Movie Review: Piranha (1978)

I almost took a water critter break for some bug movies. I’m glad I didn’t.

The first in a connected (I think?) franchise that still occasionally produces a film, the 1978 movie came out the same year as Barracuda, yet manages to check off all the same notes and produce a much more watchable movie. Seriously, here’s the recipe:


– We’ve got a government agency involved in creating the piranha.
– We’ve got a commercial interest intertwined with the government agency.
– We’ve got a “boss” who is corrupt (the fellow running the resort in Piranha),
– We have some semi-yokel characters, specifically the camp director guy.
– We have a few idiots who kick off the action meddling or generally being idiots.
– The monsters are genetically engineered (this time intentionally).
– Small town (there isn’t even really a town — just some cabins, a camp, and a new resort), depending on that water.

This movie starts out with what are essentially the boiling water of most B-movie and horror movies: the first patsies to get taken out by the monster/slasher/disaster. It’s a couple who violate nearly every rule of horror films right up front:

– They’re hiking in unknown territory at night.
– They trespass into a facility that says “stay the fuck out.” We could use an acronym: ISFA: Isolated, Signage, Fencing, and Abandoned. Stay out of ISFA folks.
– They get naked(!) there, and:
– They swim in unknown, opaque water in a tank that is clearly not a pool.

They are promptly awarded Darwin awards, and the movie has now told us what to expect. Of all the characters to die, they are the only ones who die because they are directly aggressively stupid. Most of the rest of them are in the water because, well, it’s a resort, or a camp, or where they have fished for years. These people wandered into the swimming hole equivalent of Chernobyl and dove in, ignoring the warnings.

The only other major idiot moment by a non-villain character is when the female lead stupidly drains the same tank without knowing what the hell is in it. Even if it wasn’t magic piranha, it could have been full of toxic waste that would destroy the entire ecosystem. What a bullheaded idiot.

The effects are pretty well done over-all, with some interesting critters that don’t play into the movie. Most of the piranha action is obscured by blood in the water but that works in their favor. The acting is pretty surprisingly good for a movie like this, including a spot by the very familiar Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), making his third appearance in a movie I’ve reviewed so far as a separate character, which may well be the record.

Maybe I’m wrong, and this isn’t a B-movie — maybe this was supposed to be a big release, and I’m making an assumption here. Because this is one of the better B-movies I’ve seen so far. It’s a solid B+ and if I can find the sequel streaming for free I might throw it into the mix for these thirteen movies. Because you know at least one of those mutant piranha had to survive somewhere…

Report card:
Runtime: An hour thirty-three minutes.
Acting: Well above average for the category so far.
Effects: There are some stop-motion critters that are neat.
Violence: Minor human on human.
Dead Townsfolk: Five during the bulk of the movie leading into a 20+ killfest.
Gun Use: I don’t think a gun is fired in the movie.
Gore: Yes, it’s kind of gorey in a 1978 kind of way.
Creepy? Not really.
Monster Type? Piranha.
Monster Ick Factor: When they’re eating people.
Funny? Yes, intentionally.
Nudity: Brief topless female spots and very brief female full frontal.
Pet Death: No.
Pacing: Pretty decent. The piranha start out early and stay strong.