Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #124
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: August 20, 2010
Sub-Genre: Monster Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $83,188,165
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Alexandre Aja
Producers: Alexandre Aja, Mark Canton, Marc Toberoff, Grégory Levasseur
Screenplay: Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg, Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur
Special Effects: Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, Kerrin Jackson, David A. Brooke, Carey Jones, Kevin Wasner
Special Effects: Matt Kutcher
Visual Effects: Nicholas Boughen, Colin Davies, Kevin O’Neill, Marco Recuay, Rocco Passionino, Derek Wentworth, Sylvian Theroux, Michael Wile, Olcun Tan, Thomas Tannenberger
Cinematography: John R. Leonetti
Score: Michael Wandmacher
Studio: The Weinstein Company, Atmosphere Entertainment, Chako Film Company, Intellectual Properties Worldwide
Distributors: Dimension Films, Entertainment in Video, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Stars: Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Steven R McQueen, Christopher Lloyd, Jerry O’Connell, Jessica Szohr, Riley Steele, Kelly Brook, Adam Scott, Dina Meyer, Ricardo Chavira, Paul Scheer, Brooklynn Proulx, Sage Ryan, Cody Longo, Brian Kubach, Richard Dreyfuss, Matt Boyd, Eli Roth, Greg Nicotero, Franck Khalfoun
Suggested Audio Candy:
Michael Wandmacher Piranha
Alexandre Aja can do precious little wrong in my eyes. Since gifting us with his breathless debut High Tension in 2003, he has managed to build a respectable name for himself at the other side of the Atlantic also. His remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes got a lot on the money and anyone who has read my appraisal will know that I consider it to be possibly even better than a predecessor that was far from being shabby in the first place. So when he took on Joe Dante’s B-Movie classic Piranha it would surely yield spectacular results right? I mean, it’s not as widely adored as Craven’s exploitation flick so, in essence, it should be elementary to nail. Negative, Piranha was one of most high-profile features to canter out of Roger Corman’s stable in the late seventies and arguably one of his finest so this was no foregone conclusion.
The original Piranha was a parody of sorts, attempting to cash in on the Jaws phenomena that had enjoyed tremendous box office success a few years prior. Dante’s film wasn’t trying to compete with Steven Spielberg’s tour de force; such an attempt would have been both unrealistic and downright foolish. But he did see an opportunity for sizable return and, when the film was unleashed on audiences in 1978, it achieved just that and on a fraction of his rival’s budget. It played things straight, whilst keeping its tongue firmly planted in cheek at all times, and went on to become something of a cult classic amongst B-Movie aficionados worldwide so Aja’s job here would be far from the cake walk many envisaged.
Aja treats the source material with esteem, showing his profound affection for its B-Movie trappings and an exemplary understanding of the original’s key strengths. Firstly, he recruits affable veterans Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss, both providing small cameos to help create that retrospective feel he knows is a necessity. In Dreyfuss’ case it’s maybe a little too miniscule as we aren’t given the pleasure of hearing that glorious high-toned voice which is always a pleasure to listen to. He spends most of his short time in utter bemusement as his downgraded Orca suffers a serious case of aquatic termites and, with that, it’s goodbye from him. Not such a badass without Brody and Quint to back your shit up are you?
Lloyd fares somewhat more favorably although, in truth, he only has to utter the words “Great Scott!” and we’ll be clapping like randy seals. Elsewhere, Ving Rhames is the archetypal tough black sheriff, the kind who brandishes a trusty 12-gage shotgun, just his kind of role. Dina Meyer gets a welcome run out too which is always saluted. Then there’s ex-chubbster Jerry O’Connell who, still anxious to show the world he’s shed that puppy fat, plays to sleazy type effortlessly. Throw in bikini babes Riley Steele and Kelly Brook for the obligatory eye-candy, then subtract said bikinis and Aja’s on a winner. It’s clear by this point that the template is being followed with knowing precision.
Of course, realizing that he needs to play things straight down the line as Dante did back in the seventies, Aja procures the alluring and more than capable leading lady credentials of Elisabeth Shue. This fox of mammoth proportions (metaphorical not statistical) made us wish we were Hollow Man and hats off to Kevin Bacon for using his new-found invisiblity wisely. She also impressed as down-on-her-luck hooker Sera in Mike Figgis’ sublime Leaving Las Vegas, putting up with Nicolas Cage’s insufferable gut aches for the duration of his six-week death binge and showing great warmth and tenderness in the process. A great acquisition, she doesn’t have to dig deep on this gig, but her presence is appreciated nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Eli Roth pops his head up and probably wishes he had kept it down as it gives Aja chance to get impish with the grue. The opportunities afforded him are endless and he is proven when it comes to bloodaths, as all of his works stand testament to that claim. He doesn’t fritter his opening, putting paid to large quantities at a time in all manner of grisly manners. The piranhas make short work of their vacationing victims, trimming the fat with rows upon rows of razor-sharp gnashers. Recognizing the requisite for skin in any B-Movie worth its salt, Aja’s lens spends an enormous amount of time focusing its attentions on the pink platter prepared for our prying peepers, almost to the point where it becomes a tad suspicious as to what equipment he has his hands on. The whole affair is delightfully aware of itself and its limited reach, remaining in the snug confines of the archetype afforded Aja.
With his remake of The Hills Have Eyes, he paid enormous respect to the film’s heritage and subsequently had a sound success on his hands. Once again he hits pay-dirt here as Piranha is every bit as unruly as you would expect, stays mostly on the right side of campy (gnashed off beef whistle aside), supplies gallon upon gallon of grue in typical Aja fashion and sticks close enough to the winning formula to ensure that there are no quibbles come the end credits. Do we give a damn about plot? Not in the slightest, thousands of ravenous omnivores are on a murderous killing spree and that’s all the heads up we could possibly ask for.
Piranha is shameless Saturday night entertainment to be consumed with your poison of choice and as many friends as you can lay hands on. Does it lodge itself in your memory banks for any discernible length of time afterwards? Of course not, although the image of those two disrobed divas wriggling around sub-aqua like a pair of excitable guppies may well become your mind’s wallpaper for the foreseeable. However, his remake does more than enough to satisfy both newcomers and retro-junkies alike, which surely equates to job well and truly done in my book. Keep ’em coming Aja.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers and Pelt-Nuzzlers: So what do you get with Piranha with regards to the all-important grue? I’m pleased to report that enough deep red to fill an estuary is the answer and, with Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger supplying the splatter, you just know it’s going to get messy. You can tell Alexandre had a hoot on the shoot as body parts strewn in every direction and gallons of grue for them to marinade in. As for O’Connell, he goes a bit far with his weight loss, which is our gain as the sight of him sprawled out with legs like fleshy pipe cleaners is worth the price of admission alone. As for skin, there is far more bounce than an ounce and Steele and Brook can come paddle in my pool anytime they like.
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2016)