Cinepub


Review: Piranha (1978) by Jamie

Spoilers Ahead!

The Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’ has been and gone, you’ve watched Jaws and it’s sequels a thousand times and Mega Shark VS Giant Octopus has begun to lose it’s lustre so what the hell are you going to do when you’ve still got an appetite for killer fish? Well, there’s always a few films involving killer fish that aren’t sharks. That’s right, I’m talking about those other fish which people seem to have hyped up as being some kind of serial killing eating machines, Piranha.

I’ve always loved Piranha. Even if their reputation is massively, massively exaggerated, they still look fucking awesome. They look like the kind of fish that deserve to have said about them the things that people say about them. Despite my love of the toothy little bastards, however, I have never watched any of the films in the ‘Piranha’ series. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever watched any films about piranha at all. Still, if there’s any time to start, now seems to be it what with the recent release of ‘Piranha 3D’. So over the course of the next few days, I’ll be reviewing each Piranha film plus a couple from outside the series including the Asylum produced mock buster ‘Mega Piranha’. Anyway, let’s begin at the beginning for it is a very good place to begin with Joe Dante’s original film, Piranha from 1978.

Now there’s one thing that confuses me about this film. Why is it always touted as being a parody of Jaws? I understand that the reason it was made was because Jaws existed in the first place but a lot of nature horror films followed the sharks release into the cinema and they’re not all considered parodies. Yes, the poster for the film certainly parodies Jaws and the film is definitely funny but then so was Jaws. The main reason I don’t buy this film as a parody is that the titular piranha are an actual threat in the film. The kind of thing I would expect in a parody would be the piranha doing weird and wacky things but in this film they are presented as a real threat. There’s no sense of parody in the piranha’s behaviour whatsoever. There aren’t any even any characters that I would consider a direct parody of the characters in Jaws either. Sure there’s that guy who always appears in Joe Dante films (Dick Miller) playing the owner of the water park who’s kinda like the mayor in Jaws in that he doesn’t want to close his water park because of the money he loses but those characters are invariably always in films involving killer fish so again, not really a parody. Sorry I went off a bit there but I jut don’t think it’s fair to just label this film as a parody of Jaws. It has merit of it’s own.

Anyway, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about Joe Dante over the years it’s that he makes really good films about small things attacking people. Gremlins, Gremlins 2 and Small Soldiers (admittedly the weakest but still enjoyable) are all examples of this and Piranha is no exception. The basic gist is that the military had bio-engineered a new strain of piranha to use in the Vietnam war. The project was discontinued but the fish survived, studied under the watchful eye of Dr. Hoak (Kevin McCarthy). Unfortunately his watchful eye doesn’t prevent a pair of skinny dipping teens going into the piranha’s tank with predictable results.

The couples disappearance prompts the arrival of Maggie McKeon (Heather Menzies), a private investigator trying to find out what happened to them. She enlists the aid of local alcoholic Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) to guide her to where the teens may have gone. They head to the apparently abandoned military base and, finding stuff belonging to the couple, decide to drain the pool to see if they have drowned in it thereby releasing the mutant piranha into the local river. Hmm, guess Dr Hoak doesn’t have that much of a watchful eye after all. In fact he really, really sucks at watching out for anything.

The trio decide that they have to try and stop the piranha from reaching the summer camp down stream where Grogan’s daughter is in attendance. To do this they take a raft down river, hoping to reach the dam operator at the bottom in order to prevent him from flushing water through, granting the piranha access to the summer camp as well. As they travel they discover gruesome evidence that the piranhas are indeed incredibly vicious such as the half-eaten body of Grogan’s friend and a boy stranded on top of a capsized canoe after the piranha had eaten his father. Dr. Hoak meets his end whilst helping the boy onto the raft, perhaps hoping to make up for the mistake he made in creating the piranha in first place. Well, it doesn’t really. That boy’s father is still dead and so are you now, Dr. Hoak. The solution to death isn’t more death unless that’s what the voices in your head tell you in which case they are absolutely right and must be obeyed without question.

Anyway, they manage to prevent the flushing of the dam but unfortunately there is a tributary which circumvents it. Double unfortunately the military show up and prevent them from contacting the media in order to keep Operation: Razorteeth (The best name for a military project in the history of forever. In fact, I hope that the military is actually working on creating vicious, mutant piranha just so that they can use that name for real. That would be awesome.) top secret so there’s no way to warn anyone about the the school of killer fish heading for the summer camp and subsequently a summer water park (having it’s opening day no less, so you know it’ll be busy. What are the odds?) further down river. They even go to the length of having the local law enforcement lock them up so they can’t fuck up the secrecy of their little fish project.

I’ll be honest, this confuses the fuck out of me. They don’t even seem to do anything about the killer piranha heading for civilians so how the fuck they think keeping everything hush hush will work out well for them is anyone’s guess. Seriously, just admit you created a race of super piranha and they were accidentally released into the river. It’s going to go a lot better for you publicity wise than having the super piranha kill a bunch of people. Reporters will find out what happened, especially reporters in 70s America. They were all bolstered by the Watergate Scandal and that. They will find out that the piranha came from your facility and that you did nothing to prevent the deaths of innocent people. Shit will not look good for you, that’s all I’m saying.

Anyway, the piranha make it down stream and attack the summer camp though Grogan’s daughter is saved due to her fear of water and they head even further down to the water park with results that are just as predictable as those earlier involving the skinny dipping teens. There’s even bigger problems though. Grogan remembers that the pool in the research facility contained salt water meaning these super piranha can survive in the sea which further means that if these fish keep heading down river they’ll make it to the ocean and be virtually unstoppable.

Grogan and McKeown head to a smelting plant where Grogan intends to open the refuse tanks so that the industrial waste can kill the school. Unfortunately the control room is now underwater and so he must dive into the water in order to carry out his plan. He ties a rope to himself and tells McKeown to count to a hundred and then drive their speed boat away as fast as she can. He struggles to turn the valve that would release the waste and the school begin to attack him until finally he manages to release it and he is pulled away to safety. The industrial waste is released, killing the school and proving that pollution can solve any problem. Fuck you Captain Planet and that kid who‘s power was Heart. Heart? What the fuck is that about anyway? You know what eats hearts? Super piranha, that‘s what.

Oh, I guess the pollution didn’t completely work because it’s heavily implied that some of the piranha made it through when there characteristic sound effect is played over an image of waves breaking over the shore. My apologies to Captain Planet. Not you though Heart Kid. You suck.

So that’s pretty much it and you know what? It was a damn enjoyable film. You don’t really see the piranha that much which works to the films benefit because it kind of suffers special effects wise in the same way that Jaws did except more so because the piranha puppets are no where near as complex as Bruce the shark but hey, at least they worked under water! The acting is really quite good, Grogan in particular is a very enjoyable character and his general surliness is kind of endearing. McKeon is also entertaining. Her character is clearly quite intelligent yet also a little ditzy as well. Also she flashes her tits for a brief moment and they’re not bad. Not bad at all.

Too sum up, Piranha is just a damn fun film. It’s certainly far better a film than something dealing with it’s rather schlocky subject matter has any right to be and I’d probably be surprised if it where anyone else directing this other than Joe Dante. He just does this kind of thing really, really well. So if you haven’t seen the 1978 classic creature feature Piranha then I highly recommend it. Four pints out of five. Join me again tomorrow for a look at Piranha 2: The Spawning. This time the piranha can fly! Will it make the film any better? Who can say either way? Me and I will tomorrow.



Top 10 Films That Influenced Me As A Youngling: Part 2 by Jamie
27/02/2009, 5:28 pm
Filed under: Lists | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yes I’ve finally returned with the second part of this list. Sorry it took me so long, it’s been a weird week. So without further ado, let’s get into it. Remember E.T. and Star Wars are taken as given.

5. Transformers

Yes, the original Transformers cartoon movie, set in the futuristic world of 2005! Alright, It seemed like along way away when the film was released in 1986. The film opens with the reveal of Unicron, a planet eating mother-fucker who, appropriately enough, eats a planet inhabited by robots. Unicron, of course, was the last film role of Orson Welles. Yes, Citizen fucking Cane ended his life by voicing a gigantic planet eating robot. Not only that but Leonard Nemoy also shows up, as does Eric Idle!
There are, however, two things that this film is largely remembered for. The first is the soundtrack which features a Weird Al song ‘Dare To Be Stupid’ but more importantly Stan Bush’s ‘The Touch.’ Is the song terrible? Yes, terribly awesome! Let’s have a listen:

The other thing that this film is known for is the relentless robot slaughter that takes place on screen. Many, many Transformers die, especially during the film’s first battle when the Decepticons attack the Autobots base one Earth. Why was there so much robotic carnage? Well, it was so they could clear out the old cast, introduce new characters and have a whole host of new toys to sell!

There is one death in particular which stands out, of course. Robot God himself, Optimus “The Christ” Prime lays down his life so that other Autobots might live to fight the good fight another day. There is no way to describe how it feels to see Prime die when you are a child, especially so damn early in the film. And what’s worse? Optimus’s final act as the Autobot leader is to hand the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus who is a total fuck up. So we’re left with the impression that Prime has shit judgement. I guess I can give him a pass since he was dying at the time but still… So there’s the influence, the first time I remember feeling terrible about the death of a fictional character.

4. The Goonies

Hey You Guys! Fuck yeah, The Goonies. Action, adventure, pirates! What more could you want from a children’s film? Well, lots more and the Goonies has it all. The story revolves around a group of children trying to find the treasure of One Eyed Willy so that they can save their homes. Throw in a crime family with a deformed son and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Is it me or were children’s films of the 80s a little more risqué than the stuff you see today? This film has references to sex and drugs, the characters swear and there are times when it genuinely seems as though the kids could die. I noticed the same thing in the Explorers and other 80s kids films such as D.A.R.Y.L. and even E.T. Elliott gets wasted for fuck’s sake.

There is so much I remember about this film that it’s almost impossible for me to write about it. The truffle shuffle, Mikey’s moment ‘alone’ with One Eyed Willy, Data’s gadgets, Corey Feldman being a cool motherfucker, Josh Brolin riding a girls bike, Sloth, Chunk’s breaking down during his lengthy confession… Fucking hell, every damn frame of this film is gold.

3. Gremlins 2

I saw the original Gremlins when I was probably around 6. Too young, perhaps, but I loved it. The violence was so over the top and crazy that I don’t think I was really scared by it. It seemed almost like watching a live action cartoon. So if that was the reaction my young mind had to the first film, the second one took that and ramped it up to eleven.

Now I know some people are going to say that Gremlins 2 is inferior to the first film and to those people I say shut your goddamn whore mouths. I saw this film at just the right time for it be forever ingrained in my mind as the better of the two. There’s so much I love here. The genetically mutated gremlins, in particular the Brain Gremlin, voiced by Tony Randall, who is one of my favourite movie characters of all time with one of my favourite quotes:

“Now bear in mind, none of us has been in New York before. There are the Broadway shows – We’ll have to find out how to get tickets. There’s also a lot of street crime but I believe we can watch that for free.”

He is the epitome of what a gremlin with intelligence should be, a bizarre creature with a warped view of what civilisation should be. There’s also poor old Spike, born as a mogwai with a mohawk meaning he’s destined to be the leader of the Gremlins but this role is kinda usurped by Brain Gremlin so Spike ends up as a spider hybrid instead.

The violence is even more over the top and cartoonish than the first instalment and the whole thing is just a little more than tongue-in-cheek, with self-referential gags throughout, including Leonard Maltin with a review of the original film. Fuck, I’ve knackered myself just thinking about this film. It’s awesome.

2. Jurassic Park

1993 saw the release of three major films involving dinosaurs. One, We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, would be largely forgotten about. The second would be despised and reviled for years to come, Super Mario Bros. and the third would be Jurassic Park.

Now, it’s a well known fact boys love dinosaurs but perhaps I more than most. Christ, when I was a kid I wanted to be a palaeontologist. I even had a favourite palaeontologist in the form of Bob Bakker. He has an awesome beard and a character based on him appeared in the sequel, The Lost World. I had toy dinosaurs all around my room. My carpet had dinosaur footprints in it. I loved every damn dinosaur thing that came my way, Denver The Last Dinosaur, Dink The Littlest Dinosaur, The Land Before Time and Dinoriders (which clearly had the best quality dinosaur toys.) It was all awesome, so when Jurassic Park came along, what choice did I have but to love it?

Dinosaurs were brought to life in a way they never had before. Gone were the days of bits of cardboard being stuck to lizards, stop motion animation and men in giant rubber suits (sorry Godzilla). These things looked like living, breathing animals. People say that the effects look a little dated nowadays but I can’t see it. Every time I watch it, I watch it with a child’s eyes. The sense of wonder and amazement I felt as a child at seeing a T-Rex attacking a couple of cars it still there with me today. What more can I say? It’s one of the few films that just makes me feel like a kid again.



1. Jaws

Iconic music. Iconic characters. An iconic monster. This film was my favourite when I was a kid and it’s probably my favourite now. I often have a hard time trying to decide which is my favourite film but it turns out if I’m thinking about long and hard than this is definitely it. Simple as that.

The film simply ramps up the tension with every scene by employing a technique, familiar in later films, in which you have a killer which you don’t see until fairly close to the end of the film, most of the time the action is seen through the shark’s eyes as he stalks his prey, the tension highlighted by John Williams simple but awesome Jaws theme. It doesn’t pull any punches either, with both a dog and a kid getting killed. This leaves you with the feeling that everyone is a potential meal for the great white menace.

Now many horror films, and I was technically consider Jaws a horror film, have an iconic killer but the rest of the characters are essentially cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Not so in Jaws. You have Chief Brody, the good cop who knows the score but who no one will listen to. He’s also shit scared of water. There’s also Matt Hooper, shark expert and of course Quint. Quint is without a doubt in my top three movie characters off all time. He’s the one who was most in danger of being a stereotype, just your typical salty sea-dog type but he has just enough back story and personality to make him stand out from the crowd.

And god, there are so many great scenes in this film. When the shark comes up when Brody’s chumming to the simple scene where Sean is copying his father‘s actions. Fuck, the scene where Ben Gardner’s head bobs out of his boat still makes me jump and I’ve seen this film a thousand times. But the scene that really stands out, in my opinion one of the greatest scenes in cinema is the comparing injuries/Indianapolis scene. Awesome.



Great Scenes from Shit Films, Part 3: Jaws: The Revenge by Jamie
22/10/2008, 6:16 am
Filed under: Great Scenes From Shit Films | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jaws is one of my favourite films of all time. It is awesome. Unfortunately sequels were made. Terrible, terrible sequels. Ok, 2 wasn’t so bad but 3 and 4 are awful. Jaws 4, aka Jaws: The Revenge, is easily one of the worst films of all time.

Martin Brody is dead. Ellen Brody visits her son, Michael, is working as a marine biologist… I think. It seems like an odd choice of employment for someone whose family has such a constant problem with sharks. His younger brother Sean is a cop or at least he was as he’s despatched by a shark fairly early on in the film, the event which prompts Ellen to visit Michael. She believes that the shark purposefully attacked Sean because it seems that she’s gone bat-shit crazy.

Whilst in the Carribean she meets and becomes romantically involved with Michael Caine, a man who clearly needed cash desperately at this stage in his career. There is clearly no other explanation for his appearing in this film. At some point Ellen’s granddaughter goes on a banana boat which is attacked by a shark. The granddaughter survives but she’s traumatised by the experience. Perhaps she’ll become a marine biologist.

Ellen goes to find the shark, which she believes is the same one that ate Sean because she’s gone bat-shit crazy. Michael Cain flies Michael and his friend Mario Van Peebles out to find herwhen the shark attacks the plane but they manage to get on the boat. Mario Van Peebles uses a little box that makes the shark jump out of the water. The shark attacks Mario Van Peebles and drags him under the water. It then resumes jumping out of the water, becuase it’s clearly gone bat-shit crazy and believes itself to be a dolphin. Ellen rams the boat into the shark, causing it… to… explode….for some reason. Ellen believes the curse of the shark is lifted and everyone lives happily ever after, except for Sean. Mario Van Peebles, on the other hand, survives though badly mauled.

The film is shit, makes no sense and makes me physically sick. So which scene will it be? The inexplicable death of the shark, a death that for some reason causes the shark to explode. It is awesome. Not only does the shark just blow up for no reason but they even have the gall to include scenes from the first, infinitely superior film. Enjoy.




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