Piranha II: The Spawning (1981)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2010-08-21 02:25

Written by: H.A. Milton (James Cameron)
Directed by: James Cameron
Starring: Tricia OĎNeil, Steve Marachuk, and Lance Henriksen

Reviewed by: Brett G.

A new breed of terror!

Besides his ďKing of the BsĒ status, Roger Cormanís greatest legacy will no doubt be the amount of film-making careers he launched. Directors such as Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese (among others) got their start under Cormanís wing. Corman didnít helm the sequel to his cult hit Piranha, with that honor instead going to another B-movie producer, Ovidio Assonitis. However, when the original director for the sequel dropped out, one of Cormanís special effects protťgťs was tapped as a replacement. Though he was already primed to be the filmís special effects director, James Cameron now found himself in the captainís chair for Piranha II: The Spawning.

A Caribbean resort paradise is preparing for an annual celebration that culminates in a fish fry; of course, itís humans that land on the menu this year when a number of chewed up corpses begin showing up. The local policeman (Henriksen) and his estranged wife (OíNeil) are drawn into the mysterious proceedings, which become illuminated with the arrival of Tyler Sherman (Marachuk). He explains that the deaths are due to a pack of genetically altered killer piranha, who have been given the ability to fly!

While no one will ever accuse the original Piranha of being classy cinema, the second film takes the concept and trashes it up in a uniquely Italian way. Though the film was shot in Jamaica, much of the cast and crew was Italian, and the end result surely shows. Itís a complete cheese-fest, complete with dreadful acting, hilariously bad dub jobs, nudity, and gore. Itís a completely Z-grade cash-in on the original, and retains only a bit of thatís film campy charm. In this case, itís more charming because itís so bad, whereas the original is a legitimate cult classic. You can have some fun with The Spawning, but itíll mostly be due to laughing so hard at it. Of course, Iím not so sure you should expect too much from a film thatís about flying killer piranha.

Youíre probably wondering how this happened to a James Cameron-helmed effort; forgetting the fact that it was his first time out, the troubled production certainly played a role. Assonitis was an over-bearing presence on set, often clashing with Cameron, who was eventually locked out of the editing room during post-production. Legend has it that Cameron actually broke into the room one night to make his own cut of the film. I can imagine that his preferred cut was probably only about an hour long, as the released version only features about that much material that could even be called decent. As such, itís kind of hard to figure out exactly where Cameronís influence ended and the producerís began. Ultimately, this one got a lethal dose of Assonitis because all of the inane, tacked-on subplots and characters overwhelm the core story. Campy, comedic characters pop in and out of the movie and only serve as fish food, which is kind of at odds with the main narrative, which plays it as straight as possible.

Itíd be fun to be able to point to the film and discuss how it reveals a wealth of potential that Cameron would later reach, but thatíd be stretching. I suppose his technical proficiency behind the camera is on display at times, and there is a nice climactic underwater sequence thatís directed well. The presence of Henriksen is noticeable, as it would mark the first of several collaborations between the actor and Cameron. Henriksen gives the film all he can, which is more than it deserves. His character is about the only one you care about, but I suspect that might just be due to the fact that heís Lance Henriksen (unfortunately, this film is probably better than the DTV and Sci-Fi Channel dreck heís been doing lately). One can also see Cameronís penchant for special effects because this is one area where the film delivers (with the exception of some visible wire work). The fish and the carnage they cause are realized well with some nice gore effects. The chewed-up corpses in particular are good effects centerpieces that are just good enough to keep the movie afloat from time to time.

Other than the times where you marvel at the grue, Piranha II doesnít have a whole lot to offer besides an overall campy experience. We can also thank it and the troubled production for a dream that Cameron had that involved a killer robot being sent back in time to kill him; this, of course, served as the inspiration for The Terminator, so we canít say this bit of killer fish fluff was completely worthless. Columbia-Tristar's DVD for the film was out of print for a while, but it seems to be popping back up at online retailers, no doubt to capitalize on both Cameronís recent resurgence and the impending release of Piranha 3D. Itís not a stellar release by any means--the transfer is open matte full frame, though it looks decent otherwise. The stereo soundtrack is a bit muffled, and youíll find yourself straining to hear some of the dialogue. Thereís some bonus trailers, but thatís about it in the way of features. Anyone expecting a special edition of this one might be waiting a while, as I canít imagine Cameron himself is in any hurry to revisit it. Heís all but disowned the film, though he did once jokingly refer to it as ďthe best flying piranha film ever made.Ē Heís right of course; after all, who are we to question the King of the World? Rent it!

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