Piranha (1978)

piranha poster 1978 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 6/10

Does nice for such a low budget, gore & humor

Might be too cheap looking for some

Movie Info

Movie Name: Piranha

Studio: New Line Pictures

Genre(s): Horror/B-Movies

Release Date(s): August 3, 1978

MPAA Rating: R

piranha attack kevin mccarthy

Hey…I know this didn’t work for Rose on Titanic…but can you let me on?

Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) has been hired to find two missing hikers in the Lost River Lake and Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) has been hired to help her.  When Paul and Maggie drain a pool at an abandoned secret lab, they accidentally unleash genetically-engineered piranha into the local river.  Now the piranha are headed down river toward the ocean and everything in their path is in danger…and if they reach the ocean, nothing will stop them!

Directed by Joe Dante, Piranha is a horror comedy which satirizes films like Jaws.  Written by John Sayles, the film was released to positive reviews and a strong box-office and gained a cult following over the years.

piranha fish attack camp belinda balaski

Bad hiding places from piranha…rubber floating tubes…

I can remember renting Piranha and watching it over and over again with my friend.  We didn’t necessarily understand the satire portion of the film, but the movie’s horror side still is strong enough to carry it for viewers who don’t.  The movie might have started out as a mocking of Jaws, but it evolved into its own film.

Pretty much everything that can go wrong in an “animal attacks” horror movie happens in Piranha.  You have the fish eating everything in their path and more and more potential food sources popping up which culminates in a camp and water park.  It is both ridiculous and pretty horrific…leading to a weird balance that helps make the movie enjoyable.

The cast is also rather strong.  Both Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies are solid and likable leads.  Dante added a lot of genre faces to the movie including Kevin McCarthy as the mad scientist, Keenan Wynn as one of the piranhas’ early victims, Scream queen Barbara Steele, and other character actors like Richard Deacon, Paul Bartel, and Bruce Gordon all show up.  Dante favorites Belinda Balaski and Dick Miller also make appearances with John Sayles in a cameo as a guard.

piranha fish victim head

Piranhas really should eat more of the head instead of just wasting it.

While the art for Piranha promises a larger than life fish attacking swimmers, the piranha are largely fish on sticks.  It is goofy but accompanied with the “piranha sound”, it actually can be pretty effective…the water bubbles, the blood flows, and horror starts.  It is cheap but effective.

Piranha doesn’t take itself too seriously and that is why the film works and stands out among the other “animals attack” films that were released after Jaws.  The movie boils down to horror and laughs and with a decent cast and look, it succeeds and holds up.  The movie was remade for Showtime in 1995 this film (literally) spawned a sequel in the James Cameron directed Piranha II:  The Spawning in 1981.  Piranha received another semi-remake in 2010 with Piranha 3D.

Related Links:

Piranha II:  The Spawning (1981)

Piranha (1995)

Piranha 3D (2010)

Piranha 3DD (2012)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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