The interesting characters come courtesy of screenwriter John Sayles. In the late Seventies and early Eighties, Sayles began his career by writing a series of low budget horror films including Alligator and the Howling. Oh, and he made something called Return of the Secaucus 7. But at this web site, we're much more concerned with movies about man-eating animals than movies about Sixties radicals. Piranha was directed by Joe Dante, better known for the darkly humorous Gremlins films. As we commented similarly about Alligator, that's quite a pedigree for a low-budget horror film.
At the base, Maggie and Paul are attacked by an enraged Kevin McCarthy (as Dr. Robert Hoak), who was keeping the base's population of super-piranha alive. Dr. Hoak is knocked unconscious, and Maggie and Paul unwittingly release the piranha into a nearby river. From there the secrets begin to unravel and Paul finds himself in a race to beat the killer fish downstream before they reach his daughter's summer camp.
Piranha is a nicely put-together little thriller. The actresses (those necessary staples of any horror film) are quite pretty and more than equal to the task, Dillman makes a likable-but-gruff hero, and the authorities, including shifty real estate dealer Buck Gardner (played by the omnipresent Dick Miller, a Roger Corman favorite) are perfectly corrupt and bumbling. The worst thing we can say about this film is that it bogs down a bit towards the beginning of the third act. But hey, you try following up an act like a river full of killer fish snacking on the tourist population.
Whoever thought of that chattering sound for the piranha, however, needs to be strung up. Chris' childhood experiences with this film, even the version edited for TV, made for some interesting moments at the local swimming pool. And Scott -- well, Scott won't go into the water at all.
Review date: 8/25/99
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