- Bradford Dillman as Paul Grogan
- Heather Menzies as Maggie McKeown
- Kevin McCarthy as Dr. Robert Hoak
- Bruce Gordon as Colonel Waxman
- Barbara Steele as Dr. Mengers
A knowing monster movie horror with a delicious sense of humour, Piranha makes for a fast-paced and thrilling make that is fun from start to finish. Prepare for gory delights a plenty in this creature feature.
Maggie McKeown is a determined but often very clumsy insurance investigator who is assigned to find two missing teenagers near Lost River Lake. Once arriving in the area, she enlists the services of tracking man Paul Grogan, who has fallen into isolation and booze since the break up of his marriage. Reluctantly, he helps Maggie and leads her to an old military complex that has been deserted to years. The place looks empty enough and the two commence with a search for the missing teens. While snooping around the seemingly disused facility, Maggie activates the drainage switch to the pool, hoping to find evidence of the teenager’s bodies. Instead, she lets out something a lot more deadly and unpredictable into the river. They are berated by a disoriented man by the name of Dr. Robert Hoak for their actions. He begins to explain his terrified reaction to what Maggie did. She let out a school of mutant piranhas that were originally going to be used during the Vietnam War, before the covert project was scrapped. The fish were created to survive in cold water and breed rapidly. Hoak kept some of the fish and carried on testing, but is now feeling a lot of remorse for his actions. Taking Hoak with them, Paul and Maggie head down the river by way of a raft as the piranha are most likely to head to potential food. And it just so happens that there is a summer camp about to have a swimming competition just down the river. Along the way, Hoak is killed when he saves a young boy from death by piranha. Unfortunately, he perishes before telling anyone how to destroy the fish. The military, who want to keep things under the radar, are soon on their tail in trying to track the fish too before word gets out of what is going on. It’s a full on race against time as Paul and Maggie head down the river to warn everyone, the military gets on their back and soon enough carnage ensues. One thing is for certain, they must think fast before the deadly fish somehow reach the ocean and cause even more bloody mayhem.
Joe Dante and his direction is particularly inspired. Blending a tongue in cheek satirical nature with gory horror, he fashions something that fires on both cylinders with impressive results. It’s like Dante is saying that he knows that the story is silly and outrageous but to hell with logic, this movie is for entertainment purposes. And entertain he does with his command of direction that sets Piranha on a quick-paced journey of tension and glee. It makes no bones that it is coming off the success of Jaws( which came out a few years before this) and lampooning it to an extent, and I loved it for that unapologetic sense of humour and attitude. The pace is handled with great efficiency, with events taking shape from the start and quickly unfolding in gloriously crazy fashion that never lets up. One could almost say that Piranha is something of a chase movie as well as a horror. I mean, you have Maggie and Paul tracking down the piranhas, the military attempting to hush them up and the piranha themselves heading for their next meal. You have some genuine suspense in this film, on full display whenever the eponymous critters are stalking and then making a literal meal of anyone in their way as they continue down the river. The script laces events with plenty of references to old monster movies that will have film buffs watering at the mouth to spot them. And the way that the humour, that usually takes its cues from the clumsy acts of Maggie combines with the bloodshed is yet more than enough reason this is seen as a cult movie. Glorious music is on hand to ratchet up the tension as the man-eating fish grow in number and power.
The cast of Piranha is pretty good with the parts they are given. Bradford Dillman makes for a sardonic and cynical hero who at the start is unwilling to help, but whose purpose is reawakened by the threat of disaster. Dillman exudes a gruff demeanor that is well-suited to the broken Paul, but displays a certain amount of likable tendencies as his mission to stop the creatures is put into action. Then we have Heather Menzies as the clumsy but not completely ridiculous insurance investigator. She spends most of the film trying to make amends for letting the piranha out, but while she could have become annoying, Menzies avoids that with her sense of flawed yet lovable charm. Stealing the show in hi supporting by integral part is Kevin McCarthy as the doctor regretting his involvement with the experiment that has just been let loose. He manages to be both slightly menacing and quite sympathetic in his short screen time. Also present in neat parts are Bruce Gordon as a nasty colonel and Scream Queen Barbara Steele as a marine biologist.
With the layers of cracking humour and effective scenes of terror, Piranha entertains in a really amazing way, packed with the goods for horror and satire on creature features. A real slice of B-movie monster horror at its best.