Piranha (1978)
By: Devon B. on December 9, 2012 | Comments
Madman (Australia) | All Regions | 1.78, 1080p | English LPCM 2.0 | 94 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Joe Dante
Starring: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Steele, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel
Screenplay: John Sayles
Country: USA
External Links
IMDB Purchase YouTube
Anyone who's seen this Blu-ray will know its cover art sucks ass. It's so bad that at first I thought it was the 90s remake, but no, this is the original Piranha, unleashed upon an unsuspecting Australian public. Piranha was my most coveted film back in the days of VHS. I'd seen a bit of it on tele when I was about nine, and always wanted to see the whole thing. It wasn't quite rare enough that a bootleg was in order, but I checked in every video store I set foot in and no store anywhere near me had a copy to hire. The first time I got a chance to catch the whole film was when it was on tele again, but I was recovering from a major surgery and the medication had me on the nod, so I saw even less than I had the first time around. With the advent of eBay I was finally able to purchase a copy off someone foolish enough to part with it, and I quickly realised after popping the tape on that all the years of effort had been worth it because Piranha is awesome.

I Spit On Your Gravy summed up the movie's plot pretty well in their aptly titled song "Piranha," so here it is:

Take your hands out of the water, the river is full of carnivorous fish,
And they've been trained to bite people, come on now and bite me,
During the Vietnam War the Army assigned me,
To train these fish in fresh water to be more aggressive,
We all went off to The Esplanade…

…Hmmm, perhaps that's not going to work quite as well as I thought it was because I don't recall The Espy being in the movie. Before tangenting about running amok in St. Kilda the song does cover the background of a character played by Kevin McCarthy, but I guess I'll take over from here. Thanks, Fred.

Piranha does mention keeping hands out of the water, but it opens with a couple finding a remote pond, and they decide that's as good a place as any to have a swim. Turns out it wasn't such a hot idea because at the time the pond was full of carnivorous fish and they've been trained to bite people, so the pair get eaten. An investigator is hired to look into their disappearance, and while tracking them she forces a local alcoholic loser to help her. They find the pond of death, and the clever investigator decides to drain the pond as part of her investigation, despite some rather fervent warnings from a manic McCarthy who appears on the scene and tries to stop them. He knows that during the Vietnam War the Army assigned him to train the fish to be more aggressive, and he knows that if they drain the pond the fish will be let loose. He fails to stop them, and now the river is full of carnivorous fish, so there's a rush to warn people on the river before they end up as fish food. Then they all go off to The Esplanade…oh, wait, no they don't.

Piranha is without question the best Jaws rip off ever. In fact, it's probably not even fair to call it a Jaws rip off because it's a unique film. Sure, both movies have aquatic peril, recreational swimming and children in danger, but the heroes in Piranha are completely different and this one takes place on a river not at the ocean. Totally different.

At least one of the reasons Piranha is as good as it is is that producer Roger Corman had the good sense to get John Sayles as the writer and put Joe Dante behind the camera, and those two both know how to make a quirky, fun B-movie. There's nudity, a Creature from the Black Lagoon reference and killer fish, and that's just the first scene! The satirical script is loaded with stuff that doesn't make sense, but for once that's a plus, and the humour makes even the stupid moments in the movie seem clever. No doubt encouraging the gleeful insanity was producer Jon Davison, who went on to work with another great satirist, Paul Verhoeven.

The film is crammed with nifty genre references and the cast sports Barbara Steele; Paul Bartel, in his best role outside of Eating Raoul; Dick Miller; the aforementioned McCarthy; and Bradford Dillman who I don't really care about but I like writing Bradford Dillman. While Sayles would go on to great critical acclaim as a screenwriter and director for his character driven work, he keeps Piranha flowing along nicely, though he does offer some rounded characterisation. For example, Bartel's character is portrayed as a total dick, but when the time comes he puts himself at risk in order to do what's right, which is not usually something allowed for the uptight jerk character.

While the movie would be out sillied by its crazy sequel, Piranha has plenty of bizarre elements, like the unforgettable feeding sound of the piranha themselves. As is Creature from the Black Lagoon to King Kong, Piranha is to Jaws, a film that draws heavy inspiration from the other, but a classic in its own right.
Piranha has been slightly cropped from its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 to 1.78:1. The print has some spots, but is pretty clean, and the transfer is a massive improvement over the first DVD release. There's a little edge enhancement, a few shots with heavy grain, some motion blur and one vertical line, but at times Piranha looks great. The film can look a little soft, and it was clearly a low budget movie, but it's scrubbed up well.
The audio is a LPCM 2.0 track, which is just what I wanted. The audio is much clearer and crisper than before, and the few flaws on the track are undoubtedly to do with the source material. I'm sure some might be upset there's no 5.1 remix, but people like that ruined Out for Justice's sound so they can fuck off.
Extra Features
This Blu-ray seems to be a port of the Shout Factory release, which ported a lot of extras from the first DVD release of the film, including the commentary, Davison's home movie behind the scenes footage with commentary and the bloopers. The Blu-ray also has a making of; TV scenes; radio spots; a TV spot; the trailer; the Trailers from Hell trailer with commentary; the teaser trailer; trailers for Humanoids from the Deep, Up from the Depths and Death Race 2000; a poster/still gallery; and a behind the scenes stills gallery. The commentary track features Dante and Davison, and it's a lot of fun. They spend a good deal of time trying to remember people's names, and they are both clearly proud of their film. Dante's early comment about the credits being letterboxed is now nonsensical, but it's because the first DVD release was full frame. The making of runs roughly twenty minutes and features Corman, Dante, FX guy Phil Tippett, Miller and others. The making of focuses on FX work, the budget and the editing, and is a good companion to the commentary track. The deleted scenes play for about 12 ½ minutes, but the scenes actually stopped at 3.20 though the extra continues to play for another 9 minutes or so. I think there are meant to be 12 minutes of deleted scenes, so this may be an encode error. At least I got to see a bit more of Bartel and Miller.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

Yay Madman for licensing this Shout Factory release of Piranha for these shores! I also want Humanoids from the Deep and They Live, please. There seems to have been a glitch with the deleted scenes, but otherwise I love this Blu-ray.

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