Fishy Fishy Fishy Piranha

Piranha (1978) is currently available on instant Netflix.


Piranha (1978) – Rated R

When a school of mutant piranha is accidentally released into a river — and headed straight for a kids’ summer camp — it’s up to investigator Maggie McKeown and local woodsman Paul Grogan to prevent the potential carnage”

“The piranhas” – “What about the goddamn piranhas?” – “They’re eating the guests, sir”

Arriving the same year as Barracuda (and Jaws 2), Piranha is an amusing little B-movie from director Joe Dante and the Roger Corman factory. Author John Sayles wrote the screenplay and co-wrote the story making this a bit more literate than other B-flicks but oddly, for an author and filmmaker concerned about character, most of the cast are caricatures.

Joe Dante’s impish approach to horror starts here and continued through such classics as The Howling (1981), Gremlins (1984), and my personal favorite, Joe Dante’s love letter to William Castle, Matinee (1993). He recently made The Hole (2009) which, while it did not fare very well here, was still quite good. I highly recommend the website that he and a bunch of other writes and directors started, Trailers from Hell.

This being the late-70s our villain du jour is the military, here represented by Colonel Waxman and support scientists Dr. Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) and Dr. Mengers (Barbara Steele). Other Corman regulars pop up such as Dick Miller (who has a much larger role than normal) and Paul Bartel (but no Mary Woronov).

While the military is ostensibly the villain, it is actually our two protagonists, Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) and Maggie Mckeown (Heather Menzies) who cause all the trouble including releasing the genetically engineered piranha into the wild. This gave me a good laugh every time they tried to blame the military.

The piranha effects are goofy but there is some good early makeup work from Rob Bottin and Phil Tippett. Don’t expect a gorefest like the recent remake though.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Haiku Review: Great scary movie; pods, paranoia, worse still:; McCarthyism

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – Not Rated

Something evil has taken possession of the small town of Santa Mira, California. Hysterical people accuse their loved ones of being emotionless impostors; of not being themselves. At first, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) tries to convince them they’re wrong…but they’re not. Plant-like extraterrestrials have invaded Earth, replicating the villagers in giant seed “pods” and taking possession of their souls while they sleep.”

“That way madness lies”

There are so many ways to enjoy this movie. Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World is just a straight-forward monster movie, albeit an excellent one. Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers can be taken at face value, viewed as a statement on the oppressiveness of government, or better still interpreted as a polemic against the then rampant scourges of McCarthyism and Communism.

After a brief interlude at the asylum, Dr. Bennell tells his story. I really liked that his story was not omniscient. The titular invasion is well under way by the time we flashback. Real stories don’t have neat beginnings (or often endings). I appreciate a story clearly set in a universe that was there before the start of the story.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers works best when it is portraying paranoia. Another aspect that worked really well was that Dr. Bennell couldn’t believe his patients who complained that family members were not themselves. Naturally Dr. Bennell has a tough time convincing others once he comes around.

Invasion is Kevin McCarthy’s star vehicle. He has 205 imdb credits but this is his signature role. I can always picture his penultimate scene and not just because of a similar scene in the remake. Dana Wynter does a fine job as Becky Driscoll. King Donovan and Carolyn Jones are also good as Jack and Teddy Belicec. Carolyn would go on to fame as Morticia on The Addams Family.

Even though he isn’t listed in the credits, genre veteran Whit Bissel is instantly recognizable as Dr. Hill. The prolific Bissel also appeared in The Time Machine, Monster on the Campus, I was a Teenage Werewolf, I was  a Teenage Frankenstein, Target Earth, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Lost Continent, Soylent Green, and was a regular on The Time Tunnel. In essence if you watched science fiction in the 1950s, you knew Whit Bissel.

The other asylum doctor, Dr. Bassett, is played by another genre stalwart, Richard Deacon. Deacon appeared in everything Bissell missed: Them!, This Island Earth, Invaders from Mars, Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy, The Birds and Piranha.

The ending for the movie is better than the ending for the book. Better still is the original ending of the movie – simply ignore the first scene (pre-flashback) and the final scene and you will see that this classic could have been even better. It still rates as a culturally significant film in the National Registry and is one of the best science fiction movies of all time..

People Watch: Look for future filmmaker Sam Peckinpah in a small role as Charlie.

Remake-itis: Philip Kaufman remade Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1978, transplanting the setting to San Francisco and altering the main theme to alienation. Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy headline this excellent remake. Kevin McCarthy has an excellent cameo.

Abel Ferrara adapted the story in 1993 as Body Snatchers. He streamlines the story and makes the action quite fast-paced. Look for Forest Whitaker to steal the show in a small part.

Oliver Hirshbiegel remade the story yet again, this time as The Invasion (2007). In spite of Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Jeremy Northam, this is easily the least of the adaptations.