When I first caught wind that there was a remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 cult classic Piranha I wasn’t quite as wary as if the film announced were for something like Jaws. Skepticism was never an issue as most people have never even heard of the original. I have been a fan since I was probably eight years old. An uncle had been in a motorcycle accident and with it being summer vacation, I was asked if I would take care of him. What better way for a young boy to begin his cinematic horror education?
While I had already seen the likes of Jaws and Poltergeist over and over, this is when I was introduced to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2. As if that wasn’t enough, I had longingly yearned to watch a movie called Piranha whose VHS cover art I had fallen in love with at the local video store. Now in my 30s, with this original classic just released on Blu-ray and Piranha 3D finally upon us, it’s with great pleasure that I wholeheartedly agree with the current 82% consensus on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also been officially announced that a sequel has already been greenlit in spite of opening box office receipts thanks to strong reviews and word of mouth. Rejoice!
Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors) finally proves what all the bloody fuss is about. Here’s a director with such an unabashed imagination that it only seems fitting that he join forces with a couple of members of the current “splat pack” — Eli Roth (in front of the camera) and Quentin Tarantino (behind). Speaking of which, it’s been said that the spring breaker whose bum is nibbled on before getting dragged through her inner tube in a literal geyser of blood and gore was suggested to Aja by Tarantino. But thankfully the two credited writers, Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg (both credited to last years underrated Sorority Row), bring a likable cast of characters who clearly know what kind of movie they’re in.
With a fantastic opening Jaws homage, we find Richard Dreyfuss reprising his Matt Hooper role, out fishing in a fenced-off part of the lake complete with signs warning one to stay out. Before he can finish singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” a beer bottle has caused a seismic rift in the lake floor where sure enough, thousands of prehistoric piranha burst forth and it’s clear as Matt circles around his vortex of doom that he should have brought a bigger boat.
The next course brings us to meet up with 17-year-old Jake Forester (Steven R. McQueen, grandson) whose mother Julie (Elisabeth Shue) is the local sheriff at Lake Victoria where she just wants to try to keep the peace as they’re under attack by thousands of drunk and horny college kids for spring break. We learn this is an annual hot spot when Julie demands that Jake miss out on the debauchery to look after his two younger siblings, Laura (Brooklynn Proulx) and Zane (Sage Ryan).
Not wanting to miss the chance to spend some time with his unrequited love Kelly (Jessica Szohr), Jake pays the kids $60 to look after themselves while he boards director Derrick Jones’ (Jerry O’Connell) Wild Wild Girls yacht to assist as a “location scout” to lead them to Lake Victoria’s local g-spots and to ogle Derrick’s two stars Danni (Kelly Brook) and Crystal (porn star Riley Steele) who are brought along to film a nude underwater ballet. Meanwhile, Julie and Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) have found Matt’s chewed up body and a group of red-shirted scientists show up led by Novak (Adam Scott).
Two members drift down into the rift to discover a seemingly endless cave chock full of the carnivorous piranha all too happy to protect their lair of unhatched eggs. After the two divers are eaten alive and Novak and Julie capture one of the piranha they take it to local crazy man Mr. Goodman (Christopher Lloyd in full Doc Brown mode) who knows way too much about the local aquatic life. Here we learn the rules about how they hunt and kill, preempting what can only be called the most horrifically hilarious showdown of gore witnessed in years. If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a girl’s hair gets caught in a propeller, yeve been warned.
As if it weren’t already enough to pay homage to Jaws with the brilliant pre-credit kill, there are references aplenty from lines of dialogue (“Do you think a propeller could’ve done this?”) to the very particular “forward tracking, zoom out” camera shot aka “the Jaws shot.” We even get “piranha-vision” as they track blood and sound to find their next kill for as we learn from Mr. Goodman, these particular piranhas are “organized and methodical.”
The cast definitely plants their tongues so far into their cheeks you’re just left in wait for a piranha to come by and snatch it away. While none of the body parts featured in close-ups happen to be tongues, director Aja has definitely come up with enough body parts floating around for them to chew on whether it be an eyeball, breast implants or even O’Connell’s highly publicized penis. Yes, a pair of piranha fight over Derrick’s dismembered member and spit it back in your face because while the film itself was not originally shot in 3-D, they knew it was going to be converted and filmed appropriately.
Huge kudos to Aja for having the balls to bring us a film that just barely received its R rating only nine days prior to release! The filmmakers have staked numerous claims that Piranha 3D would be one of the goriest movies ever and have definitely succeeded. And while we all know studios love to unleash unrated versions of films on home video, after bearing witness to the amount of copious amounts of gore, carnage, and “weapons of mass-turbation,” I can’t even imagine what could possibly have been deemed unfit for the theatrical release and left on the cutting room floor — but I can’t wait to find out.
Photo courtesy Dimension Films