Monday, August 30, 2010

Does Piranha Deliver The Sausage?

Exploitation films are notoriously guilty of selling the sizzle and failing to deliver the sausage. Us cinephiles carry histories of bitter cinematic disappointment, a disappointment that occasionally kills the passion. Of course, the passion, like a craving for a drug, doesn't stay dead long.

Long rhymes with schlong, doesn't it?, and there's a bonza visual gag featuring one in Alexandre Aja's fantastic remake of Joe Dante's Piranha. Thanks to Aja and his team of enlightened collaborators, this 3-D monster movie delivers the above-mentioned sausage, the sausage beneath the sizzle, and every exploitation element a true exploitation fan could dream about.

Bottom line -- See it!

The story is simple and logical , a skeleton on which to hang set pieces. An earthquake causes the rock shelf between two lakes to split. Prehistoric piranhas from one lake are released into the other. The other lake is currently playing host to a bunch of inebriated Spring Breakers. The inevitable result is bloodshed, suspense, and nudity on a grand scale.

Thanks to ace cinematographer John R. Leonetti, this exploitation masterpiece looks positively amazing; it's directed (by Aja) with precision, care, great invention, and enormous craft; and is graced with some of the bloodiest set pieces this side of Saving Private Ryan. For the gore-hound, it is a smorgasbord of human dismemberment.

Thanks to the supreme efforts of FX maestros Howard Burger and Greg Nicotero, we get Fulci*-level violence in a Jaws-like scenario. Faces are pulled from skulls, breasts are chewed to the rib cage, and a penis is torn from the body of a sleazy porno producer. And if that isn't enough (of course it isn't! Ed.), we get an angry little fishy eating its way out of a co-ed's face. It's all in the name of fun, of course, and the pacing, thank Christ, never lets up.

There's nothing to really dislike in Piranha -- unless you went in expecting a serious marine documentary or a film populated with real people (nobody here is real, and the teen love story is appallingly written). Script depth notwithstanding, this hits all the right notes, and it's a sausage that wears its aesthetically rich skin proudly. The mayhem is directed with relish and passion, and the non-stop boobage on parade may give the late Russ Meyer a reason to jerk off in his grave.

Unfortunately, the film was not as passionately embraced by the public as distributor Dimension would have hoped. The redundant but enjoyably brutal Stallone action pic, The Expendables, outgunned Piranha (3-D***), and may have prevented it from swimming into the public's periphery, which is a shame. Hopefully, this exploitation gem, which truly delivers because the makers truly cared (about everything but decent characterization*), will be rediscovered elsewhere.

* Fulci (Lucio) directed watershed gore classics such as Zombie, The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, and The House By The Cemetery in the late 70's and 80's, and became notorious for the extremity of his work (admittedly, the stuff between the gore in Fulci's films was often dull)

** Worth noting that the original Piranha was written by a real writer, John Sayles, and though the film had a much lower budget, it possessed several more "dimensions" than this

*** I continue to detest 3-D, and this didn't alter my view of the process. During the more frantic sequences, the blurring and strange, uncertain focusing made my eyes and brain ache


  1. You might have just made this my first modern 3D film. I wonder if it still playing in my parts?

  2. Probably still playing, Darius, as it's only 11 days into its release.

    I hope you can catch it.

  3. As much as I disliked this movie, I appreciate that you didn't try to sell it as anything more than a Content Delivery System for gore and tits. Some reviewers are really shaming themselves by claiming this is actually clever or well-made. Aja may be amusingly shameless but he settled for being a hack on this flick.

  4. Just returned from watching it. AWESOME. Did not realize that was Kelly Brock in the red bikini. Not a bad acting job for a Page 3 girl.

  5. I think my last comment failed.

    You do not disappoint, Mr. Phantom, nor Mr. Aja. Just got back from it, and loved it. Flaws, yes, but over all, a ton of fun.

    My quick review: here.

  6. That was quick, Darius. So happy that you enjoyed it.

  7. When this comes out on DVD its gonna` become one of the greatest cult classics of all time.

  8. Mr Savage! I am close to being shocked into silence by your perception of this particular movie! I fear that we may have to revaluate our friendship! Here is the mini review I posted on FB: Piranha 3D review: Scripting and acting makes every low budget project I've ever been involved in look like Sunset fucking Boulevard. 3D technology: has somehow taken a giant backward step since I saw The House of Wax at 8 years old, carrying with it 100% less anxiety than the Muppet 3D Theatre at Disneyland 2 weeks ago. Blood, guts and gore? I see more terrifying things in the toilet bowl every 28 days.

    When are you back???

  9. Ms Renae -- some re-assessment will have to go on, I guess. I enjoyed it, but I never did say it was scary. I thought it was good exploitation and all that implies.