When a filmmaker latches onto the heat of a hit movie, they go bigger in their rip-off. Jaws was all the rage in the summer of 1975. Dino de Laurentiis’ Orca claimed that a Killer Whale trumps a Great White Shark when it comes to terrorizing a town. Roger Corman didn’t have Dino’s bankroll, but wanted a piece of the aquatic monster action. He went smaller and scored. How could a little fish be more fearsome than a shark the size of a shortbus? It helps when the tiny fish is the toothy flesh-eating piranha. Corman placed his trusted editor Joe Dante in the director’s chair with John Sayles’ script. Dante kept the human element from getting overwhelmed by the feeding frenzy. His playful nature and cinematic skills created a film with scares to appeal to horror fans and casting to excite fans of horror films. Piranha: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics makes these small fish a big catch.
The movie opens with a pair of hitchhikers breaking into a remote government facility on a river. They think the place has been abandoned. Being frisky and young the duo take a dip in what appears to be pool. What they quickly learn is there are worse things than green scum as both get eaten alive by something under the water. Richard Deacon (Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy) hires a detective (Heather Menzies) to track down the missing kids. This is our first tongue and cheek moment since she’s playing a Jaws video game. She goes up the wooded area and enlists help from Bradford Dillman. He’s a drunk and reluctant guy, but she’s persistant. They discover the government facility with the deadly pool. They drain the pool. Turns out that the facility isn’t really abandoned. Kevin McCarthy (UHF) is the mad scientist who lets them know they made a major mistake draining the pool. Turns out it was full of piranha that have been genetically modified and trained to not be dumb fish. Now they are loose in the river and heading toward the dam.
Dillman, Menzies and McCarthy raft it down the river in hopes of getting to the dam in time to prevent the little fishes from spreading into the area beyond which includes a water summer camp and an aquatic theme park. They quickly learn the damage the fish can cause when they find beloved cinema icon Keenan Wynn’s legs gnawed down to the bone. What chance does Paul Bartel (Death Race 2000) have of surviving if they swim down to the camp he runs with dozens of little kids splashing in the water? Dick Miller (The Little Shop of Horrors) appears doomed as the owner of the aquatic park that picked the wrong weekend for a grand opening. Sure the military appears to be ready to stop their top secret project, but can you trust a colonel and mysterious doctor played by Bruce Gordon (Frank Nitti on The Untouchables) and Barbara Steele (Black Sunday)?
Piranha has the unique ability to have a sense of humor about itself yet be a complete gorefest. Nobody is off limits if they have a limb in the water. The movie goes beyond Jaws with a single Kinter boy turned into lunch. These movie teases us with a feeding frenzy and it coats the screen in blood and screams. Soon Piranha 3D comes to your nearby cineplex. No matter how big of an effect the modern filmmakers get with their 3-D glasses, it’s not going to come close to the wit, fun and excitement Joe Dante and crew brought to the original. If you were thinking of blowing nearly $20 to see the new film in the theater; spend that cash on Piranha: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfer looks so much better than any video release Corman has provided over the decades. You get to see the detail in the hungry fish that had blurred out over the years. The audio is a PCM 2.0 taken from the mono. It sounds fine when they feast on the unsuspecting.
Commentary with Director Joe Dante and Producer Jon Davison give plenty of tips on how to shoot a water based film on a limited budget.
Behind the Scenes Footage (9:34) is a mix of color and black & white footage. It’s amazing they had time to do such things.
The Making of Piranha (19:44) gives the story of how Roger Corman pocked a large chunk of the budget when a major studio chipped in on the production.
Bloopers and Outtakes (6:48) is a little fun on the set.
Additional Scenes from the Network Television Version (12:21) are PG scenes needed to replace the R-rated action.
Radio Spots (1:37) scares you with just the audio.
TV Spot (0:33) scares us with the attack of the kids floating around.
Trailers includes the teaser and the full length trailer.
Trailers From Hell (2:28) has producer Jon Davison’s entry from the web series.
Poster and Still Gallery has dozens of lobby cards and posters from the international releases. These teethy fish went global.
Phil Tippet’s Behind the Scenes Photo Collection are pics and drawings showing off the special effects wizards work. Tippet is best known for his work on Star Wars and Howard the Duck.
Piranha: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics is the ultimate release of this film with all the best bonus features and transfer quality. If you like scary films that give you a reason to avoid floating on a river, this is it. The humor and shock is perfectly blended. All that’s missing is a drive-in theater for the proper viewing experience.
Shout! Factory presents Piranha: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics. Directed by: Joe Dante. Starring: Richard Deacon, Dick Smith, Paul Bartel and Barbara Steele. Running Time: 92 minutes. Released on DVD: August 3, 2010.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.