James Reviews Joe Dante’s Piranha [Roger Corman’s Cult Classics DVD Review]

If anyone has known me for many years, they’ll know that I’m an avid Joe Dante lover. And who can deny that love? From Gremlins to Matinee, to The Howling and The ‘Burbs, nobody has done a better job in contemporary Hollywood genre films and also had a critical following as well. Shout Factory! Has just released his first breakthrough hit, a Roger Corman produced horror comedy that many have passed over as a Jaws ripoff. The film is Piranha.

It’s more than just a simple ripoff. Even Corman himself has said that they couldn’t just use another big sea fish, so instead he opted for the smaller and still deadly piranha. Plus the deaths could be more gruesome and in the year 1978 and the slasher boom about to hit, gratuitous gore was the in thing. But Piranha has something more than many of the ‘animals gone wild’ films had that followed it. And that’s simply a sense of humor and knowing that it’s just a funny film. And that’s thanks to a great script by John Sayles (who also wrote Dante’s The Howling).

Heather Menzies stars as the good natured but bumbling insurance investigator Maggie McKeown, who is looking for two missing teenagers who vanished near Lost River Lake. She meets drunkard Paul Grogan, played wonderfully by Bradford Dillman, who serves as her guide in the area. They come across an abandoned compound, which served for a time as a fish hatchery which the military used at one time.

While seeing some crazy experiments in jars, they realize somebody is still on the premises. Cautiously they search some more and Maggie realizes they need to search the bottom of the pool so she proceeds to drain it. A frantic man attacks the both of them, trying to stop them from draining the pool but they battle him off and the pool is drained. Unknown to them, there were killer piranha in that pool and now they’ve been let loose to the surrounding area. With a nearby camp, where Grogan’s own daughter is at, and a newly functioning amusement park and beach (ran by Dante and Corman mainstay Dick Miller), all hell is about to break loose.

I don’t want to give much away, because it wouldn’t do it justice in the text alone. It’s a film that needs to be watched, especially with friends, and to experience the joy in the piranha attacking people, even children, is something to behold. The special effects are of course outdated, but that’s part of the fun, and watching the disc and seeing the special features on how they overcame the budget in order to make the best rampaging piranha movie ever is awesome.

Shout! Factory again has not let the viewer down with their presentation of Piranha. They bring over the great and informative commentary track from Joe Dante and producer Jon Davidson from the old DVD release. But with a new anamorphic trailer, a great documentary with new interviews from Dante, Corman, Miller and many more, a blooper and outtake reel, a stills gallery showing behind the scenes stuff from Phil Tippett’s personal collection and the Piranha trailer itself with commentary by Jon Davidson from Joe Dante’s own glorious website Trailers From Hell, you really can’t go wrong with this release. Roger Corman’s films are being given the proper treatment they deserve, and this is one of the best ones he was ever a part of. Go check it out but be warned: you won’t want to go in a lake with an inner tube anytime soon. Especially if Paul Bartel is your camp counselor.

Mutant piranha escape from a secret research station and head downriver towards a summer camp and a small town’s lakeside tourist attraction. A gruff loner and a daffy private eye race against time to try to stop the creatures.

All-new extras and first-time widescreen transfer! First time on Blu-ray! Piranha, publicly acknowledged by Steven Spielberg as “the best of the Jaws rip-offs,” received the Saturn Award Nomination for Best Horror Film in 1979. Featuring F/X from Oscar-winning make-up artist Rob Bottin (Total Recall, The Thing).

Director: Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling, Matinee)

Stars: Bradford Dillman (Bug), Heather Menzies (Sound of Music), Barbara Steele (Black Sunday) and Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) 

Special Features:

  • New Anamorphic Widescreen Transfer (1.85:1)
  • Audio Commentary with Director Joe Dante and Producer Jon Davidson
  • Behind-the-Scenes Footage
  • “The Making Of Piranha” Featurette with New Interviews from Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Dick Miller, Belinda Balaski and Many More
  • Bloopers and Outtakes
  • Piranha Trailer with Commentary by Producer Jon Davison – Courtesy of Trailers From Hell
  • Stills Gallery with Photos and Posters from Around the World
  • Behind-the-Scenes Stills Gallery Featuring Photos from Phil Tippett’s Personal Collection
  • Addition Scenes from the Network Television Version
  • Radio and TV Spots
  • New World Trailers

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