Monday, September 13, 2010

#38. Piranha (1978)

DVD Synopsis: While searching for missing teenagers, novice skip tracer Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) and local town boozer Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) stumble upon a top-secret Army laboratory conducting genetic research on piranha fish for the purpose of developing biological warfare. When the deadly eating machines are accidently released from the compound, they're soon headed downstream and consuming everything, and anything, in their path.

Produced in 1978 by Roger Corman's New World Pictures, Piranha was to be little more than a low-budget thriller that would capitalize on the success of Steven Spielberg's Jaws, which broke box-office records a few years earlier. 

But with the likes of Joe Dante directing and John Sayles penning its script, Piranha would go far beyond simple exploitation to become a thrilling bit of entertainment in its own right. 

Like Jaws before it, the tension in Piranha is generated primarily by the film's attack scenes. However, since the title characters spend all of their time under water - thus almost entirely out of sight - the filmmakers had to develop a signal to let the audience know that these deadly creatures had arrived. 

Spielberg addressed this same problem in Jaws with the help of composer John Williams, whose sinister score is still one of the most recognizable in cinematic history. 

In Piranha, the warning system was much less... subtle. 

Instead of music, Piranha relies on the sound of gnashing teeth, as if the title creatures' lethal mouths were in a constant state of motion. While It may not be as memorable as the Williams score, that foreboding, ravenous chomping generates just the right amount of anxiety. 

Piranha had no business being this entertaining; the reason it existed in the first place was the quest for the almighty dollar. Fortunately for us, there were too many talented people involved with the making of Piranha for it to have been anything less than a hell of a lot of fun.



Unknown said...

"They're eating the guests sir!" Classic line!

DVD Infatuation said...

@Cyberschizoid: Oh yeah! The actor who delivers the line is so matter-of-fact about it, too, which is what makes it so good.

Another great line:
"Terror, Horror, Death. Film at Eleven"

Thanks for the comment!

Ian said...

Sayles wrote a number of B movies when he was starting out, and all are worth seeing, especially THE HOWLING (another collaboration with Dante) and ALLIGATOR & THE LADY IN RED (both of which were directed by Lewis Teague). Also, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is an amusing sci-fi riff on SEVEN SAMURAI.

DVD Infatuation said...

Ian: Thanks for the heads-up

I've included ALLIGATOR here already (a very entertaining movie), and have seen THE HOWLING (another gem), but haven't yet checked out LADY IN RED or BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS.

They will be added to the already-staggering list of films I must see at some point!

Thanks again.

Ian said...

ALLIGATOR is the only reason I knew who Robert Forster was when JACKIE BROWN came out. He's very good in both films.

Back in the mid-80s, we thought Teague was going to be a big deal. But after the Sayles-scripted TV show "Shannon's Deal" failed, his career settled into mediocrity.

DVD Infatuation said...

My first Robert Forster film was actually MEDIUM COOL...I saw ALLIGATOR after JACKIE BROWN. He was excellent in all 3 of these films.

As for Teague, he DID do the DUKES OF HAZZARD reunion, so how bad could it be? :)

Unknown said...

What a great "monster" movie. I love that a "rip-off" ended up being its own movie after all. I always fantasized of a movie about sharks vs. piranha. Maybe one day.