First Time Watch: Piranha (1978)


By Christian DiMartino

Piranha suffers from an interesting problem: it isn’t bad enough.

10 years ago, Alexander Aja (The Hills Have Eyes remake) remade Piranha, and honestly, it was exactly the movie it needed to be. Gross, ridiculous, and hilarious, the kind of movie that the original Piranha should’ve been. That being said, watching the original Piranha, I kept wondering if the filmmakers actually thought they were making their own version of Jaws, because much of the time, whenever it isn’t displaying its goofy effects (the highlight of the film), much of the movie is just people talking. In another movie, sure, that is fine. But this is Piranha we’re talking about, and for a movie called Piranha, well, there aren’t enough of the damned piranhas.

With Jaws, it was okay that the audience didn’t see the shark until 90 minutes in. Steven Spielberg filmed much of it from the sharks point of view, so it was as if the shark’s presence was there, even if it wasn’t, and it made the experience thrilling. Not to mention, it had characters that were fully fleshed and interesting. With Piranha, the characters aren’t interesting, and are thrown into a story that isn’t all that engaging unless the piranhas are onscreen. Even then, it can be difficult to see the piranhas because the film is filmed in such a blurry manner.

The film follows, you guessed it, an attack of piranhas. The piranhas have infiltrated a small town river during the summer, and are attacking any and everybody who comes in their path. Something about the government, something about the military, blah blah blah.

When the piranhas are onscreen, the movie delivers. There is also a particularly strange effect about 30 minutes in, featuring a clay-mation iguana (I think) that is lurking around a lab. Those moments held my attention. The rest… not so much. It perhaps isn’t fair to dock a movie points because the filmmakers were trying to match Jaws, but also, in return, they didn’t bother to make a movie that was interesting or entertaining enough. I was on the verge of sleeping for a good chunk of it.

All of this is pretty surprising because the film is directed by Joe Dante, of Gremlins and The ‘Burbs. Those movies were fun; this one isn’t. Perhaps he was trying to make a name for himself still, seeing as it was one of his first movies… but you shouldn’t have tried to do with that a movie called Piranha.

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