Piranha (1978): Lenticular DVD Review

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Exploitation original gets new DVD makeover

On August 3, Shout! Factory released PIRANHA in a new DVD edition, as well as a Blu-Ray disc (its debut in the latter format), to tie in with the theatrical release of the 3D remake. Both releases feature 1.85 anamorphic widescreen transfers and a bundle of special features from the previous DVD “Special Edition” of  1999.

New to this release is “The Making of PIRANHA” featurette. Interviews with many of the principle crew and some cast members (including Roger Corman, director Joe Dante, actors Dick Miller, Belinda Balaski, effects experts Chris Walas and Phil Tippett, and others) provide lots of fun facts, amusing stories, and some insights into late-‘70s low-budget filmmaking at its grittiest. For instance, you’ll never guess why the US swim team did so poorly at the 1978 Summer Olympics until you watch this featurette.

Also new to this release are Radio and TV Spots, which really are something of a time portal into how movies were promoted in the not too-distant past. The film’s theatrical trailer now has an optional commentary track with producer Jon Davison, thanks to Trailers from Hell.

Scenes added to the Network Television Version have been included separately, although the option to watch them as part of the feature would have been more interesting. Finally, a Behind-the-Scenes Stills Gallery has been added, with material taken from Phil Tippett’s personal collection. There are trailers for the other releases in Shout! Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics collection, too.

Holdovers from the previous DVD release include feature-length audio commentary by Dante and Davison, Behind-the-Scenes Footage (with audio commentary), Bloopers and Outtakes, and a Stills Gallery that features posters from the international releases of the film.

A hapless victim
A hapless victim

The packing features a 3D lenticular slipcase that’s actually quite entertaining. The DVD case features a reversible inner cover, and there’s a nice booklet with photos and info on the film (notes provided by Michael Felsher), as well as a brief introduction by Roger Corman. The widescreen transfer is crisp and clean, with great sound quality. Some of the bonus materials are a little shabby, and the network TV scenes could have been cleaned up better. Otherwise, a rather fancy presentation for a cheap knock-off that no one ever expected to still be around in any form over thirty years after its release – and we‘re so thankful it is.


Possession, Piranha, Predators & Pastry: CFQ Post-Mortem Podcast 1:29.1

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After casting the devil out of THE LAST EXORCISM, Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski exercise their analytic on other possession movies in the latest episode of Cinefantastique’s weekly Post-Mortem Podcast. What are the best and worst the genre has to offer: THE EXORCIST, THE EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, THE EXORCIST III, HOUSE OF EXORCISM?
Also this week: an exploration of the questions:

  • What do THE LAST EXORCISM and AFTER.LIFE have in common?
  • Is PREDATORS this year’s most entertaining horror, fantasy, or science fiction film?
  • What’s up with trailers for films like PIRANHA 3D and PREDATORS, which promise scenes not in the movie?
  • Does A MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH, the latest animated adventure starring plasticene pals Wallace and Gromit, live up to their previous, Oscar-winning work?


Sense of Wonder: Piranha 3D Part 2?

Piranha 3D (2010) CGI fishDimension Films is so happy about the reaction to PIRANHA 3D that they have put out a press release announcing that a sequel is already in the works. The announcement is rather premature, reading more like a marketing ploy to boost the box office fortunes of PIRANHA 3D’s current theatrical release than like a legitimate announcement of a sequel:

New York, NY – August 23, 2010 – After earning rave reviews from top critics, wild cheers from audiences around the country, and $10 million in its opening weekend boxoffice, Dimension Films is pleased to announce that PIRANHA 3D – THE SEQUEL is in the works.
PIRANHA 3D producer Mark Canton stated, “We are thrilled that audiences are not just loving PIRANHA 3D, but cheering for it. And it’s fantastic that so many critics are really getting the movie and recommending it. We can’t wait to get to work on the sequel.”

The sentence “PIRANHA 3D wins success with audiences” should to be interpreted in relative terms. The film’s $10-million opening weekend placed it at #6, behind THE EXPENDABLES, VAMPIRES SUCK, EAT PRAY LOVE, THE LOTTERY TICKET, and THE OTHER GUYS. That’s not an astounding opening.
Even making allowances for the film, viewing it as a David-versus-Goliath battle against bigger product in the marketplace, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. THE EXPENDABLES is also from an independent company, Lions Gate Films, and it’s in its second weekend. VAMPIRES SUCK, though released by Fox, is a $20-million movie ($4-million less than PIRANHA 3D) without box office stars. LOTTERY TICKET is from Warner Brothers, but it opened on fewer screens than PIRANHA 3D (1,973 instead of 2,470).
When judging that $10-million gross, one should also remember that PIRANHA 3D has an advantage over the competition: thanks to the unsatisfying post-production 3-D conversion, PIRANHA 3D charges an extra $3 per ticket. At this rate, the film’s final U.S. gross will probably barely earn back its production costs. Overseas sales should help earn back the money spent on prints and advertising (which can double or triple a film’s budget). And home video sales should eventually ensure that the film makes money.
In short, the numbers are nothing to shout about, and if PIRANHA 3D is on its way to success, it is only because it was produced cheaply enough to guarantee profitability on modest returns after all the numbers are added up. The sequel announcement is probably part of Dimension’s tongue-in-cheek promotional campaign, which also includes hyping the exploitation film as an Oscar hopeful.

Read the complete press release here.


Piranha (1978) horror film review

Piranha (1978) posterAlong with DEATH RACE 2000, this fun-filled exploitation horror film from 1978 is one of the great achievements to emerge from New World Pictures, a low-budget company that Roger Corman created after giving up hands-on directing to become an executive. New World churned out enjoyable exploitation fare for drive-in theatres and multiplexes in the 1970s, in the process serving as an apprenticeship for future Oscar-winners like Ron Howard and Jonathan Demme. Among the budding young talent at New World were director Joe Dante, screenwriter Jonathan Sayles, and producer Jon Davison, whose combined talents turned PIRANHA into that rarest of rarities: a rip-off that surpasses its inspiration. Conceived as a way to cash in on JAWS 2 (which was released the same year), the independently produced PIRANHA bested its big-budget studio rival in entertainment value if not production value. PIRANHA is fas-paced, scary, and witty – with a pleasant awareness of its own subsidiary position that invites us to sit back and enjoy it for what it is: a low-budget, jokey variation on a blockbuster hit.
Piranha (1978) Menzies and DillmanPIRANHA begins with a back-packing coule trespassing onto an old military research center, where they are killed by something in a tank/pool. Skip tracer Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) traces the missing persons with the help of local drunk Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman). Searching for the bodies, Maggie drains the tank, inadvertently unleashing the piranha of the title. Unfortunately, these fish have been scientifically engineered to survive in environments (such as cold water and salt water) that are unlike their natural tropical climate; also, they are smart enough to find their way through the winding tributaries that lead down river to the ocean. The rest of the film becomes a race as Maggie and Paul try to head off the piranha before they reach open water; along the way, there is a children’s summer camp and a new resort, financed by an insider (a general privy to the military project), who is eager to protect his investment by keeping the news of the piranha quiet.

Terror, horror, death. Film at eleven.
Terror, horror, death. Film at eleven.

Structuring the story as a race down stream is a clever touch that lends an energetic forward momentum totally missing from the miserable 3-D remake. With only occasional pauses when our heroes are captured or incarcerated, the original PIRANHA seems to rush breathlessly to each new set-piece, including the summer camp sequence (which borders on bad taste by putting children in jeopardy) and culminating in the attack on the resort, which serves up the requisite R-rated carnage, including gallons of gore.
In retrospect, what startles the most about PIRANHA is the unexpected humanity. Sayles’ script defies genre expectations by loading the film with clever dialogue and likable characters. Time is spent setting up the victims in such a way that the correct buttons are pushed to make you laugh, cry, or cheer when the fateful moment arrives. Particularly memorable is a doomed camp counselor who vaguely senses an ill-wind blowing her direction: the underwater shot of her sinking into darkness almost leaps off the screen in its effectiveness; it’s all the more startling because, in a slasher movie, this quiet introspective character would be the “final girl” who survives to see the closing credits role.
Piranha (1978) Paul BartelThere is a nice variety to the approach. Mr. Dumont, the head of the camp (played by Paul Bartel, who directed DEATH RACE 2000), is a jerk but he is not painted as a complete asshole. When this comic relief character is presented with the results of ignoring a warning that could have prevented disaster, the effect is tragic rather than smug in an “I told you so” kind of way, and the film shows admirable restraint in allowing the character to suffer his moment of guilt in silence instead of having the hero punch him out.
Dr. Hoak confronts the results of his work.
Dr. Hoak confronts the results of his work.

Of course, Sayles knows the satisfaction value of setting up someone who deserves what he gets, and also of having someone who pays for his sins but goes out on a note of redemption. SPOILER. In the former case, a general figuratively goes down with the ship, his hat sinking to the riverbed as we cheer. In the later case, Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) pays big time for being the scientist responsible for the piranha program, suffering one of cinema’s great melodramatic deaths. It’s a moment both expected and unexpected: you know the guy has got to go, but you are surprised to care when it happens. (I stand in a small minority, possibly of one, in finding this moment more convincing and touching than Alec Guiness’s last-minute change of heart in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.) END SPOILER.
Joe Dante serves the action up with a knowing wink. He expects us to recognize McCarthy and Barbara Steele (as another scientist) for their genre associations, inviting us to see PIRANHA a a movie-movie. He introduces Maggie playing a Jaws arcade game and has an anonymous woman reading Moby Dick on the beach – reminding us that, although PIRANHA may be a rip-off of JAWS, JAWS itself was hardy a complete original.
Piranha (1978) Bradford Dillman underwaterFortunately, the tongue-in-cheek approach never diminishes the thrills;l the requisite car chases and explosions are delivered with a gusto that belies the modest budget. There is even some genuine suspense when the film leaves the pyrotechnics behind for the finale, with Grogan descending underwater to open a valve that will hopefully poison the fish – a scene that almost literally invites you to hold your breath as you wonder whether the character (attached to a boat by a tow line) will be pulled to safety before he drowns, or before the piranha get to him.
Piranha (1978) prosthetic headThe carnage consists mostly of Karo syrup, with a minimum of prosthetics, although there is a brief gruesome cut of a severed head-and-torso floating in the water. Instead, Dante builds tension through editing, carefully building to his shock effects. This style of montage is in the best tradition of Sergei Eisenstein, the Russian filmmaker and theorist who literally wrote the book on the subject, and it is fun to see this meticulous craftsmanship lavished on a little horror movie.
Piranha (1978) teethThe special effects are relatively primitive: some models, puppets, a brief bit of ell animation. There is even a cute stop-motion creature glimpsed lurking in Hoak’s laboratory – a throw-away included just for the fun of it. The approach works, because physical models are better suited to simulating the inexpressive scaliness of live fish (as opposed to the hyperactive CGI creations of the remake). Also, the live, underwater photography creates a believable ambiance missing from pristine CGI: real water is murky when stirred up, especially when laced with blood. The blurry shots of multiple fish – quickly intercut as they attack – are, more often than not, convincing in their abruptness.
Menzies and Dillman make a good on-screen couple, and it’s good to see that the film never reduces her character to a damsel in distress. Dick Miller is a hoot as Buck Gardner, the corrupt businessman in league with the general; Buck’s exasperated reaction to unwanted news about the piranha leads to the film’s best line, as his assistant uncomfortably informs him: “The piranha…they’re eating the guests.”
There is a nice post-Watergate, post-Vietnam vibe to the back story. Sure, we need an excuse for the Piranha, but this element does not feel like an arbitrary explanation; it carries weight as the kind of heavy-handed, melodramatic statement that an exploitation film can pull off, because who expects subtlety in a movie titled PIRANHA?


On network television, PIRANHA took a slightly different form. Most of the R-rated gore was removed, and several dialogue scenes were reinstated. The changes are not improvements, but there is one interesting comic bit that allows Paul Bartel and Dick Miller to share a scene together, as the camp counselor wanders into the background of a commercial that Buck Gardner is filming to promote the opening of his resort.
PIRANHA spawned a sequel, PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING, which marked James Cameron’s feature-film directing debut. There was also a remake for Showtime television, which omitted the humor but recycled the effects footage. And of course now there is a remake, PIRANHA 3D, directed by Alexandre Aja, about which the less said the better.


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click to purchase

PIRANHA was issued in a special edition DVD by new Concorde in 1999. This disc included a full-frame transfer (which looks reasonably good when expanded to fill a widescreen television). Extras included a trailer, a blooper real, behind-the-scenes home movies (with audio commentary), and a feature-length commentary track from director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison.
On August 3, 2010, Shout Factory re-issued PIRANHA on DVD and Blu-ray. The discs featured a new widescreen transfer. The old bonus features were ported over, and new ones were added: a making-of featurette, stills and poster galleries, radio and television spots, and footage from the Network Television version.


A test subject preserved in the laboratory
A test subject preserved in the laboratory

PIRANHA proves that low-budget does not have to mean low-ambition or low-quality. It is not just a good exploitation movie or a good camp movie or a good schlock movie. It’s a good movie, period, thanks to a clever script, lively performances, and solid craftsmanship. As crazy as it may sound, I actually prefer this upstart little film to its more famous progenitor: the rest of the world can sing hymns of praise to JAWS; I’ll stick to PIRANHA.
PIRANHA (1978). Directed by Joe Dante. Written by John Sayles, story by Sayles and Richard Robinson. Cast: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Belinda Balaski, Melody Thomas Scott, Bruce Gordon, Barry Brown, Paul Bartel, Shannon Collins.
Piranah (1978) speed boat Piranah (1978) victim Yes, there are definitely piranha in the water Piranha Barbara Steele Piranha (1978) Bradford Dillman Piranah (1978) Keenan Wynn as a soon-to-be victim

Last Exorcism interview & Piranha 3D review: Cinefantastique Podcast 1:28

Piranha 3D logo

It’s a day of interviews and reviews at the Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction podcast. First, a chat with director Daniel Stamm and producer Eli Roth on their film THE LAST EXORCISM, opening on Friday, August27. Then an in-depth discussion of PIRANHA 3D, Alexandre Aja’s ultra-gory remake of the 1978 cult classic directed by Joe Dante. Plus the usual round-up of news, events, and home video releases.

Below is a written transcript of Dan Person’s  interview with Stamm and Roth, regarding THE LAST EXORCISM, heard in the podcast.
CFQ: “Let me start with you Daniel. One of the things I noticed in your bio was that at some point you hitchhiked across the United States with only your ID. From doing that, what did you bring from your experience there into this film?
DS: “That’s a tricky question. I think what that did to me was it gave me a good overview of how different the different states in the U.S. are and how the one thing that connects them all – all my experiences – were that they very spiritual. There were a lot of people talking about God, lot of people talking about Jesus, which is something I never encountered hitchhiking in Europe. You could go through all of Europe and no one would ever mention God, where as hitchhiking from the east coast to the west coast, God came up in almost every single conversation. People were terrified to take me with them because hitchhiking has a different feel over here than it does in Europe, so a lot of people would say, “You know I’m terrified right now, but God told me to take you with me” or “I couldn’t just let you stand by the side of the road”. So there is this kind of deeply ingrained spirituality that I saw in that journey, which I think is a lot of what THE LAST EXORCISM is talking about.
CFQ: “Eli – your name is on this, your reputation precedes you. The thing is this film is breaks rather noticeably from that reputation.Were you concerned with that ?”
ER: “No, it was actually exciting for me. I love gore and I love blood in movies but I really love all kinds of movies: I love PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, I love CLOVERFIELD, I love DISTRICT 9. Those were very different films and when I read the script for this – it was actually before any of those came out – I thought it was one of the best, scariest, smartest scripts I had ever read. Originally, the writers were going to direct it and the intention was never to make a gory film. I’ve made my name synonymous with blood and guts, which I’m very proud of but I also feel that people associate a different level of smarter horror with me. The fans know that if I’m going to get involved with a film that is PG-13 and is not a particularly gory film, there must be something very special about it.
I also love films that are at THE RING/THE GRUDGE end of the spectrum, anything that is well done and smart. Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING is one of my all time favorite films and, even though I’ve never made that movie, I love those kinds of stories. I think it’s the kind of thing where, looking back over the course of my career, people will see different projects I have made and they all have one common theme but they’ll all have different levels of blood. I think as long as the fans know what they’re in for and aren’t expecting Hostel 3 and know that this is about possession not power tools, I think they’re going to love what Daniel has done. Daniel made a film that is so smart and so fun and really does a great job of slowly building the tension and really keeping the audience guessing the whole way through. It’s just as exciting for me to be apart of a film that I think is a great addition to the exorcism cannon of films as I was about HOSTEL.
CFQ: “In this particular film, Cotton Marcus [Patrick Fabian] relies on a lot of stage illusions. How much of that is reality, how much of that actually happens with these types of exorcisms, how much is invention?”
DS: “I think it’s hard to say because there are more exorcisms happening today than at anytime in history all over the world – in all religions – and I’m sure that every single one of them has a certain element of stage magic to them. I think that they function very differently in India than they do over here, so we kind of pulled from different sources. We never quoted one source and said, “This is what our research shows is being done” but its just different ideas and some are made up of ideas of what you could do if you were in that situation.
CFQ: “This film walks a real line as far as whether there is a supernatural element to it or not. How difficult was that to achieve? Were there any concerns about playing that line as carefully as you are?”
ER: “Well, that really came about in the writing and development in the screenplay. You want the audience to think one thing and just when they think they have it figured out, you add in a new layer that they never saw coming but something that makes sense; Not a twist for the sake of a twist but something that engages you further going, “Oh my god I didn’t see that” or “That’s weird!” And for me, what’s unique and fun about the film is in this documentary format that, at first it’s Cotton Marcus in control and he basically slowly loses control to Nell. Its really about the clash of Science and Religion, but in this it’s the Reverend that’s coming from the scientific point of view saying, “She’s Crazy” and it’s the father coming from the place of devout faith saying, “She said she was possessed”, “She IS possessed”, “The demon is still in here”, “Get it out!” So suddenly it’s not even about being possessed or not it’s about getting her to stop behaving that way or the father is going to shoot her. What I loved about the script – and what I think Daniel did so brilliantly – was playing it all very real but never answering the question; just really keeping the audience, leading them one direction and then another direction and that’s what Daniel did so brilliantly in the film.
CFQ: “In terms of keeping it grounded in the reality, how much of this was shot on location?”
DANIEL STAMM: “All of it was shot on location.”
CFQ: “Where did you do this?”
DANIEL STAMM: “Close to New Orleans and the 9th ward that was flooded by Katrina. There was this old plantation that got flooded completely – 6 feet high…the watermark was still on the walls. And we shot all of that on the plantation. Even the shed and everything was all there.
CFQ: “How difficult was that?”
DANIEL STAMM: “Well it was difficult in that it wasn’t air conditioned and to shoot in New Orleans and Louisiana in June & July, it was exhausting for the actors. But it does something to them because they’re bathed in sweat the whole time and you kind of have the smell and the insects. It adds a level or realism that you couldn’t create, and I think that shows in the acting, that they’re kind of reacting to something that is there that they don’t have to pretend is there. They don‘t have to act.”
CFQ: “ How were the actors coping with this? Was there a lot of swearing ‘Next shoot – The Bahamas’?”
DANIEL STAMM: “There was some joking about ‘Where is my trailer?’, because we didn’t have trailers and it was important to me that the actors would form a sort of community and family. I didn’t want them to go off into their trailers and kind of separate and only get together for the scene. What I wanted was a kind of feeling that they know each other and have known each other for a while. So even with Cotton Marcus’ family, I had them spend 1 day together and play games together with the boy and the two parents so that when they actually appear together on screen you have the feeling that they have some back story, that there is more than just actors pretending to be a family. That was important.”
CFQ: “I’m doing some writing for another website and in doing some preparation for that I watched a lot of exorcism films. It’s sort of amazing to see, in contrast to your film, how many of those other films are grounded in Catholicism, to the point where it comes as something of a shock that there is this Evangelical aspect to THE LAST EXORCISM. In reading the script, did that surprise you or was that an appealing factor for you?”
ER: “No, I think what makes it interesting is that a lot of people don’t know that there are exorcisms in every religion and our movie exists in a world where the characters have seen THE EXORCIST and they mention it, acknowledge it and talk about THE EXORCIST and reference it. But what we discovered in the development of the script in the writing and figuring out how scenes are going to be shot and discussing things with Daniel is that pretty much everything people think about exorcisms comes from THE EXORCIST. If you think about zombies: there were zombies before NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, they were the kind of I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE that was kind of voodoo based. And George Romero comes out with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and suddenly, they eat your flesh and if you’re bitten you turn and shoot them in the head. Every rule of zombies is literally is derived from Romero. And in that same way THE EXORCIST is such a cultural landmark that things people think of…everything about it comes from that film.
I think that – even these movies that are dealing with Catholicism – a lot of these films haven’t even bothered to do research beyond it or weren’t interested in doing research beyond it. Or maybe that was what the subject matter was – there are certainly fine films like THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE – but I’m talking about more knock-off movies. We didn’t want this film to feel derivative, and Daniel was very specific about not making a specific denomination. We didn’t want to say that this is something that only happens to Catholics. We wanted to make it much broader so that you could really apply it to any religion.

CFQ: “So Daniel, if you’re going to keep this ambiguous as far as denomination is concerned, how complex was that to do?”

DANIEL STAMM: “To keep it ambiguous? It was pretty simple because the man is a trickster anyway and he’s kind of making up his own stage show, as you were saying. It was more important when we showed him in the church with his congregation that we keep to the facts and we did a lot of research on it. But once he goes off by himself and delivers that show, I think he’s free to do whatever he wants.
CFQ: “How much did Patrick Fabian bring to the role?”
DANIEL STAMM: “Everything. I mean he IS Cotton Marcus. That was kind of important with this casting that there was a lot of freedom for the actors to create the character. A lot of the characters are called by their real names – the actor’s names – to kind of blur that line between the character and the actual person.
CFQ: “Thank you very much for talking with us.”
DANIEL STAMM: “Thank you.”
ELI ROTH: “Thank you!”

Transcript by R. Patrick Alberty


Piranah 3D horror film review

piranha3d-frenchvintageposter-full-480x640Since Alexandre Aja and company could not be bothered to craft a coherent movie, I see no reason I should go to the trouble of writing a coherent review; instead, I will follow their lead and just throw together a series of random thoughts “inspired” by this cinematic chum-bucket.
The first is that, because PIRANHA 3D unabashedly embraces exploitation, I would like to cut it some slack; criticizing gratuitous gore and second-rate scripting is really besides the point. The problem is that PIRANHA 3D isn’t even good exploitation; it’s flat-out schlock of the laziest kind. Sure, it’s loaded with buckets full of gore, but you can see better exploitation in a “respectable” Steven Spielberg film (I’m thinking of the female assassin in MUNICH who is executed with a bullet between her naked breasts – you won’t see anything that powerfully sleazy in PIRANHA 3D).
Apparently, the script was written as a comedy, and Aja thought he could bring the tension of a serious movie. Guess what? The writers forgot the comedy, and the director forgot the tension! For the most part, PIRANHA 3D is neither-nor rather than either-or: not scary and not funny. It is also seldom sexy despite a visual aesthetic is less exploitation horror than “Girls Gone Wild” – it looks good in the trailer but wears thin awfully fast in a feature-length film.
There is very little plot – which is to be expected from this kind of thing – and the pacing  glacial – which is really not to be expected from this kind of thing. If you’re going to make a film that is just an excuse to intercut T-&-A and gore, you might want to c0me up with some memorable set-pieces and string them together in a way that doesn’t lull us to sleep. Instead, the big moments tend toward the lame.
On the T-&A side, there is a underwater ballet (complete with classical-sounding music) that is supposed to be a hoot because it features two naked chicks. The CGI origins are so obvious – not to mention the impossibly long time without breathing – that you expect a cutaway revealing that we are watching a video game. However, PIRANHA 3D wants us to accept the action as real. (Perhaps I missed the joke – was I supposed to laugh at how bad the scene is?)
On the suspense side, there is a lengthy scene with some stranded characters trying to get off a sinking boat by climbing a rope suspended over the water. All I will say here is that the scene was done much better in Greg McLean’s ROGUE (2007), which you should all run out and rent instead of buying a ticket to this this frightless flotsam.
PIRANHA 3D is seldom enjoyable in an “it’s only a movie” kind of way. Yes, it’s mildly amusing that Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper in JAWS) shows up in the first scene, and it’s way cool that Eli Roth is on-screen just so he can have his head splattered in a boating accident. But that’s about it for good in-jokes.
Piranha Ving Rhames power-motors the fishThere are occasional moments when PIRANHA 3D threatens to come to life. When the fish hits the pan during the climactic assault on resort, Adam Scott, as a vaguely defined scientist guy named Novak, inexplicably morphs into action-her0 mode just because that would be cool, but the film quickly cuts away to other mayhem before taking this idea anywhere interesting. The same happens when Ving Rhames, as a Sheriff’s deputy, takes an outboard motor in hand, using it as a weapon to hold off the piranha while potential victims retreat: what should have been a great melodramatic moment, along the lines of Hanzo’s sword fight in PREDATORS, yields a few 3-D effects as fish parts go flying – and then cuts away before it reaches the climax.
Perhaps I should mention that having the sheriffs blast the piranhas with shotguns is really stupid – almost as stupid as having the lead sheriff (Elisabeth Shue) taser one. The script misses a really good opportunity for a clever seen here: because of the different refraction of light in water versus air, shooting at where a fish appears to be underwater would inevitable send the buckshot or taser dark a few inches away from the actual target. Now that would have been a great scene: the bull’s eye right on target, followed by the blast – only to reveal, after the smoke cleared, the unharmed piranha zeroing in for the attack.
Exploitation films can be a thrill because they feel free to avoid subtlety, etching characters in ways that make you either (a) really glad or (b) really sad to see them devoured by the monster du jour. PIRANHA 3D fails in this elemental test. Just about everyone is a mildly annoying jerk who doesn’t make you feel strongly one way or the other whether or not he/she survives.
The one exception is bungled. Some scumbag asshole begins running over people in his boat, trying to save himself. He’s obviously being set up to die a well-deserved death, but all we see is the boat turning over. All that set up for no payoff? Right there, Aja should have his exploitation credentials revoked, and his booster at the gore-hound websites should hang their collective head in disgrace.

With that bod, you know she's not the final girl1
With that bod, it's not much of a spoiler to suggest that Kelly Brook might end up as piranha-chow.

The gore effects are well done technically, but since the whole film feels like an adolescent boy’s sick fantasy (“Oh boy, the piranha are gonna bite that bikini-clad girl’s butt!”), the gore seldom achieves the sick level of disgust that was apparently intended. The one exception is the para-sailing woman whose dead, legless body is seen briefly suspended in the sky after a rapid-fire attack by the killer fish.
Here again, PIRANHA 3D bungles its own best moments: there are no repercussions from this scene, which should have sent the woman’s crazed friends running to the authorities. Even worse, our lead characters have been watching the woman – through a video camera no less – but through some editorial fudging, we’re supposed to assume they were distracted at the key moment; otherwise, they would hardly hang around to become piranha chow in the third act.
And while we’re on the topic of editorial malfeasance: the first time we see a victim pulled from the water with feet/legs/lower abdomen missing, it is effective; but cutting to the same shock effect two, three, or four more times  in later scenes only bores us with the repetition.
Piranha 3D (2010)The prehistoric piranhas are nicely designed, but the computer graphics are not terribly impressive. Real water is murky, with refracting light – perfect for moody menace, with vaguely defined shapes lurking at the periphery of vision. CGI renders all this in detail that is unbelievably clear, particularly an underground lake that is visualized as the earth-bound underwater equivalent of the egg chamber in ALIEN: it looks cool, but the visual effects edge the film into fantasy, away from horror.
The 3-D makes matters worse, adding to the unreality of the fish effects. Although designed as a 3-D film, PIRANHA was shot flat and converted in the post-production. The result is not as bad as the awful job done on THE LAST AIRBENDER, but there are still tell-tale signs: although separated into foreground, mid-ground, and background, objects tend to look flat, especially when filmed through telescopic lenses. I do have to give Aja credit for the scene wherein the leading lady pukes into our faces – a deliberately cheesy moment almost (albeit not quite) worthy of FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (which still stands as the all-time champ of 3-D excess).
Unfortunately, good gimmicky moments like these are the exception. The norm is mis-matched depth, such as an awkward moment when Jake Forester (Steven R. McQueen) and Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) are supposed to be staring eye-to-eye, and instead it looks as though they are misaligned by about a foot. (By the way, although O’Connell clearly enjoys playing a sleazy “Girls Gone Wild” director, his character is not nearly as much fun as a very similar one seen in 2006’s HATCHET).
In retribution for briefly acting like a Girl Gone Wild, Kelly (Jessica Szohr) is reduced to a damsel in distress.
In retribution for briefly acting like a Girl Gone Wild, Kelly (Jessica Szohr) is reduced to a damsel in distress.

The script evinces occasional attempts to thwart expectations. For example, the usual dichotomy between the slut and the nice girl is blurred, making us a little less certain which will be the “final girl,” but in the end the obvious choice survives (the film also contrives to turn her into a damsel in distress, as if punishing her for her brief flirtation with going “wild”). But then Aja is all about being “unpredictable” in a very predictable way. As in THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006) and MIRRORS (2008), the obligatory “happy ending” is mere prologue for the allegedly unexpected “twist” – which arrives on schedule with clockwork precision. If the goal is truly to be unpredictable, a better strategy at this point would be to do something that actually works on conventional terms.
Despite the title, PIRANHA 3D contains no credit to the 1978 PIRANHA, except for thank you to Joe Dante, who directed the original. It’s just as well. Except for the images of piranhas attacking a resort, and an underwater rescue with the hero being pulled by a boat tow line, PIRANHA 3D has little in common with the 1978 Roger Corman production, which is one of the best exploitation-horror films ever made. In fact – and much to its detriment – PIRANHA 3D bears far more resemblance to Corman’s dreary follow-up, UP FROM THE DEPTHS (1979).
P.S. – I just want to add that the gratuitous and completely unexplained shot of a diver disappearing beneath the surface of the water, which then begins to churn red with blood, looks like a teaser trailer that was inserted randomly into the film’s first half because someone in the editing room realized nothing much was happening in the film.
Piranha 3D: Jessica SzohrPIRANHA 3D (August 20, 2010, Dimension Films). Directed by Alexandre Aja. Written by Pete Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg. Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen, Jessica Szohr, Ving Rhames, Jerry O’Connell, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele, Adam Scott, Dina Meyer, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth
Piranha 3D (2010) CGI fish

Laserblast Home Video: Kick-Ass, Heroes Season Four, Ghost Writer, After.Life, Corman Cult Classics

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The week of Tuesday, August 3 offers a hidden bat cave full of horror, fantasy, and science fiction films on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD – everything from contemporary costumed crime-fighters to Corman Cult Classics. Up first is Lionsgate’s release  of KICK-ASS, starring Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong. Chloë Grace Moretz, Clark Duke, and Nicolas Cage. Available to rent or own via Video on Demand,  KICK-ASS is also being offered on DVD and Blu-ray disc. The DVD is offered as stand-alone purchase and as part of the Blu-ray three-disk set, which also includes a digital copy of the film. Check out more details below:


  • Ass-Kicking Bonus View Mode (Blu-ray Disc Exclusive) – Synchronous with the feature film, this innovative multi-media presentation incorporates video and audio commentary, behind-the-scenes clips and illustrative graphics with Co-Writer/Producer/Director Matthew Vaughn, plus cast and crew providing an all-access perspective on Kick-Ass
  • “A New Kind of Superhero: The Making of Kick-Ass ” documentary (Blu-ray Disc Exclusive)
  • “It’s On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass” featurette
  • Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Matthew Vaughn
  • “The Art of Kick-Ass” gallery
  • Marketing Archive
  • BD Touch and Metamenu Remote
  • Lionsgate Live™ enabled, featuring extra content for Internet-connected players
  • Enhanced for D-Box™ Motion Control Systems


  • Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Matthew Vaughn
  • “It’s On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass” featurette
  • “The Art of Kick-Ass” gallery
  • Marketing Archive

*Subject to change

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If that’s not enough superhero action for you, then check out HEROES: SEASON FOUR, available on DVD and Blu-ray disc. The DVD offers numerous four  featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, a screen-saver gallery, and audio commentaries on the episodes “Once Upon a Time in Texas,” “Shadow Boxing,” “The Fifth Stage,” and “Brave New World.” The Blu-ray disc replicates these bonus materials along with bios on the characters and and additional feturette (“Behind the Big Top”), plus the usual array of interactive features for which the format is known: BD-LIVE, pocket BLU, Advanced Remote Control, Video Timeline, Mobile-To-Go, U-CONTROL, PICTURE-IN-PICTURE, and more.
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THE GHOST WRITER also hits store shelves in DVD and Blu-ray editions. Though not a horror film, Roman Polanski’s excellent adaptation of the Robert Harris novel,  is thematically consistent with the director’s classic horror films, ROSEMARY’S BABY and DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES. The story follows a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) helping a former prime minister (Pierce Brosnan) write his memoirs; unfortunately, sinister forces are interested in the contents of the manuscript, whose previous ghost writer drowned under mysterious circumstances. THE GHOST WRITER generates more than enough paranoid tension to qualify as a “scary movie,” even if the scares are of the thriller variety.
AFTER.LIFE – which stars Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, and Justin Long – arrives on Blu-ray and DVD and having had a limited theatrical release earlier this year. Despite an intriguing premise, this morbid little indie horror film with art house aspirations is ultimately disappointing. Bonus features include a theatrical trailer, an interview with director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, and an eight-minute featurette somewhat pretentiously titled “Dwelling Into the After.Life: The Art of Making a Thriller.”
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Roger Corman’s Cult Classics is at it again, offering elaborate DVD and Blu-ray releases of exploitation titles of the type that do not normally receive the lavish treatment. This time out we have PIRANHA on Blu-ray and a Lenticular Cover DVD, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP on Blu-ray and DVD, and a double bill DVD of DEATH SPORT and BATTLE TRUCK. The later of is only marginal interest, but HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP deserves its place in history for taking the implications of old monster movies (which inevitably had the monster sweeping the leading lady off her feet) and seeing them through to their logical conclusion. Both Blu-ray disc features a new high-def transfer of the uncut international version; deleted scenes; trailers, TV and radio spots; an interview with producer Roger Corman; and a making-of featurette. The DVD duplicates the bonus material, with standard-def video quality.
PIRANHA is one of the best films ever to come out of Corman’s New World Pictures, a fun and fast-paced horror thriller about scientifically altered killer fish, starring Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies. (It is highly doubtful that the upcoming 3-D remake will be an improvement.). The film was previously the subject of a special edition DVD. The Blu-ray ports over the old features (audio commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, bloopers) and adds some new ones: a making-of featurette, still and poster galleries, radio and TV spots, and additional footage that was inserted into the version of the film broadcast on network television. As with HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, the DVD duplicates the bonus features; both discs offer a new anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85), but of course the Blu-ray features higher video quality.
As for the rest:

  • JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH comes out in a new Blu-ray release that ports over the old DVD bonus features, adding only higher video quality and a new game.

  • PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, the 1951 film version of the classic story about the immortal sea captain, starring James Mason and Ava Gardner, arrives in a new Blu-ray release.
  • I AM LEGEND is resurrected in an Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray set.
  • A handful of other titles: METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN; HOBOKEN HOLLOW (with Dennis Hopper); and OPEN HOUSE.


Piranha 3-D theatrical release date

Piranha 3-D (2010)Dimension Films releases this 3-D remake of the 1978 cult classic, originally produced by Roger Corman and directed by Joe Dante (GREMLINS). Sadly, the film was not shot in 3-D; it is being added in post-production (just like CLASH OF THE TITANS, and we all know how well that one worked out).
This time around, an earthquake unleashes swarms (schools?) of prehistoric piranhas, who make life miserable for folks living near the local lake. Elisabeth Shue stars as the sheriff trying to contain the situation, with support from Jerry O”connell and Dina Meyer, with appearances from Eli Roth, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, and Richard Dreyfuss. (Get it? Dreyfuss was in JAWS – don’t you feel yourself falling out of your chair with laughter?). Directed by Alexandre Aja, from a screenplay he worked on with Josh Stolbrg, Pete Goldfinger, and Gregory Levasseur. (What? No credit from John Sayles, who wrote the original?Aja still has fans based on HIGH TENSION, but one wonders who far they will follow him into the junkyard before finally giving up.
Release date: August 27.