Review: PIRANHA 3D
Author: Kyle Byrd
Official Site: piranha-3d.com
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details for a new movie.
The PIRANHA series is simply one of the most bizarre footnotes in the history of b-movies. The Roger Corman produced 1978 film was the solo directorial debut of Joe Dante (THE HOWLING, GREMLINS, SMALL SOLDIERS), and the first screenplay by acclaimed writer and future director John Sayles (LONE STAR, PASSION OF FISH). The satirical horror/comedy was made to capitalize on the success of JAWS and came out on the heels of JAWS 2. For a quick cash-in/rip off of a big Hollywood production, PIRANHA was much better than it had any reason to be due to a great new talent behind the camera and a witty script. It spawned a below-par sequel (PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING), which was the first directed by James Cameron (THE TERMINATOR, AVATAR). For some reason, the series has been the launching pad for many people who would go on to do bigger and better things. There was also a cheap made for TV remake in 1995 which used stock footage and the same screenplay as the 78 original, but lacked everything that made it work.
Now a proper remake has been made, directed by French horror darling Alexandre Aja (HIGH TENSION, THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake). Like Dante’s film, it tells the story of a pack of killer piranhas and the people trying to stop them from getting to a large beachside event (it was the opening of a water park in the original, it’s a college spring break site here). Of course, the fish get loose and cause all kinds of bloody carnage.
Along with the setting, there are a lot of differences between Aja’s film and the original. In this film, the killer fish are prehistoric creatures let loose from a subterranean lake after an earthquake, while they were genetic mutations gone wrong in the original. Also, this film has us follow the town Sheriff Julie Forester (played by Elizabeth Shue), her son Jake (Steven R. McQueen- grandson of Steve McQueen), and her trusty deputy, Fallon (Ving Rhames) instead of two average people who got stuck in the middle of events.
While Dante’s film was quick to satirize the military, genetic engineering, human incompetence, Spielberg’s JAWS, and monster movie conventions in general, Aja takes things in another direction and aims the crosshairs at the college spring break phenomenon and the GIRLS GONE WILD videos that go along with it. While Sheriff Forester, Deputy Fallon, and biologist Dr. Novak (Adam Scott) are busy trying to save people on the beach, Jake gets stuck on a boat working as a cameraman for sleazy softcore pornographer Derrick Jones (played by Jerry O’Connell and based on the creator of GIRLS GONE WILD), his main crush Kelly (Jessica Szohr), and two of Jones’ “Wild Wild Girls” (played by supermodel Kelly Brook and adult film star Riley Steele). O’Connell gives an especially hilarious performance the pervy, sexist scumbag behind the “Wild Wild Girls” videos. Every line out of his mouth is comedy gold.
Usually remakes of satirical films don’t really work because they fail to update the satire (DAWN OF THE DEAD being an example). I think choosing a current trend like spring break for its subject matter was a stroke of brilliance. We see all the annoying drunks get killed in especially gruesome ways.
The practical makeup effects by Greg Nicotero and Howard Burger’s KNB effects shop are simply top notch (as always) and disturbing in all the right ways. The gore in this film is about as gruesome and over the top as you can get. And since it’s a b-movie taking place on spring break, you know there is going to be boatloads of nudity. Its wall-to-wall naked girls and gore and the film really doesn’t try to be anything but. Aja avoids a cardinal sin that a lot of remakes do these days. He refuses to make a tamer version of the old film (THE CRAZIES, PROM NIGHT, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, etc. are all guilty of this) and lays the brutality on thick for today’s gore hound audience.
I’ve never been a fan of Alexandre Aja’s films. I always found them to be overly mean spirited and too serious for what they actually were. But here, he takes a totally different approach. Aja knows he’s making an exploitation movie and he does so in the most unapologetic manner possible. He keeps the laughs and the blood flowing at a consistent pace. The comedy here is pushed much further than the original film. With so many horror movies being so serious, it’s nice to see a film that is nothing but a cheesy monster movie and doesn’t try to fool the audience into thinking its anything else.
The fish themselves are mostly created digitally. Although it’s not the best CGI ever, I still felt it was better than average for a film like this. The fish designs are also very faithful to Chris Wallace and Rob Bottin’s creatures from the original film.
The 3D itself is actually pretty good. This film was shot with 3D in mind, but it was converted after the fact. And its certainly one of the best 3D conversions I’ve ever seen. It easily trumps the rush job that was done for CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010).
The acting isn’t anything special, but it gets the job done for what this kind of film is. Along with the previously mentioned leads, we also get fun and hilarious cameos by Richard Dreyfuss (reprising his role as Matt Hooper from JAWS, ironically bringing the connection to the Spielberg classic fill circle; although he’s listed as “Matt Boyd” in the credits for copyright reasons, Dreyfuss and Aja have confirmed its meant to be the same character), Christopher Lloyd as a paleontologist (and in full on Doc Brown mode), and director Eli Roth as a sleazy wet t-shirt contest judge. Roth’s cameo should be especially fun for people who aren’t a fan of his (like myself).
Of course you can’t really call this a “good” film by any means. I don’t even feel it’s as good as Dante’s original. Not that the original film is a masterpiece, but the satire was a lot more clever, the characters were more interesting, and the dialogue was much wittier. PIRANHA 3D’s characters are far more shallow and the story doesn’t always make sense, but I feel like it’s a more than worthy remake. It did everything a remake of PIRANHA should do. It took the basic premise of the original, added a lot of new elements, updated the satire, upped the gore factor, and managed to be every bit as fun. My only real complaint about it is that it’s too predictable at times. Everybody you think is going to die ends up dying. One of my favorite things about the original film was a lot of the people you expected to die ended up living and vise versa. This one doesn’t throw any curveballs.
In my opinion, PIRANHA 3D might be the first horror remake since THE BLOB (1988) to truly do its original film justice. And like THE BLOB, it knows exactly what it is. It’s taking a decent, campy cult classic and updating it with enough elements of the original story and enough new ingredients to make it unique. A lot of remakes have tried to strike that balance (such as TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN and MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D) but they always fall short. PIRANHA 3D gets it just right.
All in all, it’s not a perfect film. The original wasn’t perfect either. But like the original, it’s a fun monster movie that turned out much better than it had any reason to be. If an unapologetically cheesy killer fish movie with 3D gore and nudity galore, pornstars being ripped to shreds, and drunken fratboy jerks being slaughtered sounds like fun to you, PIRANHA 3D is your film. Roger Corman would be proud.