Written by: Richard Robinson, Alex Simon, and John Sayles (original screenplay
Directed by: Scott P. Levy
Starring: William Katt, Alexandra Paul and Monte Markham
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďThe piranha are coming! You've got to believe me!"
1978ís Piranha was something of a minor miracle since it was the rare Jaws-inspired film that didnít bite (er, metaphorically speaking). But Roger Corman being Roger Corman, the King of the Bs couldnít leave well enough alone and kept churning out bad creature feature after another (and even allowed Piranha II to happen, albeit not really under his watch) in an attempt to repeat its success. The key difference is that he didnít have Joe Dante aboard for the likes of Up From the Depths or Demon of Paradise, and that didnít stop him from attempting to remake Piranha itself for the Showtime network in the mid-90s, an attempt that has rightly been consigned to obscurity by Alexandre Ajaís spectacular redux from a couple years ago.
Never one to expend a budget when he doesnít have to, Corman practically recycles John Saylesís screenplay from the original film. Once again, a couple of kids get naked and die in near an industrial sized fish tank, prompting the girlís rich dad to hire a private investigator (Alexandra Paul), who seeks the help of a reclusive novelist (William Katt) to navigate the area. They stumble upon the compound (and the kidsí corpses) and unwittingly unloose a whole batch of killer piranha that have been engineered as part of a military experiment.
From there, the film nearly follows the original beat for beat, except someone thought itíd be cute to sap away most of the humor and go more straight-laced. Thatís right, Roger Corman made a goddamn ďgrim ní grittyĒ remake of a film that originally served as a spoofy homage. Donít ever let anyone tell you he was the type that only followed trends, as he was damn near a decade early on this one. Okay, itís probably not that serious, especially since it elicits a bunch of unintentional chuckles due to the badness of it all. At any rate, it results in a fairly bad movie since Dante infused a real wit and charm in the original thatís dreadfully lacking here. Instead, youíre left with the worst kind of retread since youíll be left wondering just why this movie was made (well, besides the original being a somewhat well-known success). Thereís not a single thing this movie does better than its predecessor, and even goes so far as reusing the same props and shots sometimes.
Some minor deviations pop up, such as the gender swapping of the scientist that spills the beans on the piranhaís origins (Darleen Car subs in for Kevin McCarthy, one of the many steps down from the original). Thereís also an expanded role for a commercial director, an air-headed film school punk who name drops Bergman, which would be kind of like a 9-year-old doodling a reference to Monet in Crayola. The military presence is also muted in this film (you might remember that they were headed by Barbara Steele in the original), probably because Corman couldnít secure the budget for them. For the most part, though, this is just another trip down a familiar river, with the same plot points that lead up to a couple of massacre sequences at a summer camp (where Kattís daughter, portrayed by a super young Mila Kunis, is spending her days) and the grand opening for a new resort on a nearby lake.
Even though Iím sure some advancements were made in prosthetics and other effects in the 18 years between the two films, youíd never know it from this update. The only thing revealed here is the effects teamís knack for gnawed legs, as we see the gory aftermath of a bunch of shin-biting. If the original filmís grand guignol sequences represented a rock concert, the this is like the lounge version cover, a tepid, lifeless bore of an imitation (for what itís worth Ajaís take is like 4 rock concerts directly injected into your brain--and dick). This versionís cast also misses out on the pseudo-meta stuff from the first one, where you had B-movie guys popping up left and right; here, you have Katt who, to his credit, starred in the House films a decade earlier, and he looks like heíd rather anywhere else--including the set of House V. Punky Brewster (Soleil Moon Frye) shows up as a camp counselor at one point, and James Karen inexplicably appears for all of 3 seconds as the town mayor.
Thereís really no reason to watch this film unless youíre a Piranha completist, in which case you should track down the old out of print New Horizons DVD, a disc that features a serviceable enough presentation of a bad 90s TV movie. While itís not an out-and-out disaster, your time will be better spent watching any other film bearing that name, even Cameronís infamously bad follow-up, which at least has some impressive gore effects and a thoroughly Italian shittiness stinking up the joint. This just feels like someone doing Piranha via karaoke, as if Corman instructed the cast and crew to simply watch the original and pantomime. The result is a movie thatís way less cool now than it was when I first saw it on cable so many years ago, after which it sunk into the recesses of my mind, only to resurface when I remembered, ďhey, yeah, they already remade Piranha once before.Ē I recently went a step further and decided to see just how that actually turned out, something most people would call a mistake and a waste of time. I call it marginally better than another SyFy Saturday Night with Corman. Marginally. Rent it!
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