Sunday, 4 April 2010

Directed By James Cameron

Piranha 2 The Spawning (1981) may be one of the most spectacular false starts in Hollywood Cinema, and while most if not all commentary on the film deem this one to be an atrocity, Piranha 2 actually turns out to an efficient and entertaining B-movie, and in light of Cameron's later films, its rather fascinating to watch. A loose follow-up to Joe Dante's 1978 favourite, Piranha 2 relocates the killer fish to a Jamaican beach resort, but this time the piranha have been gifted with the power of flight (?) courtesy of an experimental mutation...

Cameron joined the American/Italian production of Piranha 2 to work on special effects, but when the original director bowed out, Cameron was handed the directorial reigns for what would be an unhappy shoot. The newly promoted director was unable to gel with the Italian-speaking crew and had to battle with producers for any degree of control over the film. Cameron himself was unapologetic:

I only shot half the picture. I got fired after a few weeks. The producer took over the picture and shot all these scenes of naked women that had nothing to do with the script...I have a limited responsibility for whatever is wrong with it, which is a lot.

Indeed Piranha 2 does feel disjointed and pieced together. The film is not without its strong moments - there's a great sequence in a morgue involving a chest-bursting piranha, but much of the good stuff is undone by some inept comedy involving boneheaded bikini girls, horny hotel guests, and some pretty bad rubber fish-on-wires during the climax when the piranha take the skies for some human chowder.


In the best B-movie tradition of the Bert I. Gordon style laserdisc sleeve above the movie offers none of the carnage it promises, but for all its failings, it remains an energetic nature-on-the-rampage movie, and moves along with a good pace, has three good leads, including Lance Henriksen, who would reappear in Cameron's next two (significantly better) films, and features some meaty gore effects by Lucio Fulci's perennial make-up maestro Giannetto De Rossi. Its a rather drab, dreary looking picture, the film most definitely feels shot off season, and its hard to believe that Cameron would have the eye for turning LA into an eerie nocturnal hunting ground for his 1984 debut-proper The Terminator. Visually, the best stuff in the movie are the underwater sequences, filmed in and around a sunken ship, which seem like a dress rehearsal for the epic undertakings of The Abyss and Titanic, and Cameron's later obsession with the deep sea, which he explored in a trio of documentaries, Expedition Bismarck (2002), Ghosts of the Abyss (2003), Aliens of the Deep (2005)

I'm guessing James Cameron would have no problem with Sony's Stateside DVD of Piranha 2 The Spawning which is one of Sony's very worst transfers, featuring a soft fuzzy image, cropped from its original 1:85 ratio. Its unlikey anyone would shell out money for this platter, and even more unlikely that Sony would ever revisit the film for a remaster. I haven't seen the current UK edition (which had an earlier DVD release retitled Piranha 2 Flying Killers) but I imagine this DVD, like its US counterpart might be one to approach with caution. Its a shame really as the film would make a great B-movie double-bill with fishmen-on-a-rape-rampage Humanoid from the Deep...

5 comments:

  1. I have to admit dude. It was a great movie when I saw it first time. :)

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  2. I own the UK release and it's actually a very good transfer in it's original 1:85 widescreen ratio. I recommend this version if you're looking for it. It was only £5, postage free!

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  3. Many thanks A, I couldn't find any reviews on the UK DVD at the time of posting. I might just pick that disc up now, I really enjoyed the film. I have the Blu of the 2010 but still have not watched it...

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  4. I tried to watch this one beamed in from a friend's satellite dish - back when they were the size of a hot tub. It was a group of four or five and some weren't into it and consequently they talked over it, which led to more talking and only half watching - so I still don't feel I've really seen it, even though the whole damn thing unspooled before my eyes. I think this was after The Terminator had been released, because I remember an awareness in the room of both Henriksen and Cameron. And here's a weird connection - remember my makeup artist friend who worked on King Kong Lives? Well, he was mentored through the early part of his career by Giannetto De Rossi! De Rossi was brought over to work on some DEG films and hit it off with my pal Jeff. They worked together off and on here and overseas through the production of Killer Crocodile II, which I believe De Rossi directed. Sadly, their relationship went awry on that film and they parted ways.

    I really do want someone to put this out properly - and now, four years later, there are several companies tripping over themselves putting out Blu-Rays of movies you would never expect in high definition, so fingers crossed....

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  5. Great story Craig... as for Piranha 2 I liked it very much and I think it's a good example of being wary of received wisdom - the idea that a film is a write-off because everyone says it is - is something I've always railed against. There's way too much lazy journalism out there which regurgitates the same old opinions... All this reminds me that I have Piranha 3 on Blu, still sealed and unwatched...

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