“The water is filled with carnivorous fish: piranha.”
When an insurance investigator (Heather Menzies) teams up with an alcoholic recluse (Bradford Dillman) to determine what happened to a pair of teenagers who mysteriously disappeared, they learn about a doctor (Kevin McCarthy) overseeing a government-sponsored project to breed lethal piranhas, which wreak havoc when they’re released into the nearby river and beyond — including a summer camp and a water resort.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Barbara Steele Films
- Detectives and Private Eyes
- Dick Miller Films
- Horror Films
- Joe Dante Films
- John Sayles Films
- Keenan Wynn Films
- Kevin McCarthy Films
- Killer Animals
- Summer Camp
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary rather uncharitably argues that “Roger Corman’s low-budget Jaws variation, directed by Joe Dante and scripted by John Sayles,” “should be condensed to 15 minutes.” He writes that “it becomes annoying how Dante and Sayles put the usual roadblocks in the path of Dillman and Menzies to kill screen time,” given that “there can be only one attack at the camp and one at the resort because after that nobody would go back into the water” — and “as it is, those two attacks, which should take about 10 seconds each since the swimmers are about 10 feet from land, go on forever.” He further argues that while “Paul Bartel, as the taskmaster camp head:
… and Dick Miller, as the money-hungry resort owner:
… are funny,” their “broad humor doesn’t mesh with the tongue-in-cheek satirical upstream story [?] with Dillman and Menzies,” and it “should all have been played straight.”
I think Peary is being overly harsh on this flick, which effectively builds off of Jaws while offering plenty of genuine chills and thrills. The idea of genetically modified fish with teeth swarming in the water is enough to terrify me — and it’s pretty ridiculous to complain that swimmers would get to shore within 10 seconds if they’re being attacked and bitten to death by ravenous hordes of critters. Meanwhile, plenty of authentic suspense is built into Sayles’s screenplay — i.e., when the raft Menzies and Dillman are using to flee starts unraveling due to the piranhas eating away at its bindings:
… and when Dillman is racing against time to prevent a dam operator from releasing the water:
… and all the sequences in which innocent swimmers (including plenty of kids) are about be swarmed.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Plenty of suspenseful moments
- An effective horror film score
No, but it’s worth a look.