Film / Piranha

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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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Operation: [Blank]: "Operation Razorteeth", the government project to genetically engineer piranha capable of living anywhere (even oceans) to use as a riverine denial weapon in The Vietnam War. Dr. Hoak reminisces the experimentation days by telling the heroes that the government spared absolutely no expense on the project... and as usual, when the project became unnecessary, they arrived and did clean-up work without bothering to see if it was actually thorough.
  • 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.
  • Suit with Vested Interests: The General in charge of the military detachment that gets sent to deal with the piranha happens to be a major investor of the swim resort that is about to open, and because of this one of the biggest reasons he wishes to keep the situation quiet (even if this may get people killed) is to prevent tourists from being spooked away from the grand opening. He gets his Just Desserts when the piranha attack the resort's opening and the ship he's in gets overloaded with panicking tourists, tossing him into the water and eaten.
  • 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.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Dr. Hoak has very little problem reminding Jack and Maggie that they were the ones that drained the tank where the piranha lived, releasing them into the river.


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