Piranha II: The Spawning (1981) — James Cameron’s fishy debut

“We want fish!”

Justin’s rating: Oh, the horror (of bad movie making)!

Justin’s review: Fun true facts about piranhas: They have interlocking triangular razor-sharp teeth. They will often bite anything that moves. The fish usually bite their victims once, ripping a chunk out of the person and leaving a round, crater-shaped wound with accompanying loss of tissue and bleeding. They hunt in schools of up to 20 other piranha and use a variety of strategies to capture and kill their prey. When a school of piranha are in a feeding frenzy the water appears to boil and churn red with blood. They attack with such ferocity that they strip an animal of its flesh completely within a matter of minutes and they’ll even eat each other in the process. Adult piranha will eat just about anything — other fish, jaguars, cattle, even parts of people.

Add to all that what I learned from Piranha II: The Spawning: After reckless, devil-may-care scientists did a genetic tweak on these suckers, piranha now can fly and live outside of the ocean. Plus, they only seem to be hunting man meat, but that’s to be expected.

This film escapes pure obscurity for just a one reason, which really has nothing to do with the deadly flying fish themselves. Piranha II is the directorial debut of one Mr. James Cameron, who would follow this tepid horror flick up with classic after classic, including The Terminator and Aliens. This also starred Lance Henrickson, who would also return to team up with Cameron in the future.

In looking back at his very non-Titanic beginnings, Cameron shows just a hint of the great director he would become. There are monsters, underwater scenes, likable (and strange) characters, and even a synthetic human who might or might not be programmed to aid the alien and destroy the ship’s crew.

Piranha II is a Saturday-night rip-off of both Jaws and Alien. A seaside resort community comes under siege by ravenous fish, yet despite the body count, few people believe the threat until it’s too late. Stupid land walkers. The fish themselves swim about, gurgling happily to themselves, preparing for their great special effects scenes that would involve mechanical flapping fish swooping around on wires, and various human actors holding a fish puppet to their throat as if to say, “Hey, this sucker just leapt up here and bit me, all by his little self! I could take my hand away and convince you that it’s staying up here just by it’s teeth, sure, but you certainly don’t need that proof!”

Water Cop Guy (Henrickson) and his ex, Marine Biologist Scuba Woman, split their time between investigating the threat, running from the threat, and acting incredulous that no one believes the threat. But really, they’re the least fun characters in this whole darn flick, so feel free to ignore them and their warnings, particularly since they’re so nonsen… AHH! MY THROAT! FISH!

If I had to pick a thesis theme for Piranha II, it would be “Lots of nudity, and lots more awkward people.” Don’t try to ignore it, because you can’t. You’ll be sipping on your Diet Coke, enjoying a pleasant scene of a girl taking photos of a mutilated body at the morgue — ahh — and suddenly, nudity! I know, it scared me too.

It’s amazing how weird everyone in this cast is, more so as we look back to the late ’70s, early ’80s fashion era in which they dwell. Nobody’s attractive, but that doesn’t stop James Cameron from having a desiccated senior citizen licking her gums and flirting quite wrongly with a pool boy. Not to mention the disturbing subtext of a teen boy hitting on his mother. Paging Dr. Oedipus, will Dr. Oedipus please report to the sex ward.

Piranha II’s not for you, unless your abundant curiosity of Cameron’s early work gets the best of your common sense. I only regret that the piranha didn’t win in the end.

Didja notice?

  • Nude scuba sex in the Amazon… well, don’t say we didn’t warn you about the penis fish!
  • Oedipus complex much?
  • Dynamite fishing, and no Crocodile Dundee around
  • Nose plugs are sexy, I guess?
  • This movie likes two things: nudity and awkward people. LOTS of nudity. LOTS of awkward people.
  • Going on a date… to the morgue! Hahaha… guess no one’s getting naked in here
  • Flying piranha like to burrow in dead people’s bodies
  • “We want fish” well you’re gonna get them, that’s for sure

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