I was in grade school the first time I saw Piranha (1978, 92 minutes) on television. For months, I just knew the little buggers would come up the bath tub drain and nibble my toes off. In 1978, it arrived on the heels of Jaws II and was an unapologetic ripoff of the original (and Jaws was a throwback to the '50s classic Creature from the Black Lagoon). Now, 20 years after its initial release, we have an extraordinary new DVD from the folks at New Horizons Home Video.
The movie: This young couple is hiking through the woods when they happen upon an abandoned facility with a great big swimming pool, so they decide to strip nekkid and go for a dip. Turns out there's something fishy in the water and they get eaten alive. Then some stuff happens and we find out there were mean-ass piranha in the pool, and oops, they're now high-tailing downstream toward a lake resort, but figure they'll stop for a snack at a summer camp. Along the way these suckers chew up a bunch of folks, including this old dude who gets the skin stripped from his legs. The wildest part about this flick is that they really had the piranha EAT LITTLE KIDS!!! These days, they'd have to save them just in time. Heck, may even against the law to show violence toward children in movies, but I could just be making that part up. Anyway, so you've got little Timmy and Sally, screaming their little guts out (literally) and we're not even to the final reel yet. Downstream, the piranhas start the chewing all over again, this time with adults mixed in. Oh, I forgot to tell you there was this lady and another guy who are trying to save everybody and they have to listen to a crazy scientist rattle on about "Operation Razor Teeth" and the North Vietnamese, or something. Don't worry, he gets chewed on pretty good also. I don't want to give away the ending, so get the movie and see for yourself.
Notables: Six breasts. More than 20 corpses. Nipple ripping. Piranha to the ear. Exploding boat. Gratuitous fat guy. Camp counselors in hot pants. Piranha to the face. De-pants Texas Ranger. Toilet lid to the head. Jeep crash with rollover. Feet devouring. Arm eating. Disappearing Huck Finn raft. Rotenone-235 poisoning. Sleeping bag to the head. Police chase.
Quotables: Cheers to Janie Squire as Barbara who says, "Let's get wet!" while stripping off her clothes ... to Paul Bartel as Camp Counselor Dumont who snaps at a frightened little girl, "People eat fish! Fish don't eat people!" ... to Bradford Dillman as Paul Grogan for saying to his leading lady, "Come on! I'd have sworn you could get a man's pants off quicker than that!" and "We'll POLLUTE the bastards to death!" ... the great Barbara Steele as Dr. Mengers who declares, "I'm not afraid. I'm a scientist." ... and the best of them all, the crooked real estate fella's squirrely assistant who says, "The piranha -- they're EATING the guests, sir."
Timecodes: Phil Tippett's amusing stop-motion creature (16:45). Kids sing crazy camp song (26:00). Newspaper headlines, "Dogs tear up newborn baby," "Big rattler bites teen," "Shotgun killer invades home" (50:45). Scene from The Monster that Challenged the World shown on TV (54:00). Fat guy sets up lounge chair and falls on his ass, spilling his beer (1:13:25). Coed reads "Moby Dick" on beach (1:19:20).
Audio/Video: The DVD features all new digitally remastered sound and picture. In the print material, director Joe Dante says the movie was filmed in "full frame" ratio, meaning the entire image fits the screen without the need for panning and scanning. However, the main titles are widescreen (1.85:1) and Dante wonders aloud on the commentary track why they are. Regardless, the print is outstanding.
Extras: Lots of fun stuff. Foremost is the commentary by director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison. The interactive menus are amusing, as 3D-modeled piranha attack you with every screen change. Ten minute "Making Of ... " reel. Seven minute blooper reel. Cast biographies. Original theatrical trailer. Scene index. Two print booklets: one is a reproduction of the Theatrical Marketing Guide (pretty cool); and an 8-page "History of Roger Corman."
Final thought: Definately in my Top 10. It's great to see a true classic digitally preserved. Collectors Series.
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.