Tag: piranha


Piranha (1978)
★★★ / ★★★★

Maggie (Heather Menzies) finds missing people for a living and her most recent task is to locate two young people who are believed to have gone up a mountain but never did get back down. She enlists the help of Paul (Bradford Dillman), an alcoholic recluse, who knows the area well enough. He thinks that the missing couple might have gone to—or at least have passed—an army test site which has been abandoned for five or six years. Residents around the area are unaware that the site houses a school of mutant piranhas, product of Operation: Razor Fish, weapons that should have been used during the Vietnam War.

Based on the screenplay by John Sayles and directed by Joe Dante, “Piranha” is known as a campy B-movie that is so bad that it’s good—and I disagree… with the latter part of that claim anyway. There is nothing egregious about it—not the kills, which are clearly inspired by Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” not the dialogue, which may be a little stilted at times, and not even the story, which I found rather interesting. It is a creature-feature film with a sense of humor and a knack for real horror.

Perhaps the most harrowing scene in the picture is the swarm of piranha’s attack during a summer camp’s swimming marathon. I was convinced that there was no way that any of the kids would end up injured, merely shaken or terrified by the encounter, let alone a handful of them would actually be dead within minutes. Putting children in danger is a cheap way to garner suspense under less skillful execution. Here, it works because time is taken to show children on land, getting in the water, splashing about, and then that joy of playing with friends being turned into screams of pain and terror.

More effort should have been put into developing Maggie’s character. Clearly confident that she is very capable of her job, it rubbed me the wrong way that from the moment she encounters Paul, she is often reduced to playing second fiddle. Although Paul is the alcoholic, he is not the main character because the perspective is through an outsider looking in. It would have been refreshing is she remained a woman defined by her career—by choice—throughout. Instead, she gets into a few (fun) banter with Paul.

The movie’s strength lies in the piranha attacks. The filmmakers never really do get the right look of the carnivorous fish biting into human flesh underwater. They look like rubber creations or some sort but they are more believable-looking than that of a fish created by a computer. Because they seem somewhat rubbery, we can believe that they are mutated fish. Maybe having a rubbery skin is a result of the DNA alteration.

I have always gotten a kick from shots of people hanging on to something—a raft, a floatie, a person’s hand—for dear life and then the water around them suddenly turning red. It is supposed to give the impression that the victim is being eaten alive and bleeding to death but with the amount of volume shown, shouldn’t the person be passed out instead of screaming? I may not have believed it but I was amused. I wondered how the special effects crew managed to execute and control the red liquid.

“Piranha” is not just about showing skin or showcasing teenagers doing stupid things and ending up dead. There is a stark contrast between movies like this then versus movies like this now. It can be enjoyed because there is craft from behind the camera. There is effort put into the acting and the story. Though it never surpasses its inspiration on any level, the fact that it tries while having fun is commendable.

Shark Night

Shark Night (2011)
★ / ★★★★

A group of college students (Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Zylka, Sinqua Walls, Alyssa Diaz, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore) visited a lake house in Louisiana for some fun in the sun after finals. One of them, Sara (Paxton), was from the area but she left her hometown three years ago and never went back. Her friends thought it was strange how Sarah, in all the years they’ve known her, never became intimate or even hooked up with a guy. Meanwhile, the barely clothed undergraduates, gleefully playing in the lake, were unaware that the water was infested with sharks. “Shark Night,” based on the screenplay by Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg, lacked the courage to come off as completely ludicrous. If it had been more confident, it could have worked as a parody or even a satire. From its first scene involving a topless girl who had to search for her swimsuit in the water, it was obvious that the material wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. The shark attack lasted for about three seconds of choppy editing and it wasn’t scary in the least. While a handful death scenes, aided by CGI, were rather neat, the few seconds prior to the characters’ deaths felt almost like wasted time. There was no patience from behind the camera prior and during the attacks. The formula was this: The camera would go underwater and about five seconds later, someone screamed out of pain. Sometimes having a character just pulled from underwater by a very strong shark and its victim never having to scream for help could work just as effectively or even more so. Let the camera linger for about five seconds on the surface of the water. Doing so would give us a chance to observe waves created out of panic turn into utter quiescence–an illusion that a shark attack never happened. Moreover, the movie could have benefited from more extreme typecasting. For instance, Nick (Milligan) was supposed to be the geek who wanted to become a doctor. He had his MCAT coming up but the only reason he decided to come with was because he pined for Sara. They knew each other through other friends but he lacked bravado to ask her out on a simple date. He didn’t think he was good enough for her. Yet without his glasses, he looked like another jock who should have all the confidence in the world. How were we supposed to believe that he had something to prove? The one character I found most interesting was Blake (Zylka), the blonde Adonis obsessed with fake tanning. He wasn’t especially smart, even self-absorbed at times, but when tragedy struck, it turned out he was the most sensitive and relatable. Having a final girl, which inevitably just had to be Sara because it was her hometown, was anticlimactic and frustrating because the character wasn’t established as strongly as she should have been. As a rule of thumb, for horror movies that require a “final girl,” the protagonist has to be someone we will be behind no matter what. Sara wasn’t that person. Ironically, it was Blake. It could have been an excellent twist if the writers had been more aware of and fleshed out the inconsistencies in their screenplay. Directed by David R. Ellis, “Shark Night” was tame compared to other bloodfests like Alexandre Aja’s “Piranha.” It wasn’t even as fun.


Piranha (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Lake Victoria was the place where college students gathered to spend their Spring Break. But when an earthquake caused a rift on the lake floor, a subterranean lake was revealed which happened to house the original piranhas once thought to be extinct, it was up to Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames), and a seismologist (Adam Scott) to warn the party-goers to get out of the water before they became fish food. Alexandre Aja’s “Piranha,” an out and proud B-movie, is difficult not enjoy because it embraced bad horror movie elements with open arms while paying genuine homage to movies like Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” and Joe Dante’s original “Piranha.” I was particularly impressed with the film’s climax involving a school of piranhas attacking hundreds of barely clothed college students. When panic finally set in, I enjoyed that human error (or desperation) was taken into account. Like the piranhas that ate each other for millions of years to ensure the survival of the species, if a person was desperate enough to live, he wouldn’t think twice of putting someone else in harm’s way. It’s instinctual. The film’s self-awareness worked to its advantage; it knew it wanted to attract mostly heterosexual males so it delivered big breasts and long legs. It even had an extended scene of naked women making out underwater. As I watched with incredulity, I couldn’t help but laugh at what I was seeing. It was like watching two seals making love on Discovery Channel. More amusing was the fact that all the guys were far from attractive. Just when I thought it had no more surprises under its sleeve, a male organ was bitten off. Moreover, its over-the-top nature was enjoyable due to its exaggeration of how college kids spend their Spring Break. (When probably only about 5% celebrated this way.) Enter Jake (Steven R. McQueen), the sheriff’s son, who was somewhat of a social outcast because he listened to music like The Ramones and The Pixies. According to the movie’s logic, people who listen to that type of music were just not cool. But Jake wanted to belong. He wanted to party at the lake, drink alcohol, and maybe even win over a girl (Jessica Szohr) he was obviously attracted to. Instead, he was stuck babysitting his younger brother and sister. Perhaps the lesson Jake learned at the end of the day was underage drinking led to death. At least there’s some truth in that. “Piranha” had some suspenseful moments but I wish the writers, Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg, had spent less time making fun of college culture and more time on the science behind the piranhas’ survival mechanisms. And was it too much to ask to have at least one smart and resourceful teenager? Jake had potential but he didn’t primarily think with his brain.