Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min.
Release Date: October 1st, 1995 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Scott P. Levy Actors: William Katt, Alexandra Paul, Darleen Carr, Monte Markham, Soleil Moon Frye, Kehli O’Byrne, James Karen, Mila Kunis, Shannon Farrara, Kaz Garas
t an abandoned military test site, a well-endowed young woman, Barbara (Lorissa McComas), teases her nervous boyfriend, Davey (Richard Israel), suggesting that he behave more like Indiana Jones than Woody Allen. When she discovers a pool, she pushes Davey in, then promptly strips for a skinny dip. In a most expected twist, as if an exploitive version of “Jaws,” the two swimmers are tugged underwater, nipped at and bitten by some unseen creature.
A week later, land developer J.R. Randolph (Monte Markham) hires a detective agency to search for Barbara, his niece, so that she can participate in the grand opening of his $60 million Lost River Estates & Resort. Lyon Investigations boss Earl (Ben Slack) sends his best “bloodhound,” Maggie McNamara (Alexandra Paul), to pick up the trail. When she visits the Lost River area, she recruits local environmental activist Paul Grogan (William Katt), who takes her to the exact spot where Barbara and Davey disappeared. This is despite his insistence that he won’t help her – and then, with absolutely no explanation, he helps her anyway. With virtually no sleuthing, she discovers a necklace and clothing that belonged to the couple – as well as a crazy woman who attacks them with a giant hook when they attempt to drain the pool.
In a sensationally comical scene, the hysterical woman breaks nearly everything in the drain control room, before Maggie smashes an empty fish tank over her head. Moments later, the woman hot-wires Maggie’s jeep, careens down the road, swerves out of the way of a deer, and rolls the vehicle down a hill. It takes a while before the nutcase properly introduces herself as Dr. Leticia Baines (Darleen Carr), spouting warnings about a brand new species of carnivorous fish (genetically modified for government operation “Razorteeth,” designed to destroy enemy water systems during the Cold War) that have made their way into the nearby lake – and are likely heading to a dam bypass straight to the ocean, thanks to Maggie’s hasty draining of the pool.
In no time at all, characters are consumed in a flurry of red water and thrashing limbs (and reused shots of fluttering, fake fish). Bloody gore effects (including murky plumes of crimson, billowing from under the water’s surface) are moderately amusing, as well as the choice of victims – starting with an old man, a golden retriever (how could they!), and an African-American father showing his young son how to fish. Even when the child is rescued, Maggie and Paul are forced to dump a body into the water to distract the hungry critters, causing the boy additional psychological trauma as he relives seeing a human getting torn apart by miniature monsters. And the piranha squeal like dolphins or velociraptors. “Those fish have neither the intelligence or the motivation to find that bypass!”
“The piranha are coming!” A splash of comedy arrives in the form of a commercial director (recognizable character actor Leland Orser) with big aspirations, and the blonde bimbo (Kehli O’Byrne) who hopes to use him to get into the movies – a subplot created to wink at pervy amateur filmmakers while also offering up more nudity and bloodshed. A scene later, a jailer is beaten over the head with a sock filled with shattered pieces of a toilet tank – a maneuver that might have killed him. As an afterthought, Maggie confirms that the felled man still has a pulse. For some seemingly random reason, there are also a few boat stunts and an explosion, as if the ravenous fish weren’t thrilling enough. “They’re eating the guests, sir.”
Unexpectedly, this remake of a previous Roger Corman production is marginally better than its predecessor, due to updated makeup effects and a willingness to embrace edgier exploitation picture components (it’s also incredibly similar to the 2010 version, which stole far more from this take than modern audiences are aware of). Plus, no one is safe from the toothy antagonists; few roles are immune to the chompers – not even little children. Also of note is a very young Mila Kunis, who makes an appearance as Paul’s daughter, and slasher film regular Soleil Moon Frye (originally of “Punky Brewster” fame), who plays a camp counselor. It’s not a great movie (in fact, it’s laughable more often than not), but it’s routinely funny, eyebrow-raising, and boasts a riotous finale. “Daddy’s gonna be just fine, honey,” stutters Paul, as he trembles from his wounds, including flaps of torn flesh that dangle from his face. It’s also difficult to dismiss the closing music by Uncle Dog Food, entitled “Killer Mutant Piranha.”
– Mike Massie