Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1982)
Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1982)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.

Release Date: November 5th, 1982 MPAA Rating: R

Director: James Cameron Actors: Tricia O’Neil, Steve Marachuk, Lance Henriksen, Ricky G. Paull, Leslie Graves, Carole Davis, Connie Lynn Hadden, Tracy Berg, Ted Richert

 


 

“W

hat’s the matter, honey? Is it me?” Humorously, a twosome aboard a dinghy isn’t talking just about sex, as the woman questions the man over his performance issues. Instead, they’re about to scuba dive into the wreckage of a sunken boat, where exploration takes place. It is, however, the search for the perfect spot to have underwater sex. These risk-takers comically encounter deep-sea danger when a horde of piranha decides to snack on the copulating couple. The cheesy horror-movie tactics, bad special effects, rubbery props, and unusually dramatic music make it apparent that the filmmakers aren’t taking things too seriously, which is the only way to tackle a low-budget picture about killer fish.

At the Club Elysium hotel, which is oddly overrun by sex-crazed women of all ages, Anne Kimbrough (Tricia O’Neil) and her teenaged son Chris (Ricky G. Paull) engage in some rather awkward pranking and banter, involving a fish and some bizarre chaperoning methods. Anne works at the facility as a diving instructor and marine biologist, detailing to the other staff members the mating habits of the grunion, which provides an excellent source of food for drunken revelers on the beach. Meanwhile, her ex-husband, Police Chief Steve Kimbrough (Lance Henriksen), has his hands full with rogue dynamite fishers and creating excuses to visit his son, who has taken up a part-time job as a helper aboard Captain Dumont’s (Ward White) boat. When Anne takes her first group of divers down near the site of the recently discovered wreckage, it’s not long before the ravenous piranha follow her back to the surface.

The corpses start piling up, allowing the film to make use of dead body dummies and other items of gore, though they’re primitive enough and shown so briefly that they only further contribute to the Z-grade nature of the production (an obvious take on “Jaws,” what with the island setting, wealth of vacationers, and disbelief from the authorities). The real stars are the blood-soaked piranha themselves, which feature goofy movements, some extra details in their construction, and, in a silly escalation from the previous “Piranha” entry, wings for flying. This sadly leaves the reactions of the victims as the primary measure for convincing audiences as to the severity and terror of the attacks; but the supporting characters are rarely good enough to appear realistically panicky. On an interesting side note, director James Cameron (who routinely disregards this movie as his directorial debut) inserts an “Alien” rip-off gag into an early death sequence, which finds a piranha burrowing its way out of the chest of its victim.

Most surprising, however, is the amount of exploitative sex and nudity in this Roger Corman-like endeavor – from the opening sex scene to topless sunbathing to talks of a threesome to jealousy over one of Anne’s attentive students (Steve Marachuk). There’s even a romantic partner for young Chris, in the form of Dumont’s daughter, Allison (Leslie Graves). Plus, everyone at the resort seems interested only in pairing up for nocturnal activities; flirting from background bit parts is inexplicably high and prominent. Some of it might be intended as comic relief (though it all falls flat, and several subplot fraternizers receive names and far too much screentime), but it’s primarily padding for a story that possesses very few original elements.

In the end, despite the unintentional humor of gene-spliced, ultimate-organism-breeding biochemistry for classified military programs leading to a frenzied, beachside bloodbath, the shoddy construction of the film is unforgivable. The pacing is so bad that every momentary bit of suspense is ultimately lost; in its place is a distinct flimsiness in design and storytelling – forever haunted by the toothy, flying fish’s peculiar warbling. At least the three stars aren’t unwatchable actors; and Cameron regular Henriksen would be put to good use in “The Terminator” and “Aliens” a few years later.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10