Friday, 9 January 2015

Piranha (1978)

Long before The Asylum mocked their first buster, we had cheapie knock-offs of bigger-budget films.  And whenever there was a sniff of money to be made from low budget film making, there was a good chance you'd find Roger Corman's name involved.

Released in the same year as Jaws II, this is pretty much as blatant a cash-in on Spielberg's monster hit as Universal's sequel was.  It's a better film than Jaws 2, though.  Even Spielberg himself has called Piranha "the best of the Jaws rip-offs".

We start with a couple of teenagers hiking through some woods.  Finding an apparently deserted facility, they sneak inside in hopes of finding a place to stay the night.  Instead, they find a couple of large reservoirs, which inevitably leads to skinny dipping.

And if you can't work out what happens to them with the information on hand, then I worry for your ability to dress yourself.

A few weeks later, an investigator from the big city hires a grumpy local to lead her up the mountain in search of the missing kids.  They also illegally enter the facility, and find signs that the kids were there.  The investigator decides to turn on the pumps and empty the pools to see if the youngsters drowned and - though of course she doesn't know it at the time - she releases thousands of mutant piranha into the local river.

Mutant piranha?  Oh yeah, these aren't your normal everyday tropical fish.  They've been genetically altered and bred by the army to be tolerant of cold water.  Why?  Well, the plan was to release them into the rivers of northern Vietnam, but "the war ended".

Unfortunately for the investigator and her companion, they won't learn any of this until they are already on a raft in the middle of the river.  Oops.

Anyway, the race is now on to warn people downstream of the impending danger.  Which is a problem that will of course be compounded by the self-interest of certain other parties, much as Sheriff Brody's efforts to close the beaches in Jaws were thwarted by the mayor.

It's not subtle about being a knock-off, this.

I like Piranha.  It's not without flaws: it's obviously a pretty cheap film, with patchy acting quality and even patchier effects.  And it has a tendency to insert moments of near-slapstick in between the more tense scenes, which makes for some odd tonal shifts.  But the tense scenes are tense, and the film is much more successful than most at making you feel like any of the cast could die.

It won't be to all tastes, but if you think Jaws would be improved if it had a much higher body count and occasional forays into silliness like a stop-motion fish-puppy-thing, then boy do I have a movie for you!

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