Occasionally Mr Exploitica and I play ‘If I had an Independent Cinema’.
This is a game for film nerds like us and involved picking the location, theme and films for our entirely fictional establishments. Mine of course would be Exploitica Pictures, probably be based in Bristol and feature the kinds of films I write about, with an odd Rocky Horror night thrown in for good measure. Seasons of films would also be important and one idea that crops up fairly often is a season of originals and remakes.
I rarely find remakes to be as good as the original films, only the 1979 Nosferatu the Vampyre really springs to mind as it manages to capture the ethereal beauty of the original 1922 film but also brings something new to the story. However Nosferatu is the exception as opposed to the rule and this is expressed very clearly in Piranha (1978) and Piranha 3D (2010).
Directed by Joe Dante Piranha is a spoof of the highly successful Jaws (1975) and tells of a school of genetically modified and highly aggressive piranha that are accidentally released from an army testing site and into a local river. Insurance investigator Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) and reclusive alcoholic Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) are caught up in trying to prevent the piranha from reaching a nearby summer camp where Grogan’s daughter is staying. The gore is limited, aside from when local hermit Jack (Keenan Wynn) is attacked while fishing in the river and has his legs stripped to the bone, and mainly consists of underwater shots of people flailing about while the ‘feeding’ soundtrack plays. The humour is knowing (Maggie playing a Jaws video game, a guest at the water park reading Moby Dick) but still works, and the piranha effects are a little at the ‘rubber shark’ end of the spectrum. But despite (or perhaps because) of these things Piranha is a fun little film with a good atmosphere, beautiful scenery, a sense of humour and a few suspenseful chills.
By contrast Piranha 3D erupts into a welter of CGI blood and gore. A sort of remake, Piranha 3D features the killer fish being released into Lake Victoria, Arizona, by means of a subterranean earthquake. The prehistoric little buggers have been trapped for thousands of years and are tired of gnawing on each other. Well good news, spring break is upon them and with it comes several hundred tasty college students just itching to get topless and wet (ooer). The piranha start by snacking on local fisherman Matt Boyd (Richard Dreyfus), whose bloodied remains are found by Sheriff Julie Forester (Elizabeth Shue). Despite this disturbing find the town doesn’t want to turn away the income it receives from the tourists and soon enough the killer fish are eating everything in sight, and as messily as they possibly can. Now I have no aversion to gore. Lucio Fulci is one of my favourite directors, which should tell you something of how I feel about the red stuff. However in Piranha 3D the gore is the film. Well about 50% of it. The other half is taken up with boobs, lots of them, to the point where Piranha 3D feels like an episode of Girls Gone Wild with lots of CGI gore. Ah, the CGI gore. This is another bugbear, though there are other films as guilty of pixelating their effects. It’s sad when genuine artistry, as shown by folks like Screaming Mad George and Tom Savini, have been put aside in favour of a twelve year old with a laptop. Piranha 3D tends to divide viewers between “zomg this movie has loads of tits and blood, it’s AWESOME” and “ARGH! fucking hell! tear out my eyes and lobotomise me!”
Really the main difference between Piranha and Piranha 3D is the fun. Piranha feels as though it was made by people who love films and enjoyed the filming process. It’s well acted and gives us characters we can care about. It’s difficult to care about the fates of any of the characters in Piranha 3D, most of them are so detestable. Even the two children, who I assume were added as sympathetic characters, don’t seem to be too troubled by the death and destruction about them.
So, I would suggest going to the chippy for a battered cod and getting a copy of Piranha (1978), maybe in a double bill with Ebirah Horror of the Deep (1966), for a night of fishy fun.