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"Operation Razorteeth," a government project involving the breeding of mutant piranhas, gets way out of hand when the fish raid a lake at a summer camp for kids in this Roger Corman-produced, Joe Dante-directed classic. Heather Menzies stars as Maggie McKeown, an insurance investigator out to trace a missing teenage couple who have disappeared in the woods. With the help of a drunken recluse, Paul Grogan, they come across a supposedly deserted army base inhabited by Dr. Robert Hoak who has been breeding the deadly fish in secret. In their hunt for the missing couple McKeown and Grogan drain the army pool, unleashing millions of mutant piranhas into the lake of a nearby children's summer camp and a newly opened tourist resort.
For more about Piranha and the Piranha Blu-ray release, see Piranha Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Joe Dante
Writers: John Sayles, Richard Robinson (II)
Starring: Heather Menzies, Bradford Dillman, Kevin McCarthy, Barbara Steele, Dick Miller (I), Keenan Wynn
» See full cast & crew
Piranha Blu-ray Review
Kind of like that 'Feeding Frenzy' game on the PSN but with bloody water, naked girls, and chewed-up campers.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 1, 2010
They breed like flies...there'll be no way to stop them!
Here's a "Horror" movie where the creatures don't swallow a victim whole, split them in half, tear out their intestines, rip off their heads, pop out of their stomachs, shoot them with lasers, melt them with acid, or do whatever it is that Horror movie baddies usually do. Nope, in Director Joe Dante's (Small Soldiers) Piranha, the title fish peck their victims to death. The formula: toss a couple of teenagers into a military testing salt water tank, throw some campers in intertubes onto the lake, feature an old man dangling his feet off a pier, show a father reaching for something under a boat, or place a park full of nearly-naked young adults into the water and let loose some fish with razor-sharp teeth, a ravenous appetite, and a stomach capacity that would make Kobayashi wet his pants, and the result is a "Horror" movie that's more funny than it is scary, but, surprise, it works. Piranha is one of the finest of the Roger Corman-produced low-budget drive-in rip-off gems of the 70s and 80s; with some honest production values, decent acting, and not all that much gore, it's easily one of the more audience-friendly pictures of its kind, and, yup, there's a remake coming soon...in 3D.
Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) has been sent to a rural area of Texas to locate two missing hikers, who, unbeknownst to her, were mysteriously killed when they wandered into a secret military salt water tank filled with deadly piranhas. She teams up with an unwilling accomplice, a woodsman named Paul (Bradford Dillman), who's familiar with the area and has a daughter attending a nearby lakeside camp. They find evidence that the two missing hikers stumbled into the military base; while there, though, Maggie and Paul inadvertently let loose the piranhas into the local water supply. They learn from the only person manning the base -- Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) -- that the deadly piranhas were bred in hopes that they could play a part in winning the Vietnam War. Now, the three find themselves at war with a deadly swarm of hungry fish who are feasting on every human body part they come across. Their ultimate destinations: a summer camp for kids and a popular lakeside getaway for adults. With the military bumbling along with their heads in the sand, it's up to Maggie, Paul, and Dr. Hoak if there's to be any hope in ridding the waters of one of the greatest threats man has ever known: pint-sized Piranhas.
Piranha's not exactly original. It's a cheap knockoff of Jaws but with hundreds of little fish rather than one big menacing bad boy to terrorize victims. In a way, Piranha serves up a scarier proposition. While a shark might bite someone's leg off, imagine a swarm of hungry little fish nibbling on about 50 people at the same time. Granted, it doesn't work nearly as well on the screen as it does in theory and on paper. Part of that is the fact that, cinematically, a shark looms larger than a bunch of piranhas; part of that is the budget; and part of that is the fact that Joe Dante is no Steven Spielberg. That's not to diminish Dante's excellent work in Piranha; he does some fantastic things and turns what should otherwise be a cheap movie of the week into an entertaining little gem that holds up well even some thirty years after its debut. Dante keeps things on the level, lending to the picture strong direction and, usually, wonderful pacing save for a slightly sluggish stretch in the middle. He also shies away from going full-throttle into typical Corman territory, leaving out the gratuitous nudity and violence in favor of building story and atmosphere instead. There's still some T&A, a few halfway grotesque shots, and plenty of blood in the water, but compared to films like Forbidden World and Galaxy of Terror, Piranha is downright tame for a Roger Corman picture.
Ultimately, though, there's only one word that really describes Piranha: "camp." Serving up far more intentional and unintentional laughs than scares, not to mention the complete randomness of the plot, Piranha is little more than an exercise in mindless fun moving at 24 frames per second. The picture suffers through some slow stretches but does try and do the right thing by developing a few characters but only to the point that there's a wee bit of emotion when they or those around them are attacked. Some elements just seem completely out of left field, like the fact that nobody really likes the guy in charge of the children's camp, but it's a small complaint amongst the much larger picture that showcases Piranha as a movie worth watching, particularly among the cult-classic crowd and those that want to expand their cinematic horizons beyond Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Kick-Ass. No, it's not going to end world hunger or bring about peace in the Middle East, but Piranha is an exceptional piece of campy low budget filmmaking that's good for some laughs, a bit of blood, a few bare breasts, Kevin McCarthy, and plenty of nibbling piranhas. Not bad, Mr. Corman and Mr. Dante. Not bad at all.
Piranha Blu-ray, Video Quality
Piranha swims onto Blu-ray with what is a sometimes problematic but mostly nice-looking 1080p, 1.78:1-framed transfer. No doubt the transfer at several junctures coughs up a few less-than-handsome elements, notably coming in the form of excess noise, crushed blacks, a plethora of spots and speckles, and a few random vertical lines. Generally, though -- and for the bulk of the picture -- Piranha looks great for what it is. The image offers up a fait bit of intricate details in clothes, hats, and faces, though some of the trees seen off to the sides of the frame often feature clumpy rather than distinct bunches of leaves. The transfer appears mostly clear and sharp with only the occasional soft shot and hazy detail. Colors are slightly dull but true to those seen in similar low-budget pictures of the era. The image retains a fair bit of grain that spikes in places, though there's some chunky background noise scattered about the film, too. Piranha is by no means a pristine Blu-ray, but fans will appreciate the bump in resolution and nicely-realized elements Shout! Factory's transfer affords the material.
Piranha Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Piranha floats onto Blu-ray with a decent enough PCM 2.0 soundtrack. This one's a touch too loud at reference volume, but turning things down a few notches yields a pedestrian but serviceable listen. This track sometimes sounds a bit stale and unrefined, lacking in space and clarity as it trudges along with most of its elements emanating from the center channel. No one sound effect ever comes across as natural or convincing, though there are no wholly indistinct elements within the track. Even the distinct "piranha" sound effects lack much oomph and power; fortunately, though, the absence of a more robust presentation doesn't really hurt the effectiveness of the film. Dialogue sometimes plays as tinny and shallow while occasionally bleeding off to the sides. Though this is a basic, no-frills type soundtrack, it suits and supports both the film and the Blu-ray presentation well enough.
Piranha Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Shout! Factory brings Piranha to Blu-ray with a nice assortment of extras, including an audio commentary track with Director Joe Dante and Producer Jon Davison. They discuss Roger Corman's concerns over the budget, shooting locales, the name actors that appear in the cast, ideas for the film that were never fully realized and incorporated into the final product, cinematic trickery and shooting on a budget, variations on the script, the differences between working for a major studio and working for Roger Corman, James Cameron's sequel, and plenty of other interesting factoids and observations. Fans will enjoy this commentary. Behind the Scenes Footage (480p, 9:35) again features Dante and Davison speaking over a few minutes worth of raw footage from the making of the picture. Next is The Making of 'Piranha' Featurette with New Interviews with Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Dick Miller, and Belinda Balaski (1080i, 19:44), a collection of interview snippets and clips from the film that cover a broad array of issues, including the script, special effects, shooting on a budget and a time crunch, and plenty more.
The disc also features a series of bloopers and outtakes (480p, 6:48), additional scenes from the network television version of Piranha (480p, 12:21), several radio spots (1080p, 1:38), a TV spot (480p, 0:33), a poster and still gallery (1080p), and a collection of Phil Tippet's Behind-the-Scenes photographs (1080p). Rounding out the on-disc supplements is a trailer farm that features the Piranha theatrical trailer (480p, 2:15); the Piranha trailer with commentary by Producer John Davidson (480p, 2:28); the film's teaser trailer (480p, 0:33); and additional previews for Humanoids From the Deep, Up From the Depths, and Death Race 2000. Also included in the case is reversible cover art and an eight-page booklet that contains an introduction to the film with Roger Corman and the essay "Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Water Again...For the First Time...Sort Of" by Michael Felsher.
Piranha Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's not Jaws, but Piranha is a perfectly good knockoff that plays as equal parts serious Horror movie, parody, and campy cult classic. Director Joe Dante's picture is probably the pinnacle of the Roger Corman catalogue; that's not really saying a whole lot, but his insistence on staying away from the Corman staples -- excess gore and nudity -- pays off in a big way. Piranha takes itself just seriously enough to work, but the entire movie gives off a "just kidding" vibe that really sells it and makes for a wonderful exercise in mindless filmmaking done right. No, don't look to see if it was nominated for any Oscars, but Piranha is an all-star of low budget filmmaking done right. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release of Piranha sports a solid 1080p transfer, a passable soundtrack, and a fair collection of extras. Recommended.
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Piranha Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Piranha, Humanoids from the Deep Blu-ray Detailed - May 27, 2010
Shout! Factory has revealed the full details for the two titles it will release on Blu-ray on August 3 as part of its Roger Corman's Cult Classic collection: Piranha (Joe Dante, 1978) and Humanoids from the Deep (Barbara Peters, 1980). The latter will feature a ...
• Piranha Blu-ray Delayed, More Corman Productions Announced - January 26, 2010
Shout Factory has informed that the Blu-ray release of the 1978 movie 'Piranha' is being pushed to August 3. The reason officially given for the delay is that more time was needed "to finalize the bonus content" – although this comes just as the upcoming remake ...
• Piranha Blu-ray Coming Soon - December 31, 2009
In April 2010, Shout Factory will commence a new series of home video releases under the banner, “Roger Corman's Cult Classics”, presenting classic titles from the New World Pictures film library. The first title to come out on Blu-ray will be Joe Dante's 'Piranha', ...
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