What would you say if I told you there was a film which starred Dick Miller, Kevin McCarthy, Barbara Steele, Richard Deacon, Paul Bartel, Keenan Wynn....and Heather Menzies? Pinch you? Sure...because the film is real and it was written by the amazing John Sayles and directed perfectly by the god-like Joe Dante - and it is called Piranha.
It is hard to fathom (see what I did there?) the impact Jaws had in 1970s until you really contemplate all the knock off films that followed in its wake including Barracuda, Tentacles, Up from the Depths, Killer Fish, uh...Jaws 2...and, of course, Piranha. And although I love each of the films I've listed (and half a dozen more I've failed to mention), the one that is absolutely most near and dear to this old heart is Dante's Piranha!
Although this film has all the hallmarks of a drive-in flick, my family saw this genius film in a theater...and it was packed. Films like this were often released in waves, hitting the coasts first and moving towards the mid-west as the weeks passed. By the time it got to Cape Girardeau, there was already a bit of buzz and the theater owner knew they could count on butts in the seats.
The plot you ask? Uh, well, killer flesh eating piranhas...eat people.
Ok, sure, that covers the plot but this gorgeous example of late 70s exploitation cinema is so much more.
Early in the film we meet a skip trace named Maggie McKeown (the beautiful Heather Menzies who I had been crushing over ever since I had started watching Logan's Run - on Monday nights if memory serves). She is searching for a couple reported missing, and like the bloodhound she is...ends up in the backwoods of Texas where she pushes herself upon the hapless, and endlessly drunk, Paul Grogan (played note perfect by the amazing Bradford Dillman) who she enlists in helping find the missing couple. What happens next unleashes the most veracious predator on Earth into the nearby river...(and possibly the ocean).
With brilliant sub-plots, wonderful acting and amazing script...poetry happens. Sure, I think any film with a title like Piranha contains a few leaps of logic that can be puzzling. And, our female hero, who creates the situation, blaming others for the carnage had my daughter and I scratching our heads (although I've been scratching my head about that failure to own one's fuck up since 1978) - I mean, on a serious note, surely she was prosecuted for causing the whole thing - but, Sayles was ensuring we knew his political position, so the person who didn't unleash the carnage on a nearby resort and summer camp is the one who is blamed...and no one in the film seems to question that...odd.
BUT!!! That one small issue aside - this film is essentially perfect. I watched the old special edition DVD I bought years ago. I probably watch it about once a year, but this was the first time watching it with my daughter who, along with Day of the Animals, enjoyed this film as well. Track it down on disc or streaming media and revel in the 70s goodness!
Miss you Pops.