Coroner’s Report: Piranha (1978)

Coroner's ReportWith the “too violent for Comic Con” 3D reimagining coming our way this August from the (mostly) awesome Alexandre Aja, you bet your bottom dollar there is a brand spanking new edition of the original available to purchase. From our friends at Shout! Factory, who are doing a kick ass job releasing plenty of cult classics, the 1978 Joe Dante helmed Piranha is coming to shelves near you soon. While this release isn’t as completely packed with new features as the Death Race disc was, it’s still probably the most complete release you’ll ever see for this film.

This is the paragraph where I often give a bit of plot information about the film, so here goes: it is literally Jaws but with piranhas instead of a shark and a guy in a flannel shirt instead of Roy Scheider.


There are at least five definitive, confirmed on screen kills. When all hell breaks loose it becomes impossible to keep track, but my estimate is fifteen to twenty people dead.


Most of what we see are piranhas taking bites out of people underwater, nothing too graphic. Some legs are eaten off, a nipple is bitten off, and there is a whole mess of blood in the water. Nothing here to make the squeamish squeam, but plenty of bits of flesh are nibbled off by rubbery fish.


Well it is summer time, so we see some girls in bikinis, but the film starts off with some (small) boobs and later we see naked breasts used as a distraction. The best bit of nudity though comes when a pair of perverse piranha strip the top off of a swimmer before eating her nipples. Yeah, it’s that kind of a day.


Don’t try to weaponize animals. In fact, you probably shouldn’t weaponize anything that isn’t already a weapon. Never works out.


If you’re too young to have known Piranha and never found it on late night television, you should check out this release. Many people consider it amongst the best Jaws sequels, despite it not being a sequel to Jaws. As a huge fan of that franchise, and of Roy Scheider, at best I’d put these pint-sized killers in the third spot, but Dante’s film is superior to many bigger budgeted flicks before or after it.

There’s nothing particularly original about the story, which revolves around genetically modified piranha escaping into a nearby water source, but the film is actually well made, engaging, entertaining, and humorous. There is a good deal more to laugh at here than in similar films which take themselves far too seriously and plenty of recognizable faces. Okay, one recognizable face: Dick Miller, of Gremlins.

Quickly, unrelated to almost everything else, I must point out that the female fish research pronounces piranha as “pee-ran-yaaa” which I find amusing.

What else is amusing is an almost throw-away sequence that probably took more time, money, and effort than most of the action sequences. When the pair of Maggie and Paul are investigating a mostly abandoned military facility, we see some of the other genetic works of the mad doctor who created the weaponized piranha. In one tank there is a part tube-worm, part piranha pillar monster thing that looks pretty cool. Tipping the scales beyond awesome is a bipedal, air breathing piranha mini-monster (maybe 6 inches tall) that skitters around the lab unnoticed by the pair of people. This thing is seriously awesome and I sort of want a whole movie based around a few of those guys. Or even one. But if it’s just one, then it’s a coming of age comedy.

The review of this disc of the DVD, though there is a Blu-ray available. With films of this age (and budget), there can sometimes be little difference between the formats, in fact, sometimes the Blu-ray will look worse because of the clarity of the flaws. I’m not sure if that’s the case here (as I didn’t get a chance to look at the Blu-ray), but I can say that the transfer on the DVD looks pretty damn good in its own right. In terms of special features we get a commentary, a few galleries, trailers, behind the scenes stuff, advertising bits, and the thing I enjoyed most – “The Making of Piranha.” It’s short, but offers a lot of insight into how Corman produced and Dante directed, which basically boils down to “Move fast and add more blood.” True words of wisdom for all aspiring filmmakers.

A fun, campy movie that is legitimately enjoyable and entertaining, presented well. I say pick it up, you won’t regret it (unless you suck).

Grade: B

Robert Fure is many things: horror expert, ruggedly handsome man of the world, witty prose composer, and writer of his own biography page. Beneath the bravado is a scared little boy, ready to grow into an awesome man and make lies about a scared little boy inside of him. Wait a minute...

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