Piranha: Special Edition Joe Dante

Piranha: Special Edition Joe Dante
As much as Jaws launched the career of Steven Spielberg, it launched a surplus of inferior killer fish b-flicks (the most ridiculous of which is obviously last year's Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus). The first true summer blockbuster, Jaws demonstrated that perhaps our greatest fear is what lurks in the water. Legendary producer Roger Corman was definitely paying attention. In a "making of" featurette for this special edition of Piranha, he admits he was "clearly influenced" by Jaws, but wanted to go in the opposite direction of having tiny fish to differentiate the movies. Piranha begins when two teenagers go missing, a "local town boozer," Paul (Bradford Dillman), and insurance investigator, Maggie (Heather Menzies), discover that a deranged scientist (Kevin McCarthy) has developed a super-species of piranha that has been accidentally released from an experimental laboratory. Conveniently downstream are a children's summer camp and a heavily populated beach resort, where the piranhas find breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Directed by Joe Dante, who would go on to work with Spielberg on Gremlins, Piranha is both an unabashed homage and knockoff that reveals its intentions only minutes in when a close-up of a Jaws videogame is prominently featured. Both the commentary and the "making of" discuss in great detail how they managed to pull it off. Dante and producer Jon Davison waste little time admitting they "wanted to be honest about ripping off Jaws." They also talk about the difficulties in getting money from Roger Corman, which left them using barebones methods like fish puppets on rods with metal teeth to fill in for the piranhas. It sounds cheap, but for a 32-year-old film, the old school attack scenes trump the copious CGI pumped into Alexandre Aja's new Piranha 3D. Being a Corman production, Dante and Davison share plenty more memories, like Roger being the one who insisted on several climaxes, as much gore as possible and the summer camp and resort locations "so they could kill everyone off." (Choice quote: "Violence against children is illegal now, but they were simpler times back then.") While some may refuse to remember it as anything more than the rip-off that started it all, Piranha is a gritty, unrelenting little horror that, like any Corman production, wasn't afraid to make you laugh while you winced. It looks better as it ages (thanks to that '70s sheen, which is all the rage currently) and like the piranha is to the great white shark, it deserves to go down in history as the runner-up to Jaws as the second greatest killer fish flick ever made. Because, really, what else is there? Plus: bloopers and outtakes, stills. (Shout! Factory)