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.