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Joe Dante
Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Belinda Balaski
Writing Credits:
Richard Robinson (story), John Sayles (and story)

There's something in the water at Lost River Lake. Something you can't see ... something you can't feel ... until it's too late!

While searching for missing teenagers, novice skip tracer Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) and local town boozer Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) stumble upon a top-secret Army laboratory conducting genetic research on piranha fish for the purpose of developing biological warfare. When the deadly eating machines are accidently released from the compound, they are soon headed downstream and consuming everything, and anything, in their path.

Box Office:
$600 thousand.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English Monaural
Not Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $26.97
Release Date: 8/3/2010

• Audio Commentary with Director Joe Dante and Producer Jon Davison
• Behind the Scenes Footage
• “The Making of Piranha” Featurette
• Bloopers and Outtakes
• Four Additional Scenes from the Network Television Version
• Radio Spots
• TV Spot
• Trailers
• Poster and Still Gallery
• Phil Tippett’s Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Piranha [Blu-Ray] (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 28, 2010)

With Piranha 3D soon to hit theaters, it seemed like a good time to check out the original film in the series: 1978’s Piranha. Two young hikers happen upon an abandoned military facility. When they enter it, they find a pool that they decide to use to clean themselves.

Big mistake! Something lives inside this pond, and its inhabitants chow down on the intruders.

This leads to a search, and skip-tracer Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) heads into the wilderness to find them. She teams with local recluse Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) and they check out the facility in which the kids met their doom. They discover a variety of odd creatures, and Maggie decides to train the pool to see if they can locate the kids’ carcasses.

Another big mistake! This releases the pool’s inhabitants: genetically-mutated, super-vicious piranha. They head down river, right toward a summer camp packed with kids and counselors - including Paul’s young daughter Suzie (Shannon Collins). Paul, Maggie and Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) speed toward the camp to try to head off a fishy feast.

Would Piranha exist without the success of 1975’s Jaws? Of course not – it’s your basic cash-in rip-off, though it’s a conscious cash-in rip-off. Early in the flick, Maggie plays a Jaws videogame, and allusions to other fish-related works abound.

To its credit, Piranha doesn’t simply remake Jaws. Both films share the concept of killer fish, and they include authority figures who want to avoid public knowledge of said super-chompers for PR purposes, but that’s about it. Otherwise, Piranha goes down dramatic paths unconnected to Jaws.

Self-referential, semi-parodic and mildly original don’t necessarily make a movie good, though. Piranha seems to enjoy a decent reputation as a fun comedy-adventure, but I can’t quite figure out why. Perhaps it attempts to spoof bad low-budget rip-off flicks, but it doesn’t make those goals clear.

Instead, it simply becomes a bad, low-budget rip-off flick. Character development remains non-existent, so we never care about any of the participants. During the final act, it throws piranha fodder our way at a ridiculous rate; the camp and resort situations appear to exist solely for a lot of cheap chomping. This amps up the blood and gore but not the drama.

Instead, we just get a lot of gratuitous violence without the drama. The second half of Jaws - which takes place almost entirely on the Orca as three characters hunt a shark – possesses tons more tension and excitement than anything here. Piranha mistakes quantity for quality; I guess first-time director Joe Dante knew he couldn’t live up to Spielberg’s epic, so he went with the easy, exploitative path.

The film’s tone is also an issue. Piranha can’t ever quite decide if it wants to be a comedy or a straight action flick. It goes from scenes of non-ironic violence to shots of goofiness. The inconsistency spreads to the actors; some play their roles perfectly straight, while others – most notably Dick Miller and Paul Bartel – aim for camp. With no logic at work, the two sides butt heads and make the end result incoherent and dopey.

With Dante behind the camera and John Sayles – seriously – as screenwriter, Piranha boasts real talent involved. None of them can do anything satisfying with the material, though. Perhaps Piranha outdoes the other Jaws rip-offs, but that doesn’t make it good.

The Disc Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

Piranha appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Given the film’s age and low-budget origins, this was a pretty satisfactory presentation.

For the most part, Piranha seemed reasonably sharp. Some mild soft spots occurred, but I thought it presented more than adequate delineation, as the majority of the movie looked concise and accurate. Jagged edges and shimmering weren’t issues, and edge enhancement remained absent.

Colors seemed good, as the hues were pretty peppy and dynamic. The flick used a natural palette that worked for its river setting. Blacks were reasonably dark and tight, while low light shots usually demonstrated nice delineation; a few night sequences seemed a bit dense, but those weren’t a significant concern.

Source flaws were an issue, though not to a tremendous degree. Through the film, I saw instances of spots, specks, and blotches. These created distractions, but not on a constant level, as most of the film looked acceptably clean. The print problems knocked my grade down to a “B-”, but I still felt fairly pleased with the image.

The monaural soundtrack of Piranha seemed dated and mediocre, as I expected. Effects appeared dinky and failed to offer great clarity. Speech consistently sounded thin and reedy. Not much edginess interfered, but the lines seemed lifeless and dull; some poor dubbing didn’t help matters.

The music lacked dimensionality most of the time. The score wasn’t bad, but it failed to deliver much presence and vivacity. No source flaws emerged, though, as the track remained acceptably clean. While nothing stood out as memorable, the audio seemed adequate for a cheap older movie.

We find a pretty good roster of supplements here. First comes an audio commentary from director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison. Recorded for a 2000 DVD release, the guys sit together for a running, screen-specific chat about the film’s development and budgetary issues, cast and performances, sets and locations, effects,

Dante dominates the chat and makes it generally pretty good, though the track never becomes great. That’s largely because of too much dead air, especially as the flick progresses; gaps never seem overwhelming, but the pace slows as we go. Still, we learn a lot about the movie, and the participants provide a lot of good humor as they go; they don’t take the flick seriously and they have fun with it. Chalk this up as an inconsistent but enjoyable commentary.

Under Behind the Scenes Footage, we find nine minutes, 35 seconds of rough material. Accompanied by commentary from Dante and Davison, we see the home movies Davison shot. These elements include glimpses of the piranha puppets as well as views of the various sets and locations. It’s a moderately fun reel, though the remarks from Dante and Davison don’t add a lot; they let us know the identities of various subjects but not a lot more.

A new program called The Making of Piranha goes for 19 minutes, 44 seconds. It features notes from Dante, executive producer Roger Corman, photographic effects artist Peter Kuran, visual effects artists Chris Walas and Robert Short, creature designer Phil Tippett, editor Mark Goldblatt, and actors Melody Scott, Belinda Balaski and Dick Miller. “Making” examines the film’s origins and development, what Dante brought to the project, various effects, editing, cast and performances. This doesn’t threaten to become a comprehensive look at the movie, but it includes some interesting insights. Yeah, there’s some repetition from the commentary, but this remains a decent featurette.

A collection of Bloopers and Outtakes lasts six minutes, 48 seconds. The “bloopers” side of things dominates, as we get the standard goofs and giggles. If that entertains you, you’ll like this reel.

A collection of Additional Scenes from the Network Television Version occupies a total of 12 minutes, 21 seconds. Many of these tend to be short extensions, though some totally new sequences appear as well. They usually add exposition and a little more character information. I think they’re pretty superfluous, though; I can’t imagine any of them would’ve made the movie any better.

Some ads follow. We find three Radio Spots, one TV Spot, and two Trailers. The last area also includes ads for Corman pictures Humanoids from the Deep, Up from the Depths and Death Race 2000. Note that the main Piranha trailer comes with commentary from Davison; he throws in some decent notes, but it’s annoying we can’t watch the trailer without his thoughts.

Stillframe materials arrive under the Poster and Still Gallery. It presents advertising elements; the photos tend to come from lobby cards. More stills appear under Phil Tippett’s Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery, as we get 50 of those. All tend to be interesting, and I like the interface; the Blu-ray uses the Pop-Up menu to give us thumbnails, so we can easily navigate the shots.

Many seem to regard Piranha as the best of the Jaws rip-offs, but that’s pretty much the definition of “faint praise”. Perhaps it’s superior to other cheap cash-ins, but it’s still not any good. The Blu-ray provides acceptable to good picture and audio along with a smattering od decent supplements. Cheesy, silly and not very entertaining, Piranha fails to deliver much enjoyment.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 4
0 3:
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