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.



Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010) by Jamie

AVAST, HERE BE SPOILERS.

Ah, Michael Bay. You seem to be set on ruining the things that I loved growing up. If you’re not turning the Transformers into nothing more than giant scrotum jokes and robots humping Megan Fox’s leg then you’re using your production company, Platinum Dunes, to systematically remake the horror films that morphed me into the slightly twisted and desensitized me from violence. From ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ to ‘The Amityville Horror’, it seemed as though nothing was safe from your evil clutches.

This all culminated with the one that was the biggest personal insult to me, last years remake of ‘Friday The 13th’. Jason was always my favourite of the slashers and I was actually genuinely excited to see this film in the cinema. I went into it with the feeling that you couldn’t possibly ruin a series which, arguably, had been ruined several times before. See ‘Jason Takes Manhattan’ for more details. Of course I was wrong to have hope. I left that film feeling angrier than I thought I could feel about a film. What had happened to my hockey masked hero? Little did I know that I could actually feel angrier than that but I did when a certain cinematic shitstorm called ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ hit the screens.

But then came the news of another Michael Bay produced horror remake, a remake of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’. At first I was dubious. There came the news that Robert Englund wouldn’t be reprising his role as Freddy, that someone else would be donning the fedora, stripy sweatshirt and clawed glove. Of course I could understand. You want to reboot something then you want someone different in that role but for many of us, Robert Englund was Freddy. It was as simple as that.

Then there came hope. It turned out that Jackie Earle Haley would be stepping into the shoes of everyone’s favourite child murderer… Wow, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Still, things seemed to be looking up. Haley was certainly the best thing about ‘Watchmen’ and it seemed as though he was pretty much perfect for the role.

Other pieces of news started to break out. The film-makers said that they’d want to take Freddy away from the jokey character he had become in the later ‘Nightmare’ movies and return him to his dark origins. Not that I don’t enjoy the comic Freddy for what he was but there definitely was something genuinely scary about that first ‘Nightmare’ film. Plus it seemed like they could really do something impressive with the nightmarish dreamscapes that modern CGI would allow. Once more Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes had gotten my hopes up. But would it turn out that once more my hope was misplaced?

Well in a word, yes. The filmmakers took what is a fucking solid concept and completely screwed it up. I didn’t get as annoyed by this as I was by ‘Friday the 13th‘. Rather, I was just bored. When a movie’s main conceit is that your main characters will die if they fall asleep, it’s probably a good idea not to make the audience feel as though a little nap would be more enjoyable than watching the film.

The main problem was that the slightly surreal elements of that first ‘Nightmare’ film have almost been completely stripped away. Yes, there’s the scene where Freddy is coming through the wall but it’s honestly nowhere as impressive as in the original. There’s also a scene later on where a floor becomes a lake of turgid blood which then pools and falls through a ceiling but other than that there aren’t really any examples of Freddy drastically fucking with reality like he used to. There’s no scene where a telephone suddenly sprouts a tongue. There’s no shower of blood exploding from the mattress of a bed (though the scene I mentioned earlier of the blood falling through a ceiling is supposed to be reminiscent of it and again, it’s nowhere near as impressive). There’s not even an attempt to replicate one of the most iconic scenes from that original film where Freddy is walking along with his extra long, Stretch Armstrong arms. Everything just seems too realistic and honestly what is the fucking point?

There’s also issue of the new Freddy, both in redesign and story. I know they were trying to go for a face that looked more like an actual burn victim but what they actually came up with was something that looked like more like Lion-O from the Thundercats or maybe some kind of diseased Na’vi. Just something about the design of the nose and eyes made Freddy seem particularly feline this time around. He does still have his fedora, stripey sweatshirt and, of course, the clawed glove so that’s something I suppose. As for what they attempt to do with the story, well, it’s just bizarre.

You see about an hour into this film they toy with the idea that perhaps Freddy was innocent of his crimes. The problem is that whether or not this is true actually gets resolved pretty quickly afterwards. Of course it does because, well, you’ve only got a half hour left and you still need to fit in the final battle with Freddy which should take up at least ten or fifteen minutes. So yeah, not really enough time to develop this theory. If they’d introduced the idea a bit earlier in the film, there’s a chance that I’d give a fuck about it either way but as it is it just seems kind of empty and pointless. I should also point out that this time round, Freddy is a paedophile. They always danced around the idea in the original films simply because it was a different time and for some reason people found a child murderer more palatable as a villain than a child molester. So yeah, Freddy is a paedophile and this time he’s taking his revenge on the children who ratted him out.

That’s another problem with this version of the story. In the original Freddy was killing the kids as revenge for what the adults of Springwood had done to him. In this version he’s taking revenge against for what the children had caused to happen to him. It removes the whole ‘sons and daughters paying for the sins of the mothers and fathers’ element that the original had and that just plain sucks. It also makes it hard to see just where the planned two sequels for this film are gonna go since the film ends with only two of the original group of kids surviving.

So what about the performances? Well, the kids are there to serve their purpose and do little else. At no point do you really feel any empathy for them, don’t particularly care whether they live or die. I can remember the actual shock and sadness I felt when Jonny Depp’s character died in the original. He was a character that you had come to know and like and his death came as a genuine shock to me. There’s none of that here. Kids are brought on to be killed or fight Freddy as needed and you don’t connect with them at all. Character development is practically non-existant even for the two main characters.

As for Jackie Earle Haley, well, he tries bless him but that’s a pretty big glove he’s got to fill. I tried hard not to think about Robert Englund when I was watching this but it was impossible. The man is Freddy Krueger and he always will be. Haley said that he wasn’t going to let Englund’s performance influence his but that’s clearly something that ended up going out the window. There are the little, swift movements that Haley performs with Freddy’s gloved hand that are just too reminiscent of Englund’s Freddy to have not come from his performance. Towards the beginning of the film Haley does manage to be quite creepy and menacing but by the end it seems that the film-makers forgot that they were going to take away the comic of elements of Freddy because by that point his wise-cracking and punning it up just like he used to. It’s a complete shift in the character and it just doesn’t gel. Either stick to your guns and make Freddy a grim and dark character or have him quipping from the start. You can’t have it both ways especially after the earlier statements you had made.

So what can I say to wrap things up? Honestly, the film was just another subpar remake of a horror classic that we all know and love. Yes, there were times that Jackie Earle Haley worked but at the end of the day it’s impossible not to judge him against Robert Englund, no matter how hard I tried, and he’s just not Freddy. What they needed to do was either completely change the tone of the character, like they said they would or acknowledge Englund’s influence. You can’t just try and do both and hope that people won’t care. So, yeah, it’s fair to say I disliked this film and really apart from the few times that Haley shines, there really is no reason to watch it. One pint out of five. Laterz.



Review: Valentine by Jamie

A Special Valentine’s Day Review of the 2001 film, Valentine




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