My friend B-Sol from The Vault of Horror is back here with another review of a movie that looks like it's destined to be a cult classic!
Piranha 3-D: Because Naked Women Being Eaten Alive By Fish Can Never NOT Be Fun
Being a definite fan and defender of Alexandre Aja’s remake of The Hills Have Eyes (I enjoy it more than the original), I was very psyched at the opportunity to check out the director’s latest horror effort—another remake of sorts, Piranha 3-D. I can’t say I was the biggest devotee of the Joe Dante original, but the new one just looked like so much damn fun that I couldn’t pass it up. And in the end, I found my assessment was correct—even if the film couldn’t have possibly been more different in tone than Hills Have Eyes!
If there is such a category as “good-time summer blockbuster gorefest”, then Piranha 3-D would have to be the prototypical entry. It’s almost become a cliché for reviewers to say of a flick something to the effect of, “turn off your brain and just have fun with it,” but in this case I’d have to say the cliché applies perfectly. I had a lot of fun with Piranha 3-D, maybe because I never expected all that much from it.
Much as in the original, those prehistoric carnivorous fishies find their way to the surface when their subterranean abode is disturbed, wreaking havoc on some swimming humans just trying to have a good time. Only this time, the whole thing takes a page out of the culture of MTV’s insipid Spring Break phenomenon. This means that if you’re like me, it’s truly a joy to behold.
Let’s address the gore, first and foremost. I’m not really much of a gorehound these days, but even I have to bow to the gloriousness of the plasma, gristle and bone matter on display here. It’s entirely possibly that Piranha 3-D may dethrone Dead Alive as the goriest film I’ve ever seen. What makes this even more fascinating is the fact that it is a relatively mainstream American horror release.
What’s even more bizarre is that the tone of the film never really shifts from the decidedly comic, and yet this stands in jarring juxtaposition to the very realistic grue flying at the screen for the much of the film’s 90 minutes. It gets so grim at times, that it becomes difficult to even keep laughing—I’m talking people being ripped in half, skin sloughed off skulls, genitalia swallowed whole, muscle tissue stripped bare. In fact, it got so bad that in the theater I was in, I could even hear muted exclamations of “Jesus Christ!” and “What the f***??” coming from individuals who, presumably, have not been exposed to much modern horror.
Yes, it’s very cynical—much more so than the Dante original. Brainless teens are served up on a silver platter, with all the attendant debauchery expected, and we’re encouraged to root on as they’re devoured. For some reason, this always rubs me the wrong way a bit in our post-modern horror landscape—maybe because it feels a bit contrived; manufactured, in a negative sense. It’s not as organic as ‘70s and ‘80s teen exploitation cinema, which, paradoxically enough, seemed far more innocent by comparison.
We’ve got Jerry O’Connell—a.k.a. Fat Kid from Stand By Me—as an unbearably obnoxious character clearly inspired by Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis (who was reportedly less than flattered.) The GGW-like shenanigans provide an easy excuse for much of the boobage and casual sapphism, and also serves as a device to deliver more than enough of a meal to the titular aquatic life. O’Connell’s performance is a total caricature, but then again, it feels completely normal in a movie such as this.
O’Connell is just part of an amusingly eclectic cast reminiscent of the disaster films of the ‘70s. We’ve got the apparently ageless Elisabeth Shue slumming it as the town sheriff—a far cry from her Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas, but all in good fun, nonetheless. Ving Rhames does what he does best—namely, be Ving Rhames—and kicks considerable piranha ass in the process. Christoper Lloyd—now actually old enough to look like Doc Brown without makeup—just about steals the show with two brief scenes. And then, of course there’s Richard Dreyfuss in what has to be the cameo of the year—a brief, wordless appearance in the film’s opening sequence, complete with a musical accompaniment bound to tickle Jaws fans pink.
The CGI is almost uniformly terrible, and so the violence is at its most effective when it comes in the form of the incredible makeup work of Greg Nicotero’s KNB EFX group. Much more so than the computerized 3-D mess that often reminded me of nothing so much as the stuff seen in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. We’re talking laughably bad, and not in a good way. In fact, I hate to agree with James Cameron, who infamously took a swipe at the flick recently, but maybe this type of movie just isn’t the best showcase for 3-D technology.
Piranha 3-D is not my favorite type of horror film. I’m not so much a blood-and-boobs kind of guy, believe it or not, but I can’t deny the irresistible fun factor at work here. This is a movie that endeavors to be nothing more than a harmless gore extravaganza, and even though it sometimes feels like it’s overly pandering to a certain fanboy sub-demographic, it succeeds in being good, dirty fun.
Piranha 3-D movie trailer: