PIRANHA. 1978. PRODUCED BY ROGER CORMAN. DIRECTED BY JOE DANTE. STARRING BRADFORD DILLMAN, HEATHER MENZIES, KEENAN WYNN, DICK MILLER, KEVIN MCCARTHY AND BARBARA STEELE. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is a brilliant B-movie inspired by Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster, JAWS, which is regarded by many, myself included, to be one of the greatest films of all time. This film is JAWS on a smaller scale, or at least with smaller predators.
They’re no less deadly, though, for being smaller. In fact, they are razor-teethed little blighters, if you’ll excuse my French, and if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself in their sights, you’ll be stripped down to your skeleton in no time.
This film has in it two of the dumbest teens I’ve ever come across in a horror film, and there are many, many dumb teens in the world of horror movies. Just look at those not-so-bright sparks over at Camp Crystal Lake. These two brainiacs take the biscuit, though.
They wander into an apparently abandoned military installation and decide to go for a naked swim in a darkened pool that could contain literally anything, for all they know. Sewage, acid, radio-active waste, anything. What the pool does contain is a load of piranha fish. Within minutes, all that’s left of the dopey teens is their skeletonized remains. Well, it’s hard not to think that they had that coming…
It turns out that the piranhas are leftovers from an old Vietnam War project, Operation Razorteeth. The piranhas, a particularly vicious strain, were meant to be used as a weapon against the Viet Cong. Now, however, they’re swimming freely in Lost River Lake and it’s up to just two people to stop them from attacking a summer camp full of kiddie swimmers and a water park chock-a-block with ordinary people just enjoying the sun.
Who are these two people? There’s slightly dotty insurance investigator Maggie McKeown, who’s accidentally responsible for releasing the piranha into the wild in the first place, and dishevelled, mildly dysfunctional and heavy-drinking local, Paul Grogan. They’re quite the mismatched pair, but like most mismatched pairs in these films, they work well together.
The piranha attack on the summer camp swimmers is quite shocking because you expect that the kiddies will be spared the razor-sharp gnashers of the killer fish. They’re not, though, and the results are bloody and bone-chilling. The sun-worshippers at the resort get a bit of a going-over as well and it ain’t pretty, I can tell you.
If you’re looking for blood and guts, this film isn’t too far behind its inspiration, JAWS, for gore and general yuckiness. The message of ‘Don’t go in the water’ is the same in both films and though I’ll always prefer JAWS because JAWS is the king of this type of movie, PIRANHA is a terrific watch as well.
I love the fact that stunningly beautiful scream queen and all-round horror icon Barbara Steele is in it too. That’s a real bonus for me because I love her films. She plays Operation Razorteeth scientist Dr. Mengers and at least part of her job is to pretend to the rest of the world that the piranhas are not a problem.
Ms. Steele gets the last word in the movie too. As we finish on the sound of the sea lapping against the shore and the curious whirring sound of the piranhas letting us know in no uncertain terms that they’re still out there, her posh, sexy voice assures us that ‘there’s nothing to fear…’ Yeah, right, love. ‘Course there isn’t. And I’m the Queen of bleedin’ England…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at: