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Piranha
1978 - Rated-R - 92 Mins.
Director: Joe Dante
Producer: Jon Davison
Written By: John Sayles
Starring: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Steele, Dick Miller
Review by: James O'Ehley
   

Bite me!
Killer flesh-eating piranha (is there any other sort?) genetically altered by the U.S. military-industrial complex are accidentally released into a river. The couple who inadvertently did this is locked into a chase against time to (a) minimize the possible death rate and (b) stop the killer fish from reaching the ocean.

The ocean? Tropical fish found in parts of the Amazon (no, the river, not the online retailer where you buy this flick on DVD) will survive in salt water? I told you they were genetically tampered with by the U.S. military. Why would they do that? This being the 1970s, they wanted to release the piranha into Vietcong rivers during the Vietnam War. “But the war is over,” one character remarks, this movie being released in 1978, three years after that last Yank helicopter left Saigon. “There will be other wars,” a scientist replies pragmatically.

True, and in future they can release those killer mutant fish into, um, Afghanistan’s many rivers to get at the dastardly Taliban. Or let them loose in, um, Iraq’s many main water ways to feast upon Saddam’s Evil Republican guard. Should they ever go swimming. Like the Vietcong, who . . . oh, never mind . . .

Anyway, military intelligence being the oxymoron it is maybe the idea of killer mutant piranha being bred by them isn’t so far-fetched. This being the conspiratorial, paranoid 1970s it sorta makes sense – what with Watergate and all that. The point is that legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman wanted to cash in on the huge popularity of “Jaws” and writer John Sayles (who went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed American indie film directors) came up with piranha, which are pretty cool when you think about it, and some leftie sentiments.

Actually “Piranha” is probably the best (and best-known) of the various “Jaws” rip-offs made in the 1970s. That includes the “Jaws” sequels too, come to think of it. Okay, that isn’t too much of an accomplishment since we’re talking about the likes of “Orca – Killer Whale” and “Jaws – the Revenge” here, but the fact is that “Piranha” could have been a whole lot worse.

In the end it is a fast-paced and nifty little thriller with some nice black-humored touches thrown in. Back then producer Corman was quite the talent spotter: “Piranha”-director Joe Dante went on to mainstream Hollywood to direct the likes of the “Gremlins” movies and the recent “Looney Tunes – Back in Action” effort. Besides scribe Sayles, several of the special effects people on this pic went on to bigger things – take as example Rob Bottin (“The Thing”) and Phil Tippet (“Star Wars”).

Just how bad could “Piranha” have been? Look no further than its sequel, “Piranha 2 – Flying Killers” – the directorial debut of one James Cameron which featured, yup, piranha crossed with flying fish, which is something like the punch line of a Gary Larson cartoon . . .
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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