The Film (5/5)
Piranha is one of the first Roger Corman produced films I remember seeing. The only Corman film I can remember seeing prior to this is Little Shop of Horrors, which I won a copy of at the local arcade around the summer of '89. Until this Shout Factory DVD, I had only seen Piranha on TV, and on a VHS copy that I recorded off of a commercial broadcast, so watching it now was almost like watching a new film. Some films I just hold up to my memories of them, seeing Piranha uncut for the first time didn't just hold up my memories of the film, but exceeded them.
Piranha is one of many nature gone awry Jaws clones produced in the late 70's. A genre that produced such classics and stinkers as Orca, Kingdom of the Spiders, and Grizzly. However, Piranha stands above them all. Piranha is a fun exploitation ride that also carries with a good deal of suspense, in it's more bloody moments.
Piranha is the exploitation equivalent of single many scotch. It's good the first time, and gets better with each viewing. The film is chock full of bloody violence, nudity, and suspense. Piranha is also a very humorous film. I remember reading an interview with Corman a long time back, where he says something along the lines that you should always give the audience something to laugh it, or they will find something to laugh at. And that applies to this film, it has a good deal of humor throughout the film, but it is used carefully, so as not to make Piranha an overly silly film. Finally, like some of the best genre films Piranha reflects the mood of the times, and carries with it a deeper political message.
The film opens on two hikers sneaking into what seems like a seemingly harmless fenced in pool, to fool around. As they are beginning to get intimate, a group of super Piranhas, bred and abandoned by the military attack the couple devouring them within seconds. The film picks up a little while later, a detective (Heather Menzies) is hired by one of their parents to locate them. She soon encounters rugged mountain man Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman), who would rather be left alone than get involved with the investigation into the couples disappearance, but soon ends up deep into the investigation.
Paul leads the detective up to the closed down military base, where they find the mad Doctor Hoak, who unsuccessfully attempts to stop them from draining the pool. After the pool is drained it is discovered that the government created a breed of super piranha, but finding them too uncontrollable put an end to the project, and abandoned the complex.
These piranhas are now in the adjacent river, and are on their way to the nearby camp where Paul's daughter is spending the summer, and the new local riverside tourist attraction managed by the money grubbing Buck Gardner (DICK MILLER!). They now have to stop the school of piranha, before they can decimate the local population, and make their way to the ocean.
As I said previously I have only seen Piranha on an old recorded off TV VHS tape, so anything would have been a drastic improvement over that. However, the transfer on this disc is genuinely fantastic. It is the first time the film has been presented in it's original 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio (the original DVD was 1:33:1). The transfer is excellent, black levels are solid, flesh tones are accurate, and there is a good level of film grain throughout. There is minor print damage, but nothing that really takes away from the presentation.
Shout Factory have presented Piranha with a solid Dolby Digital 2.0 track in English. The track is very good, the dialogue is clean and audible throughout the film, and the effects and music are balanced nicely. There is no real distortion, background noise, and hissing to be heard here. All in all an excellent track.
Shout Factory has been doing an incredible job with these Corman special editions, and Piranha is no different. The disc kicks off with an excellent commentary track by director Joe Dante, and producer Jon Davison. This is followed up by a 20 minute featurette called the Making of Piranha. There are 10 minutes of Behind the Scenes footage, this is accompanied with a commentary by Davison and Dante, and 7 minutes of bloopers. Finally, there are 12 minutes of scenes shot for the TV version of the film, these unlike the film are presented in 1:33:1, radio spots, TV spots, and a still/promo gallery. Additionally, there are trailers for other films in the Roger Corman Cult Classics line including Up from the Depths, Humanoids from the Deep, and Death Race 2000.
Piranha is a good and fun slice of 70's exploitation goodness. Sure, it's a Jaws knock-off, but it's a damn good one that wears it like a medal of honor. The film blends bloody gore, suspense, and humor to create what can be considered a classic of the genre. The film also features cameos by some great genre veterans from Invasion of the Body Snatchers Kevin McCarthy, Scream Queen Barbara Steele (Black Sunday, Nightmare Castle, They Came from Within), and of course Corman regular Dick Miller (Bucket of Blood, Gremlins, The Howling).
Shout Factory have once again done an excellent job restoring Corman's work to it's fullest. The A/V is amazing on this disc, and it is also the first time that Piranha has been seen in it's intended 1:85:1 aspect ratio. The extra are plentiful and offer a wealth of information on the film, and includes some interesting bloopers, TV spots, and Behind-the-Scenes footage. Shout Factory's Piranha disc is excellent all around and is highly recommended to all fans of horror, and exploitation.