Gordon (Colonel Waxman), Paul Bartel (Dumont), Melody Thomas (Laura Dickinson), Barry Brown (Trooper), Janie Squire (Barbara), Roger Richman (David), Bruce Barbour (Man in Canoe); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jon Davison/Chako Van Leeuwen; New World Video; 1978)|
|"It's played more for laughs and digs at
America's war policy than for scares."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The usually interesting filmmaker Joe Dante ("Gremlins"/"The Howling"/"Innerspace") directs this gleeful and campy Jaws (1975) knockoff. The executive producer is Roger Corman. The crowd-pleasing fun film became a cult classic. It's played more for laughs and digs at America's war policy than for scares. Be warned, there's some gratuitous random breast shots. It's based on a story by John Sayles and Richard Robinson, with Sayles writing the clever screenplay that takes some shots at America's lunatic Vietnam War and at greedy civilians and at delusional scientists who sign onto doing research for the military by selling their soul.
investigator Maggie McKeown (Heather
Menzies) tracks missing persons. The city tracker is
searching in Texas for missing hikers Barbara (Janie Squire) and David
(Roger Richman) in the secluded mountain area of Lost River Lake. The
feisty gal sleuth, with the shiny new hillbilly jeans, gets help from
reluctant local grumpy slacker boozer Paul Grogan (Bradford
Dillman), who is still haunted by his divorce and that his
daughter Suzie (Shannon Collins)
lives with mom. The search takes them to a closed secret army
test-site, where they discover the missing teen's backpacks by the pool
where the love birds went skinny-dipping for the last time in their
life. Thinking their undiscovered bodies might be in the murky pond on
the base, Maggie drains it without
thinking. Dr. Robert
Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) suddenly
appears to stop her, but gets knocked dizzy as she hits him over the
head with a blunt object. When the unhinged scientist comes to, he
tells her she did bad--that he's a scientist who illegally stayed on
after the plug was pulled on the covert "Operation Razorteeth," where he developed genetically mutant
piranhas for biological warfare to destroy the North Vietnam water
systems so its food supply would be cut off and thereby America could
win the war. Unfortunately for
mad scientist Hoak, the war's end terminated the project before he
could finish his experiments converting the killer fish to live in both
salt and fresh water.
The release from the pond of
the man-eating piranha downstream causes a major bloodbath, as
old-timer Jack (Keenan Wynn) gets eaten, a fisherman (Bruce Barbour) in a canoe with his son becomes chum,
campers (where Grogan's daughter attends) are eaten en masse while
paddling around in inner tubes in the infested water and the new posh
resort finds most of its well-heeled guests becoming food for the
In amusing supporting roles Dick
Miller plays the greedy cowboy garbed slimeball chiseling owner of the
posh new resort, Belinda Balaski as the nice camp counselor who
nevertheless becomes chum, the iconic Bava starlet Barbara Steele sinks
her teeth into being the frosty government scientist who has no problem
lying for the military and pronouncing the titular fish as
“piraneeya,” Bruce Gordon as the oily colonel who is more interested in
covering the operation up than in saving lives, and the zany
disciplinarian head counselor played by Paul Bartel who assuredly tells
the scared campers "People eat fish,
fish don't eat people."
It's loaded with in-jokes,
exploitative shock scenes and a high body count of stiffs covered with
red dye. I enjoyed it more than I did Jaws, as it has fresher dialogue
and luckily we only get blurred looks at the low-tech genetically
created piranha because they just weren't designed that great.
In this pic, the scientists refuse
to take responsibility for creating the killers; the military is only
interested to cover up from the public their responsibility in the mess
and are not concerned that their actions cost
innocent lives; while the wormy politicians who created the situation,
walk away scott free to work their evil again on other generations. Not
that many fun-loving campy horror pics about killer fish leave you with
that much chum to fish with.
REVIEWED ON 8/23/2010 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ