Blu-ray Review: PIRANHA (1978)

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Review: Piranha / Cert: 15 / Director: Joe Dante / Screenplay: John Sayles / Starring: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Steele, Dick Miller / Release Date: January 28th 2013

Recent killer fish exploitation remake Piranha (2010) and its sequel Piranha 3DD (2012) are breast… sorry, best forgotten. Produced by the legendary Roger Corman, Joe Dante’s fiesty 1978 Piranha, spawned by the success of Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975, is your one-stop shop for a decent dose of piscine pandemonium. Tidied up for this new Blu-ray release - apart from a bit of grain, it’s a sharp transfer - Piranha is as cheekily wry and tongue-in-cheek as it was thirty-odd years ago, its make-do visual effects and its mixture of coy bloodshed and graphic gore still remarkably effective in this do-anything age of digital wizardry and gross-out body horror where no orifice is left unexcavated.

When two teenagers skinny-dipping in an abandoned military installation go missing, insurance investigator Maggie McKeon (Menzies) is dispatched to find out what’s become of them. She teams up with surly Paul Grogan (Dillman) and their investigations at the installation brings them into contact with raving scientist Robert Hoak (McCarthy) who tells them that the installation was the home for Operation: Razorteeth where a strain of cold water-resistant piranha were being bred for use as a weapon in the Vietnam. Weapons of mass consumption, if you will. Unfortunately the piranha are surviving and thriving and they attack a kid’s summer camp and are now moving as fast as their fins will carry them to a newly-opened water park. Chaos ensues. Grogan rushes back to a nearby closed-down smelting plant with the intention of killing the piranha with pollution before they can escape into the world’s oceans but the plant is underwater and the piranha are in hot pursuit.

Piranha is good, fast-paced fun, taking itself just seriously enough but with the wit and confidence to offer a sly wink or two at its audience now and again, not least in a post-credits sequence which directly references Jaws itself. The piranha - memorably characterised by their furiously burbling trilling - are ferocious predators; the attack on the school summer camp is full of nipping and biting and screaming but the gloves really come off when the theme park is attacked and the water runs red, and ghoulishly-mutilated, eviscerated bodies loom towards the camera. Snappily directed by Dante and with winning turns from the underrated Dillman and the lively Menzies, Piranha is a 1970s treat which has admirably stood the test of time and maintains its reputation as the cheaper, only slightly stupider cousin of the more majestic Jaws.

Extras: Audio Commentary with Joe Dante and producer John Davison / Behind the scenes / Making of featurette / Outtakes / Stills gallery / Radio and TV spots / English subtitles for hard of hearing

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