DIRECTOR Joe Dante WRITER Richard Robinson; John Sayles STARS Bradford Dillman; Heather Menzies-Urich; Kevin McCarthy BLU-RAY 28 January

PiranhaMaking its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Second Sight — a distributor particularly fond of reissuing cult classics, usually lavishing some distinct care  doing so — is Joe Dante’s B-movie pastiche, the original Piranha of 1978. As a film that at no point took itself seriously, the inevitable dating on show here is charming, the quaint effects looking rather lovely on what is a very good HD transfer. Certainly, the distinct lack of story has not miraculously imbued itself with more detail, nor has the hammy acting on show undergone intensive training, however this is pure nostalgia and few will not take delight in a new release.

That story for those unacquainted… Opening with the classic horror trope of youngsters letting curiosity get the better of them, two see their deaths occur within minutes when they enter a seemingly abandoned military base during a hiking trip. Stripping off for a refreshing swim is the very last thing these teenagers will do, for bloodthirsty piranha await, blood soon colouring the murky waters. On the case is Maggie McKeown, a slightly dizzy investigator who enlists the help of a surly local drunkard, Paul Grogan, and she inadvertently unleashes the shoal into public waters. It is unfortunate that these fish are the mutant results of Operation Razor Teeth, a government experiment, and able to think for themselves as well as survive salty waters, as they make their way downriver and beyond…

So far, so trashy, schlocky good fun, but, really speaking, Piranha straddles the line between dull and entertaining, the film twiddling its thumbs between fish attacks. What saves it is a very clear glee in the direction of said scenes, Dante’s enthusiasm bounding out from the screen as each death is bloodier than the last. While there is not as much humour to be had as in, say, Gremlins, some sprinkling here and there — “They’re eating all the guests…” — provides amusement, and, of course, there are all the delightfully cheesy omens early on. It’s a shame that a Jaws-like aural accompaniment to the piranha is abandoned after just one use in the first instance, however perhaps this was just as well for Dante, Steven Spielberg’s fondness for the film seeing him block an intended injunction by Universal, who assumed a copy as opposed to affectionate spoof.

The extras for this release are standard fare, and rather sparse compared to some of Second Sight’s other releases, but are still worth having for fans: a commentary with Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison; behind the scenes, featuring a close look at the rubber fish; and a making of, amongst the usual tidbits. Regardless, it is good to reacquaint oneself with these old cult classics…

Posted by Naila Scargill

Naila is the founder and editor of Exquisite Terror. Holding a broad editorial background, she has worked with an eclectic variety of content, 
ranging from film and the counterculture, to political news and finance. She is the Culture Editor at Trebuchet, and generally gets around.