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Piranha (1978)

January 11th, 2010 by unkle lancifer · 9 Comments

On the surface, 1978’s PIRANHA may look like a throw away JAWS rip off but thanks to the talents involved, it’s a B-movie masterstroke that lovingly recalls the monster movie heyday of the fifties. I have fond memories of PIRANHA’s television premiere and the spirited frenzy of conversation it spawned at the elementary school bus stop the next day. With a theatrical remake around the corner (a cable version was made in 1995) directed by HIGH TENSION’s ALEXANDRE AJA and presented in 3-D, I think it’s high time we take a look back and examine just what made this ROGER CORMAN produced classic so special…

JOE DANTE

In 1978, director JOE DANTE was in peak form and poised to deliver a string of hits including THE HOWLING, GREMLINS and undoubtedly the most imaginative segment of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. His collage of cartoon humor, twisted gore and blatant self-awareness are commonplace today, but only because DANTE paved the way.

JOHN SAYLES

He would later move on to become Oscar bait (LONE STAR, PASSION FISH) but thank God he spent some time in the trenches and gifted B-movie fans the likes of ALLIGATOR, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and his two collaborations with DANTE, THE HOWLING and PIRANHA.

PINO DONAGGIO

Can you ask for a better composer then the guy who did CARRIE? (Not to mention DRESSED TO KILL, DON’T LOOK NOW and TOURIST TRAP among countless others.) I know I can’t.

LOVABLE HEROES

A drunk (BRADFORD DILLMAN of BUG and THE MEPHISTO WALTZ) and a snoopy reporter (HEATHER MENZIES from SSSSSSS), who let’s face it, cause the entire piranha problem themselves by foolishly emptying a pool at a research facility. Extra props for the quickest “How do you do? Let’s screw!” this side of JOHN CARPENTER’s THE FOG.

INDELIBLE SCENES

Years of psychotherapy are predicted for this kid who watches helplessly as his dad becomes fish food and what about that old guy whose feet get eaten off?

KINDERTRAUMA IN ACTION

That drunk’s kid is rightfully hydrophobic but that doesn’t stop her from jumping on an inflatable raft and saving her favorite camp counselor (frequent DANTE player BELINDA BALASKI.) Way to overcome your fears Suzie!

KEVIN McCARTHY

Here’s a tip, if KEVIN McCARTHY (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ‘56) warns you about something, no matter how outlandish it sounds, BELIEVE HIM.

BARBARA STEELE

I’ll let this legend’s eyes do the talking.

PAUL BARTEL

I know he’s supposed to be a jerk in this but who can hate the one and only PAUL BARTEL?

DICK MILLER

What JOE DANTE movie would be complete without this guy?

THAT WEIRD SOUND THE PIRANHA MAKE

Forget the JAWS theme, I’m all about the crazy whirly whirl sound that tells you that you are currently being chomped on by a school of killer PIRANHA!

LATE SEVENTIES FASHION

Really? People walked around like this?

AND FINALLY THIS GUY…

So many questions: Who is he? What does he know? When does he get his own movie? Where can I buy one? Can I feed him after midnight?

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9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ChrisNo Gravatar // Jan 11, 2010 at 9:23 am

    It’s with many thanks to my father that I got to see this back as a lad one rainy Saturday afternoon when it aired on our local affiliate ABC station (back in the good old days when they’d show cartoons all morning, then in the afternoon just put any old thing on… like Shark Kill!). He told me “you liked JAWS, you might like this. I’ll be in the garage fixing the car. You stay here and watch. And don’t bother me.”

    I can forgive his great parenting skills at that moment, because the movie was amazing! The scene where the little boy witnesses his father’s death always stuck with me due to it freaking me out so badly. Plus, Dick Miller’s exchange with his lacky… “What about the goddamn piranhas!?!” “They’re eating the guests, sir.” Great, great stuff!

    I anxiously await April, so me and my dad can witness the remake in all its 3D glory!
     
    And props to you Unk, for the choice of late 70’s  fashion screengrab. The guy in the white shorts next to the guy/gal (??) with the Farrah hair in yellow is one of the most unintentionally hilarious fellas in the history of movies (right up there with the guy who has his wang out at the end of Teen Wolf). Seriously, just pay attention to him instead of the scene. The man makes some glorious expressions!

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 11, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Chris,

    Yes, “White shorts guy” deserves an award for best extra of all time but I had to make sure I also included “Old lady in gold cowgirl suit” too, it was a tough one! I wonder if their paths ever crossed again in life.

  • 3 UmlautNo Gravatar // Jan 11, 2010 at 11:23 am

    I remember when I was a kid, I was given a TV for my room.  I had to be 8 or 9.  ‘Piranaha’ was the Thursday night movie of the week and I wanted to watch it.  But being a school night, I was told I had to go to bed.  So, of course, once upstairs I turned on the small TV and sat very close with the volume VERY low so I wouldn’t be found out!  Low and behold while Lost River Lake’s beloved resort was being harassed by these little beasties my Dad walked into the room.  Gave me a really disapproving look, unplugged the TV and walked out with it.  It took me years before I was able to find out how it ended.  My imagination had to fill in the blanks.  (For good and bad.)
    To this day, Piranha holds a special place in my heart.  The image of the old man on the river with his feet eaten off is fantastic!   My passion for horror was only reinforced by my loss of the finally and later turned me onto The Howling and more of Joe Dante.
    Thank you, Roger Corman and congrats on your Academy award!
    http://tinyurl.com/yavrw8p

  • 4 DavidFullamNo Gravatar // Jan 11, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Saw it when NBC showed it Sunday night way back when. A real favorite.

  • 5 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Chris & Umlaut, I had to add the two scenes you mentioned under “Indelible Scenes”!

  • 6 eugeniepetiteNo Gravatar // Jan 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    LOVE this one!  It was actually filmed in and around a town I lived in, San Marcos, TX.  Some of it was shot at this goofy little amusement park, Aquarena Springs, complete with an underwater mermaid show, Ralf the swimming pig, and glass bottom boat rides.  I was always on the lookout for Piranha in that river!

  • 7 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Jan 12, 2010 at 1:23 am

    I’ll be honest, I didn’t see this movie until I was an adult, but how I remember the newsprint ads… I was OBSESSED with shark movies when I was a kid and this seemed just close enough to fit the bill…

    And of course, Bradford Dilman. Oh man!

    Will we see a nice little tribute to Piranha 2 here as well? Or perhaps just Killer Fish? 🙂

  • 8 mamamiasweetpeachesNo Gravatar // Aug 28, 2010 at 10:41 am

    I saw pieces of this on TV as a kid but never the whole thing. I finally downloaded it and watched it last night. My daughter said “How was it?” and I said “It was incredibly cheesy. Ive never seen so many Crotch Shots in a movie before!”

    I guess when you swim in a lake the water only comes up to right under your chest cuz when the piranhas attacked that seemed to be where they were goin! If you were LUCKY they attacked your feet and hands but most of those unhappy campers were gettin bitten right in the hoo-hah! Those cheeky piranhas!

  • 9 Kyon SuzumiyaNo Gravatar // Apr 12, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Do any of you remember what year it was that you saw Piranha on TV. I remember watching it and I was a kid but I can’t remember how old.
    I think I remember the old man getting his feet eaten the most. I think it gave me the caution of sticking just a toe in to test the water 🙂

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