I’ve never seen the movie that Milhouse describes. I don’t know if it’s real but it sounds amazing. The closest I’ve come to it is Roger Corman and Joe Dante’s 1978 Piranha, one of my absolutely favorite nature run amok movies. I remember seeing it when I was young and it scared me in the same way that Jaws did. I guess that’s appropriate since this was basically Roger Corman’s answer to Jaws.
Both movies definitely made an impression from the opening credits.
“Piranha” then sinks into the water and turns the water red. Just like real life!
The movie opens very similarly to Jaws. Two hiking teenagers find a swimming pool in a military installation. They decide to swim in it because what can hurt you in a pool? Uhm, what if it’s a sewage treatment plant? It’s all fun and games until they’re attacked by…something.
Heather Menzies stars as Maggie McKeown, a private investigator with a penchant for playing “Jaws” arcade games.
She’s been sent to find the teenagers. Maggie comes across Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman), a reclusive, alcoholic mountain man. He suggests that she check out the military base and she drags him along with her.
They find a lab there populated with these weird hybrid creatures.
They empty the pool to see if they can find anything and are attacked by a man. There’s a skeleton in the pool and the man turns out to be a scientist, Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy.) They’ve just released a whole bunch of genetically engineered piranhas upstream of a summer camp and a water park. Oops. Dr. Hoak crashed their car so they end up rafting down the river to get back to civilization. This leads to ample opportunities to be attacked by piranhas.
The military becomes involved and is determined to cover up their involvement in creating the piranhas and in the shady land deal between the government and Buck Gardner (Dick Miller), the owner of Lost River Water Park. There’s also shady Dr. Mengers (Barbara Steele), who doesn’t seem too interested in stopping the piranhas.
I like this better than Jaws in some ways. I appreciate the critique of the relationship between government and big business. Also, the use of science for military purposes. There’s an earnestness in this that’s lacking in its remake, Piranha 3D, which is why I’ll always love this movie more. Sometimes the irony of this decade is very tiresome.
I guess the movie looks dated. My best friend spent most of the movie snickering. There are definitely moments of movie cheese but I like that. I think the movie’s best when you don’t see the piranhas, when characters are just jerked away and suddenly there’s blood in the water. There is an unfortunate number of repeated shots of the piranhas and this detracts from the scares. You have to admire how good they look for a movie from 1978.
The movie was directed by Joe Dante, who’d go on to give us Gremlins and The Howling. You really have to appreciate how Roger Corman cultivated filmmakers that would go on to great success like Dante, Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard. There’s nothing wrong with a big budget film but I have a special appreciation for a filmmaker that can make a movie that looks good on a shoestring budget and under a strict time limit. That’s something you learn working with Roger Corman.
If you’re a Corman fan, I really recommend getting the Roger Corman Cult Classics releases from Shout! Factory. They come with nice pamphlets about the movie, the artwork is great, and there are loads of bonus features.