Film / Piranha

This entry is for the original 1978 movie and its sequels. For the 2010 remake and its sequel see here: Piranha 3D

Piranha is a 1978 B comedy-horror film, directed by Joe Dante and written by director-to-be John Sayles, about a swarm of genetically-engineered killer piranhas.

Two teens break into an abandoned facility to engage in a spot of skinnydipping in the reservior, and are promptly pulled under and torn to shreds. The next day, insurance investigator Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) is dispatched to find them. Teaming up with local hillbilly Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman), the two enter the facility themselves and inadvertently drain the critters engineered by resident mad scientist Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) as part of the now-defunct operation Razorteeth (in which they would be unleashed into the riverways of North Vietnam) into the river; wherein they make themselves en route to a nearby summer camp where Grogan's daughter is staying, and ultimately the ocean...

In many respects a parody of Jaws, Universal Studios initially threatened to sue until Steven Spielberg saw it himself and loved it. In 1981 it got itself a sequel titled Piranha Part Two: The Spawning in which the piranhas fly and which happens to be the directorial debut of James Cameron.

The first film was rather pointlessly remade as a TV movie in 1995, most notable for starring a young Mila Kunis and for reusing footage from the original film.

A more notable 3D remake, Piranha 3D, eventually arrived in summer 2010, directed by Alexandre Aja. Shifting the action to Lake Victoria and ditching the Government Conspiracy set-up in favour of an equally implausible plot involving prehistoric versions of the eponymous fish, it was Bloodier and Gorier, Hotter and Sexier and generally revelled in its own silliness. A sequel to the remake, Piranha 3DD, was released in 2012.

The original films and TV remake provide examples of:

  • Cassandra Truth: Partially because the government covers it up until the last possible second, and partially because it is hard to believe that an American river is full of genetically modified piranha, the heroes are believed to be insane or drunk (and put in jail for a short while).
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Lots.
  • Dartboard of Hate: Of the leader of the children's camp.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Paul.
  • Dead Star Walking: Keenan Wynn as Jack, who appears in only two scenes before his legs are devoured by the piranhas, and he bleeds to death.
  • Film at 11: Said by the reporter at the end.
    Reporter: "Terror, horror, death. Film at eleven."
  • Flying Sea Food Special: The second film has flying piranha.
  • Follow the Leader: Was quickly followed by Killerfish and Barracuda. The latter even ripped off the government conspiracy plot!
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Genetically-engineered killer piranhas. 'Nuff said.
  • Gilligan Cut: Maggie is told to go to a dam to find missing teenagers:
    Maggie: Well come on, let's go.
    Paul: Go where?
    Maggie: You're taking me up there.
    Paul: Oh, no, I'm not.
    [Cut to him accompanying her to the dam]
  • Gorn: Lots of blood and bite marks everywhere (even on children).
  • Government Conspiracy: Operation Razorteeth.
  • Hazardous Water: Being full of piranha sure makes it that.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The piranhas make a noise similar to chatter or buzz-saws on most of the scenes they are in... which are them eating people.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. The piranha attack a children's summer camp right when it's making a swimming competition and the resort attacked afterwards has various kids. Very few escape unscathed.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! / Create Your Own Villain: Nice job releasing the piranha from their completely isolated pool, hero. Jeez.
  • Piranha Problem
  • Pyrrhic Victory: In the original movie Paul and Maggie manage to get rid of the piranha, but the river ends being polluted.
  • Smug Snake: The female scientist constantly assumes that the piranha are incapable of solving problems or surviving the traps the military places for them, and her assurance that all the piranha are dead at the end (yeah, right) is delivered with a very smug little smile.
  • Stock Footage: The TV remake shamelessly re-uses the underwater shots from the original.
  • There's No "B" in "Movie": In the original movie some guard watches The Monster That Challenged the World from 1957.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Both the original movie and TV remake end with Paul polluting the river and seemingly killing off all of the piranha, only for the last scene in both movies to imply that the piranhas have survived and made it to the ocean.