When Steven Spielberg’s mega blockbuster hit the big screens in 1975, it started a nature attacking craze. Film studios tried to cash in on Jaws‘ success. In 1977 there was the weak effort Orca about a killer whale seeking revenge and in 1978 Roger Corman’s production company New World Pictures jumped into pool with Piranha.
Directed by Joe Dante and written by John Sayles Piranha is a low budget horror comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. A young couple decide to go skinny dipping in an abandoned military complex. They are killed off by the piranhas that live there.
An insurance investigator (Heather Menzies) is hired to look for the missing kids. She hires a guide (Bradford Dillman) and the two of them go end up at the military complex. They discover a pool and Menzies decides to drain the pool to look for bodies. When she drains the water, she releases the piranhas into the nearby river. A former scientist that worked at the base informs them that the military had created the piranhas to survive in any environment and now the piranhas are heading down the river to the water park. The military shows up and takes over, trying to stop the piranhas and keep it quiet. Before you know it the piranhas are at the water park and hell has broken loose.
Joe Dante had been working for Roger Corman for a few years but Piranha was his first solo directorial effort. The film was released the same year that Universal Studios was releasing a sequel to Jaws and the studio wanted to stop this film’s release. Spielberg convinced the studio not to bother. He also considered the movie to be the best of the Jaws rip-offs. Spielberg would later produce Dante’s hit Gremlins. Piranha would spawn a sequel a couple of years later that was co-directed by then up and coming filmmaker James Cameron. It was later remade in 1995 and then again in 2010. Piranha is a fun movie despite it’s low budget and obvious inspiration.