It’s fair to say that Piranha, Roger Corman’s love letter to (read: rip off of) Jaws is not a film that was made with Hi-Def in mind. The cult classic, re-released last week on Blu-Ray, hasn’t aged all that well, but is still a fun campy ride.
The movie starts, like so many others, with a pair of skinny dipping teens. Rather than swimming in the waters of ‘Lost River Lake’, they opt for something more adventurous, breaking into a dilapidated military research centre. Ultimately, they’re dragged below the surface of the centre’s pool. But, just what was it that lurks there? Spoiler: Piranhas.
Weeks later, Maggie (Heather Menzies) a missing persons investigator, turns up at the Lake in search of the teens. She enlists the help of local alcoholic loner/genre cliche Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) and they set off towards the military centre. While looking for clues, Maggie decides to drain the pool. The two things she doesn’t know are a) the pool drains into the Lake and b) it’s full of weaponised carnivorous fish.
What follows is Maggie and Paul’s race against time to warn the river-folk of the incoming threat. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Lost River Lake (which include a kids summer camp and a holiday resort, natch) they always seem to turn up about 5 minutes late.
You have to assume that this is so that director Joe Dante can pack in as much carnage as possible. Where as Jaws’ killer fish managed to get his… jaws around maybe three or four hapless victims, these little bastards attack en-masse and without prejudice, going after helpless kiddywinks and water-skiing beefcakes with the demented fervour of, well, military-grade piranhas.
To modern eyes, the more violent parts of Piranha feel positively restrained compared to up-to-date creature features, including 2010′s ludicrously gory Piranha 3D. The fish puppets themselves are a little shonky (to say the least), but in many ways look better than their newer CGI cousins.
Performances all round are solid, although it feels like everyone’s taking things a little too seriously, such as recognisable Scream Queen Barbara Steele, who pops up as a marine scientist.
The Blu Ray comes packed with a decent raft of extras for anyone interested in the Making Of. Ultimately Piranha doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the toothy film it’s trying to emulate. It’s still good schlocky fun though, just not a film that will gnaw it’s way into many people’s top 50 lists.