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Piranha 3D – Review (second opinion)

Piranha 3D – Review (second opinion)

Aug 24, 2010

reviewed by Danny
directed by Alexandre Aja, 2010
(to read hallo’s review of Piranha 3D, click here)

One of the main characters of Piranha 3D is a soft-core porn producer named Derrick Jones (played perfectly by Jerry O’Connell) . The character is clearly based on Girl’s Gone Wild founder Joe Francis, an undeniable sleezeball who finds little support in any corner of society not littered with frat boys or drunken college girls, so it is no surprise to see the film take a number of well-placed shots at his broad target. Unfortunately, the Jones character seems to exist not as a vehicle for parody but simply as a way to justify a boatload (actually, many boatloads) of gratuitous nudity. Still, aside from one over-the-top bit of soft-core ogling, the T&A is pretty standard and accurately reflects what goes on during Spring Break in various sunny destinations. More importantly, the scares and gore that are the real attraction for most horror fans are here in full force.

Piranha 3D is less a remake of the original cult classic as it is another riff on the theme. The film removes the military angle and the local politics and basically avoids wasting screen time on anything that isn’t naked or being eaten. It’s a purity that I appreciate. The opening scene, in which Jaws alum Richard Dreyfuss becomes the first victim of prehistoric piranha released into the lake by an earthquake that has opened up a connection with a large underground lake, is a stunner. It starts the film off right while also getting about 50% of the exposition out of the way quickly.

We get the rest of the exposition in the next few scenes where we meet the local sheriff (played by the extremely likable Elizabeth Shue), her teen son and his younger siblings, and the aforementioned Derrick Jones, his cameraman, and two bathing beauties. When the son takes a job scouting locations for the film crew, he leaves his younger siblings to fend for themselves (which doesn’t go well). Add a romantic subplot between the son and a high school friend that Jones is trying to talk out of her bikini, mix in a school of angry, battle-scarred piranha, shake well, and you have a recipe for a killer monster movie done right.

And, for the most part, it is.  The main set pieces (the collapse of a floating stage, a boat-to-boat rope climb) are done very well.  All the characters we want to die violently do so.  Those that need a heroic send off, get one.  The 3D is used to good effect throughout though it still feels like a gimmick instead of being fully integrated into the cinematography.  The blood and guts level is super high and some of the deaths are just awesome.  Jones especially gets a graphic send off that seems to be exactly what he deserves, and it sent the audience I saw it with into fits of laughter.

For fans of the genre, Piranha 3D is a lot of fun.  It isn’t for everyone—an eight minute long nude synchronized swimming scene involving two of the “wild girls” is ridiculously graphic and unnecessary–but the film is good fun for gore hounds who can handle a bit of gratuitous T&A with their horror.

Piranha 3D – Review

Piranha 3D – Review

Aug 20, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Alexandre Aja, 2010
(to read Danny’s review of Piranha 3D, click here)

Anytime the initial scene of a horror movie reveals someone hanging out in a boat in the middle of a seemingly deserted lake, you can bet your bottom dollar that extreme campiness will follow (Lake Placid, Hatchet).  Piranha 3D keeps that tradition alive.  After a small earthquake creates an opening to a separate underground lake that had been sealed off from the main Lake Victoria for millions of years, a deadly species of piranha, presumed to have been been extinct for years, are now able to make their way to Lake Victoria.  The arrival of the flesh-eating fish is ill-timed since it is spring break week and thousands of hormone filled young people are enjoying their free time on the lake.  The stage is set for hardcore carnage.

The movie follows the plight of young Jake, a teenager still living at home under the care of his mom, who is also the town sherrif, played wonderfully by Elizabeth Shue.  Instead of fulfilling his obligations as a babysitter to his younger brother and sister, Jake sets out on a boat with a small crew from a “Girls Gone Wild” rip-off as their “location scout.”  While on the lake, the piranha discover the buffet of people available to them and the crystal clear water soon turns dark red.  Lots of blood and lots of body parts make up the rest of the film.

A quick perusal of RottenTomatoes.com will show a “fresh” rating of 81%.  What is interesting about the reviews, however, is that many critics associated with RottenTomatoes.com echo sentiments similar to Beth Accomando who says, “The new Piranha 3D lived down to my absolute lowest expectations and I say that with nothing but gleeful affection.”  I, unfortunately, agree with her assessment but cannot agree with her conclusion.  Despite some strong performances and a few effective death scenes which I will mention below, the film falls woefully short.

The primary reason for my disappoint with the film is its ridiculously over-the-top sexual exploitation.  Whereas many horror films effectively utilize sexuality to improve the telling of the story, Piranha 3D simply needed something for the viewers to watch in-between kill scenes.  That something was a bunch of sex-starved college students going a step beyond the antics of Mardi-Gras relocated on an otherwise serene lake.  A few times during the film I was embarrassed to be in the theater even though I was by myself.  I am also getting a bit weary of movies doing a rip-off of “Girls Gone Wild” as a main part of their storyline.  It was just too much.

I was also disappointed with both the 3-D filming and the underwater struggles with the piranhas.  Many times, thanks to a massive amount of blood and the lack of clarity with the 3-D, much of the action was unrecognizable.  You couldn’t really make out what you were watching much of time during underwater scenes.  Add to that the reality that Piranha 3D has absolutely nothing to say about anything (by design no doubt) and I am left underwhelmed.

Nevertheless, the film does have its bright spots.  Elizabeth Shue is wonderful, as always, and brought a much needed serious tone to the film.  Her performance was especially interesting after recently podcasting on the topic of whether or not horror movies are misogynistic.  Richard Dreyfus, who is the unfortunate soul to first meet the piranhas, was fun to watch although he reminded you how much better Jaws is than this film.  For me, the highlight of the movie was a brief appearance by Christopher Lloyd as the old scientist who correctly identified the species of piranha unleashed in the lake.  It was as if Doc Brown had shifted his scientific prowess from a time travel expert to an ichthyologist.

Amid the mostly disappointing and convoluted kill scenes were a few memorable ones.  The best by far was the burrowing of a piranha into the stomach of a helpless lady only to explode out of her mouth a few moments later.  There was also a nice scene of a boat line falling down and slicing a young lady in half – Aja allowed 5-6 seconds of time to elapse before showing that she had been cut.

Overall, I am glad I saw the movie.  It is certainly possible that my expectations for the film were way too high.  I can’t fully recommend it and would heavily caution parents before allowing young people to see this film.  Yet, it is fun in parts, there is a great cast, and every now then you will find yourself smiling.  I guess that is more than I can say for a lot of horror films out there.  Proceed with caution.

Piranha – Review

Piranha – Review

Jan 5, 2010

reviewed by Danny
directed by Joe Dante, 1978

Joe Dante’s Piranha is a bit of an odd duck.  On one hand, it was a cynical, low-budget attempt to cash in on the nature-gone-amuck sub-genre in the wake of the the first Summer blockbuster, Jaws.  But, on the other hand, it was put together by a collection of talent that, while young and new to the business, was well above what we normally see in the credits of a B-movie with an $800,000 budget.  The director would go on to prove himself one of the masters of low-budget genre film with successes like The Howling and Gremlins and at least one underrated masterpiece (The ‘Burbs).  The screenwriter, John Sayles (Eight Men Out, Matewan, Brother from Another Planet), is considered by many to be one of the greatest writer/directors in American film.  What Dante and Sayles did is make a film that is simultaneously a obvious rip-off or Jaws and a tongue-and-cheek homage to the genre.

The story begins with two typically clueless teen hikers who stumble into a military research station and decide to skinny dip in the very industrial and toxic-looking pool.  Both are quickly devoured by the eponymous beasties.  Later, a “skip tracer” (Maggie) comes along trying to find the teens and thoughtlessly drains the pool into the nearby river.  This sets up the eventual arrival of the piranha at a newly opened resort downstream.  Lots of swimmers—lots of victims.

Piranha has many scenes and situations pulled straight from Jaws.  The owner of the resort is a direct equivalent to the mayor of Amity—refusing to shut the resort down based on the warnings of the skip tracer and the drunken mountain beau who comes along because his daughter is away at the lake attending a summer camp.  Everyone is more worried about a possible economic hit than they are about the potential for lots of people to get eaten by mutant fish.

And, wow, do lots of people get eaten.  The film departs from the Jaws formula strongly here.  Dozens upon dozens of swimmers (including lots of children) fall victim to the swarms of mutant fishies.  Mostly the gore is mild, at least during the attacks—just a swirl of filmed-in-a-fish-tank piranha and a distinctive sound and lots of blood in the water.  We do get to see some gory, post-attack damage in the form of live victims with bloody stubs and nearly devoured floating corpses.  The film earns its R rating and the effects are cheap but effective.

Still, the mutant fish attacking swimmers elements of the film are just good enough to be fun.  What makes this film a B-horror classic is its humor and a couple of inspired, if weird, moments.  I love that Maggie is playing the Jaws video game when we first see her (in case anyone was confused as to what inspired the film).  There are simply some great lines in the screenplay.  Particularly, I love the throw away lines by minor characters (“People eat fish, Grogan.  Fish don’t eat People”).  The main characters have some doozies also.  (Grogan to Maggie:  “I didn’t axe-murder your young couple”).  The producer of Piranha went on to produce Airplane and Top Secret, and some of the lines wouldn’t be out of place in that level of parody.

Aside from the humor, my favorite part of Piranha is right near the beginning.  Maggie and Grogan are searching through the research station for the missing hikers.  Unseen by them, a mutant piranha is skulking around the station watching them.  The creature is brought to life with Harryhausen-style stop-motion animation.  It is creepy and wonderful looking.  The images of that walking piranha stuck with me long after seeing the film, and it was that scene I was looking forward to most when the anniversary DVD made the film available after years of obscurity.

It is difficult to refer to a B-movie with mostly amateurish acting and some ridiculous behavior as a classic.  The humor and genuine love for the genre seen in Piranha, though, bring it close to deserving that label.  If this review gives you the desire to seek out the film, be careful–there is a 1995 remake that is nearly unwatchable despite being based off the same script.  The 1978 original is the one you want as it is much more than just watchable.