Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Piranha (1978)

Directed by Joe Dante.
Rated R, 92 minutes.
Heather Menzies-Urich
Bradford Dillman
Dick Miller
Kevin McCarthy
Keenan Wynn
Barbara Steele
Melody Thomas
Scott Bruce Gordon
Barry Brown

Maggie (Menzies-Urich) has been sent to find a missing couple. She locates the abandoned military test site where we know they stopped to take a dip in a pool filled with some murky water. Along with Paul (Dillman), the local she’s recruited, they drain the pool to see if our lovebirds have drowned. This sounds like a good idea except mad scientist guy who still works there all by himself informs them they’ve just let a school of genetically mutated piranha out into the surrounding rivers and lakes. Oops. Our heroes trying to make their way over to the very busy summer camp ensues. After all, the kids can’t come back next year if they get eaten.

The Steven Spielberg classic Jaws truly terrified the nation as has been extremely well documented. Like any other film that captures the imagination of an entire country it inspired plenty of knockoffs. The problem with knockoffs is they’re never as good as the genuine article. It usually isn’t even close. Sure that watch you bought from that guy behind the restaurant next to the dumpster looks like a Rolex, but the craftsmanship is obviously inferior. Piranha is that watch.

Everything about this movie is beyond cheesy. Its bad dialogue delivered by bad actors. Its one horror cliché after another. Worst of all, its bad special fx coupled with irritating sound fx. I vaguely remember seeing at least parts of this way back in the day, so I was somewhat prepared going into this viewing. However, I was hoping for enjoyably bad. Instead, I got an annoyingly bad flick with both too little and too much of its monsters, simultaneously. I say too little because the scenes between their attacks are brutal to sit through. Their tone is never quite right. At some points, it’s obviously going for humor. More of this might’ve propelled it into the “so bad its awesome” stratosphere but it doesn’t quite do that. The rest of the time its trying to be a serious horror movie. It tries to build dread through the creation of tension, but fails miserably. Some of the blame for that falls back on us getting too much of the piranhas. There are way too many shots of them supposedly devouring people. They hardly look like man-eating fish and don’t seem to move like fish at all. They still could’ve worked if the filmmakers kept the tongue-in-cheek going all the way through, a la Snakes on a Plane. In that movie, horribly rendered cgi snakes were a perfect fit for what we were watching. Here, poor models add to our disdain.

Eventually, we get to a finale. Thankfully, its filled with piranha attacks, screaming and bloody water. It’s a little surprising who gets attacked at this point just because this particular group is usually not explicitly attacked on screen. It’s a little distasteful but still the most exciting part of the movie. Though we morbidly enjoy this portion of the film, its hardly enough to save it. Its just another copy not quite as sharp as the original. It’s yet another Faux-lex watch.

MY SCORE: 4/10

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