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Film / Killer Fish

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Hello, I'll be your killer fish for today, thank you.

Somewhere in Brazil, retired mine owner Paul Diller (James Franciscus) plots to steal millions of dollars in precious gemstones from his former company. With the jewels stolen, he and his accomplices — Bob Lasky (Lee Majors), Kate Neville (Karen Black), Hans, Warren, and Lloyd — hide them in a lockbox at the bottom of a lake until the heat dies down. Naturally, the thieves try to betray one another for the jewels, only to discover that they're guarded by the eponymous killer fish, a school of piranha put in the dam by Paul Diller to protect against just such a thing.

Meanwhile, a photo shoot is going on elsewhere in the jungle, with model Gabrielle (Margaux Hemingway), director Ann (Marisa Berenson), photographer Ollie, pilot Tom, and boat captain Max. They come into contact with the thieves when a sudden storm bursts the dam, releasing the piranhas into the larger lower lake and putting them all in danger when the boat they're taking shelter in runs aground just offshore.

Directed by Antonio Margheriti and released in 1979, Killer Fish was an Italian Carlo Ponti/Fawcett-Majors co-production, and one of a number of knock-off movies released in the wake of Jaws. It was riffed on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Tropes seen in the film Killer Fish include:

  • Artistic License – Cars: A lot of the emergency vehicles shown are the wrong models. Specifically, they used United States models instead of the Brazilian models. For example, a police car shown in one scene is a Plymouth Fury III, which was commonly used by US police departments at the time. The Brazilian federal police, however, used the Chevrolet Opala.
  • Atrocious Alias: Warren seems to think his cover name is one of these. In a bit cut from the MST version, he mentions that he would have preferred to go by Edgar or Clyde, because it "has more class."
  • Blasphemous Boast: Ollie, when Ann is complaining about the lighting for their photo shoot and asks if he can duplicate the effect of lightning.
    Ollie: Duplicate? My dear, I will improve upon it! The very gods themselves will beat the path to my door for the patent! Dazzling prospect, n'est-ce pa?
  • Bowdlerise: When the film was released in UK cinemas it received a lot of heavy cuts, especially to Ollie's death scene, so that it could get an "A" rating. (Essentially the same as "PG".) The UK did get an uncut release in 1986, courtesy of Channel 5. Not this one. It was one of many Home Video Distributors founded in The '80s. Channel 5 the broadcaster launched in 1997.
  • The Caper: We only see a bit of the actual diamond heist at the very beginning of the movie. Most of the movie's events deal with the fallout of the caper as the thieves attempt to backstab one another and get eaten by fish as a result.
  • The Chessmaster: Diller, though replacing chess with backgammon, establishing that he's also The Gambler. He set up the jewel heist, gave himself plausible deniability for it by spending the night gambling with Luis, and filled the dam with piranhas to protect the stolen jewels from his backstabbing accomplices. To drive the point further home, he plays backgammon constantly, including while his allies are pulling The Caper, and against Lasky in the climax.
    • Special mention should be given to his commentary when he finds Lasky and Gabrielle playing in the finale. "Leaving blots at this stage of the game can be a risky proposition, unless one knows how to turn them to one's own advantage." In backgammon, a blot is a single checker alone on its space, making it vulnerable to being hit. At this point, being on the yacht with the others with the stolen jewels which he recovered without telling them, he's at risk, but is convinced he can still turn it to his advantage. Lasky ends up winning their game too, in a scene cut from the MST version.
  • Connected All Along: For 90% of the movie the thieves and the photo shoot group seem to be entirely separate and rarely interact, aside from Lasky having a love affair with model Gabrielle, and the photo shoot team later letting Diller and Kate take shelter from the storm on their boat. The Dénouement reveals that Gabrielle, photo director Ann, and pilot Tom were all working with Lasky the whole time.
  • Covers Always Lie: The movie does involve people diving for treasure... but not in the way the poster shows. They only dive one at a time, only one woman dives for the gemstones, and when she does she wears a full body wetsuit, not the string bikini shown on the poster.
  • Double Agent: Basically everyone. When the brothers Lloyd and Warren try to steal the diamonds for themselves, they briefly mention that they've been operating under fake names, and when Lloyd is attacked by the fish his brother repeatedly calls him "Tony," and they hint that they were planted by the mob in order to take advantage of Diller's plan. It's later revealed that Ann, Tom, and Gabrielle were in league with Lasky. Kate was probably intending to take Diller's share after his failing heart finished him off. (At least she doesn't deny it when he accuses her of this.) And, of course, Diller was playing everyone from the start.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Our introduction to Paul Diller sees him playing backgammon in a hotel while his accomplices carry out The Caper without him. Some of his first lines in the movie are "the best way to attract Lady Luck is to act like you don't need her... just like any other lady." This establishes him as a combination of The Chessmaster and The Gambler, as well as a Smug Snake.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Even with as much of a misogynistic jerk as Ollie is, he reacts the same way anyone would to seeing his acquaintances get attacked by piranhas, and actually manages to build a little bit of sympathy for his character before he gets killed by the piranhas himself.
  • Failed a Spot Check: In a bit near the beginning, it's revealed that the police are suspecting an Inside Job with the mine heist... yet they never think to so much as question Diller, who quit working for the company just before the heist, claiming that he had a heart attack despite appearing perfectly healthy and active?
  • Fat Bastard: Ollie, the photographer. He's grossly overweight, a misogynist, and verbally abuses his coworkers. He also plans a culturally insensitive photo shoot location with shrunken heads in the background (despite being told such things never existed in Brazil) which gets him a scolding from his entire crew. As mentioned in Everyone Has Standards, he does at least start to show a more sympathetic side after his friends start getting munched by piranhas. Right before he gets eaten himself.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Losing his backgammon game against Diller, Luis remarks "Lady Luck is a French putanote ." He later calls Diller a sacananote  who "steals from poor hotel owners."
  • Gentleman Thief: Lasky and his accomplices, Ann, Tom, and Gabrielle, in stark contrast to the other thieves who have No Honor.
  • Gorn: When Kate is diving to retrieve the jewels, she comes across the remains of the three thieves who died to the piranhas. The camera takes its time showing the bodies with bits of meat only barely clinging to their skeletons.
  • Grappling-Hook Pistol: A scene cut from the MST version of the film sees Hans using the harpoon gun that he later attempts to use against the killer fish (thinking he's fighting a giant snake) in the diamond mine heist, as a zipline for himself and his fellow thieves to enter the mine.
  • Hollywood Darkness: The day-for-night shots are pretty obvious. The storm that breaks the dam and wrecks the yacht is also this. A grey filter is put over what is obviously a clear blue sky.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Kate actually trusting the Smug Snake Diller, even after discovering he put piranhas in the dam to eat his accomplices. It's especially clear at the end after he backstabs her too and she remarks "I never had you pegged for a bastard!" Highlighted in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff of the movie.
    Tom Servo (as Diller): Really? But my face is so punchable!
  • Hypocrite: Diller, unsurprisingly. He defends his decision to put piranhas in the dam by reminding Kate that Hans, Warren, and Lloyd would have lived if they hadn't tried to backstab him, and were merely Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves. He later backstabs Kate the first chance he gets, and makes it clear he intended to do so from the beginning.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: When Hans is attacked by the piranhas, Warren tries to pull him out of the water by grabbing onto the harpoon gun, pointing it directly at himself in the process. Hans, flailing in pain, accidentally pulls the trigger, harpooning Warren and pulling him into the water too.
  • Made of Explodium: The diamond mine. During the heist one explosive being set off causes a chain reaction of multiple parts of the mine going up. In the uncut version of the film, the mine appears again at the end after the dam bursts, and the flood waters cause the rest of the mine to go up in gigantic balls of flame, making one wonder whether they were mining diamonds or nitroglycerin.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Indeed. All the female characters survive. Even the ones who go into the lake, Kate (who gets attacked by the piranhas while retrieving the gems) and Ann who swims to shore.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Naturally, all the criminals involved in the caper try to backstab each other, and it's made clear that many were planning to do so from the beginning. Ultimately subverted, once it's revealed that Lasky, Ann, Gabrielle, and Tom were Connected All Along, it's also shown that their group at least were loyal to one another and probably would have stayed loyal to Diller too, if he hadn't turned out to be a lunatic.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Paul Diller supposedly had a heart attack before the events of the movie, which is why he stopped working for the mining company, how he talks Kate into diving for the gemstones in his place, and is likely how he got Kate on his side to begin with. He reveals later on that he faked the heart attack and in fact has never had heart problems at all.
  • Piranha Problem: The premise of the movie. Diller put them in the dam before dumping the diamonds in, in case his accomplices tried to backstab him. (Which they do.)
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: This is Diller's defense for putting piranhas in the dam. Sure it caused the deaths of some of his accomplices... but only because they tried to backstab him. He suffers the same fate after he abandons everyone else, including the last person still loyal to him, on the sinking yacht at the end.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: the song playing in the poolside scene is the Alternative Foreign Theme Song for Return of the Saint (which like Killer Fish was produced by ITC).
  • Smug Snake: Diller is a condescending bastard with a near constant smirk on his face, and the kind of guy to release thousands of piranhas into a public water supply in order to protect his own money.
  • Speech Impediment: Gabrielle has one, of the "s → th" variety.
    Gabrielle: He'th out. Fishing. Thpear fishing.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Warren. After his brother Lloyd gets eaten by the piranhas he goes back with Hans, who is equipped with a harpoon gun. (Using a harpoon against piranhas doesn't count, because they didn't know it was piranhas, and were preparing for a giant snake.) When Hans gets attacked, Warren grabs the harpoon gun to try to pull him back to the dock, pointing the weapon directly at his own chest as he does. This goes exactly how one would expect it to.
    • Ollie too. When the group on the yacht makes a makeshift raft to escape, it uses a wooden grid that has lots of holes in it... which Ollie keeps sticking his hands and fingers through. The piranhas bite his finger, causing him to freak out and fall off the raft.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Hans spends most of his screen time without a shirt on. Later on he puts on a wetsuit to go diving... and leaves the front unzipped. Just about the only time he doesn't bare his chest is during the heist at the beginning, which sees him in the same black turtlenecks as everyone else. Actor Dan Pastorini was considered a sex symbol at the time, and actually appeared in Playgirl magazine a year after this movie was released.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Paul Diller had a heart attack sometime before the movie starts and knows he's probably going to die soon. It's why he doesn't work for the mining company anymore, why he decided to steal the reserve diamonds from their vault, and is most likely how he got Kate Neville to work for him - she intends to make his last days happy ones, then inherit his share of the diamonds after he dies. (At least he accuses her of this, and she doesn't deny it.) Subverted as he reveals at the end he faked the heart attack and has never had any cardiac problems whatsoever.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Diller leaves Kate with a gun to hold up the group on the yacht while he escapes with the jewels. He backstabs her in the process, leaving her behind too. When she points the gun at him, he says this. It turns out he's right... because he intentionally gave her an empty gun.