Piranha is probably the best “Army developing super piranhas to cripple the North Vietnamese waterways” ever made. It is also probably one of the best Jaws rip-offs, too. If you can’t see this movie is a rip-off of Jaws, then you have some serious problems. Killer fish, with a background theme where economic survival depends on not acknowledging any problems in the water, etc… One scene even has the heroine playing a Jaws video game.
The fact that a children’s summer camp was used as the setting for the terror is a far cry from what you would see in the films of today. Could you picture a movie nowadays where a summer camp full of children are terrorized and eaten? In the 70s, it seemed even more terrible and it had a greater shock value. In Piranha, anyone is a possible victim, but you have to have a couple of shock deaths to show no one is safe. Well, no one except the heroes anyway. As soon as we hear the hero’s old friend talk about how he wants to stay in the woods, we know we can cross him off the survival list. Oh, and of course the mad scientist has to die. Then there’s the standard military officer who you just know will end up dead because he refused to tell the populace of the calamity that has befallen them.
It’s good to know that the day can be saved by flooding waterways with toxic waste. I can’t think of any movies that have used toxic waste as the solution to the problem. All of the killer animal movies of the past ten years seem to be caused by pollution or radiation. Then again, there is at least one other one. Friday the 13th: Part 8 Jason Takes Manhattan is the only other movie I can think of that shows pollution can least slow down a super strong undead zombie hockey-masked clad killer. It is a good thing the toxic waste didn’t revert the piranhas to a childlike state of carnivorous fish. I have been trying to think of an alternate ending to Friday the 13th Part 8 where Captain Planet keeps the toxic waste from landing on Jason. Captain Planet would then discuss the dangers of exposing people to toxic waste to the surviving teenagers and all the viewers at home. Then Jason would kill them all.
The supporting cast of this movie is the stuff of b-movie legend. We get Dick Miller, who you may recognize as Mr. Futterman from the movie Gremlins, Keenan Wynn, who is probably best known as the guy that Herbie eats in Herbie Rides Again, and Kevin McCarthy, who demonstrates once again his unique ability to bug out his eyes like he is surrounded by pod people. In fact, even Richard Deacon who played Mel Cooley on the Dick Van Dyke Show has a cameo near the start of the movie.
The effects were run of the mill, but not bad considering they only had a budget of $660,000. Corman is almost more famous for cutting corners than he is for the movies themselves. Piranha eventually grossed over $30 million domestically. A few years later in 1984 a sequel was released. The sequel was directed by James Cameron. Piranha 2: The Spawning has to be the definitive “flying man-eating piranha” movie by which all other flying piranha movies are based. I should also mention the remake of the original Piranha as it will demonstrate how cheap Corman really is. The remake of Piranha was made in 1996 but used the underwater scenes and all the effects shots from the original version.