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04 June 2018 @ 07:02 pm
Movie Reviewed: Piranha (1978), part II  
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Scene 40: As they're racing away in a purloined Jeep, Grogan asks if Maggie has a dime.

This was so that he could stop at a payphone (ask your parents) and call the summer camp grounds to warn them not to let the children go in the water. Naturally, he babbles about killer fish, so is unbelieved by Mr. Dumont, who accuses Mr. Grogan of drunk dialing the camp... again.

With this a bust, Paul and Maggie race down toward town.

But they're then intercepted by a Sheriff's department patrol car. They can't outrace a patrol car in a Jeep.

They try to explain to the deputy about the piranha, but like Mr. Dumont, he is a) unconvinced that this isn't a hoax and b) recognizes Grogan as the always-drunk asshole who lives above the town. It seems that Grogan has had run-ins with the law before.

They're taken into custody, by the fast-to-draw-his-gun deputy.


Scene 41: Back at the ranger station, the Colonel is telling the Deputy over the phone that they're dealing with a sensitive matter and Grogan is trying to cause panic. He asks that Paul and Maggie be kept incomunicado overnight in a cell.

Our deputy is only too happy to cooperate.





Grogan shouts that his daughter and the other kids are in danger, but of course Deputy Cutie doesn't believe his pleas.


Scene 42: In the meantime, the campers are being told horror tales around the campfire.


Scene 43: Back at the ranger station, our ranger is watching television extra loud while the Colonel is on the phone with somebody. He reaches over the tv, and shuts it off on Ranger Television.

The person he's talking to is the owner of the Lost River Resort we've been hearing about [and is Dick Miller! Yay!!], and it becomes obvious that Colonel has sunk a lot of investment money into the resort, and is trying to keep things quiet with the piranha partially for financial reasons.

The resort modeling isn't even completed, despite opening being the next morning, so Buck Gardner has no -ucks to give about some investor Colonel worrying over whether anyone knows that he's an investor, as he has enough ulcers already. He placates Colonel and then calls him a schmuck after he's allowed to hang up on him.


Commentary: Why exactly the Colonel's investments have been kept so secretive before this is something I really don't understand. Sure, it would be a problem now, but it's spoken of as if the investment was always a secret, which makes zero sense.

Obvs, our main death and chaos filled setpiece is to be the Resort attack, so I see the point of making sure the Colonel has a reason to be there (please - did you not see that the Colonel was doomed, just by dint of being a prick?), but the coincidence is coming across as ham-handed scripting to me.



Scene 44: Later that night, after the kids have been to bed, Betsy is staring out at the water, looking unnerved by something. She's joined by Laura, who notices that something is bothering her.

Betsy can't explain it, but she feels like something is wrong. Laura convinces Betsy to swim across to the mid-river island. But before they can strip down, Mr. Dumont comes patrolling, his having heard whispering about some of the campers sneaking off to night swim, and he won't have it.

The girls have some fun with misdirecting him, but their night swim is put on hold.


Commentary: Okay. So. As I seem to run into with film after film, especially of the B-type variety, the movies is feeling a bit long. I really like both Melody Thomas and Belinda Balaski, but not all of their scenes seem necessary, even as character development.

The movie has a run time of 92 minutes. It feels like they could've gotten away with 80 just as well. I enjoy the movie as a fun watch, but... yeah... a bit long for no real reason.



Scene 45: The next morning, Paul hears Maggie banging on the sink pipes of her cell. She's kicking the trap loose.

Next, Maggie picks up the toilet lid and busts it on the floor, causing a racket. The dozing Sheriff comes in to find out what the hell is going on. In the meantime, Maggie has wrapped a chunk of the toilet lid in her shirt to act as a bludgeon.

Maggie reports the broken pipe, and plays innocent, telling the Sheriff that she's tried to force the pipes back together, but she's just not strong enough. He falls for it, and unlocks her cell to take a look.

She knocks him out cold. Paul tells her to get his keys (Duh, Paul. Thanks for that.), but she finds them chained to the Sheriff's pants. Paul tells her to take his pants off. She's not wild about the idea, but she's come a bit far now to let a bit of modesty stop them.


Scene 46: In the meantime, Deputy is getting coffee, when a patrol car with Paul and Maggie goes rushing by him. Maggie tosses the Sheriff's pants out the window at him.


Scene 47: On the river, the grand opening of the resort has started. Buck makes a little speech about giving more information about purchasing opportunities for land abutting the resort, timeshares, etc.

There is an awkward and not entirely successful ribbon cutting and there is polite applause, though the vast majority of people are already enjoying the rides and river and ignoring the spiel.


Scene 48: At the summer camp, Mr. Dumont summons the campers from what they're doing with free time in order to get ready for the water competition, which is an innertube race.

Suzie Grogan is looking very not ready.


Scene 49: In the meantime, Paul is racing in the purloined cruiser toward the camp. In the car, Paul has a sudden realization. He now remembers about the water in the pool being salty. Maggie wonders why that's important now, but Paul is thinking ahead. He surmises that Hoak created a strain that could adapt not only to temperatures they weren't originally designed by nature to handle, but also survive the transition between fresh and salt water (like salmon).

Paul realizes that the river ultimately lets out into the ocean, and if they reach that far, they'll have the food to breed completely out of control.


Scene 50: In the meantime, the kids are jumping in the river to climb aboard their tubes for the race.

Except for Suzie Grogan, who still has her fear of the river. She tries to beg off with her "knee injury" but Dumont isn't buying it. He orders her to get her innertube and get in the water. He then goes to the river bank to call the other swimmers to line up for the beginning of the race.





Suzie takes the opportunity to hide under a canoe.


Scene 51: In the meantime, Paul is trying to kill both he and Maggie with wreckless driving (and truly horrible sped-up film tricks).


Commentary: Oh, my. Oh, that was badly shot.


Scene 52: Back at the camp, the race starts.

In the middle of the river, Betsy and Laura share a tube so they'll be out there in case one of the kids run into trouble.

Suzie watches the others having fun, but can't make herself go in.


Commentary: The odd thing about this film, is that normally at this point I would be complaining about the pacing something fierce. We're having a LOT of scene switches, and because my reviews involve scene by scene descriptions, it generates a lot of work and long reviews. Usually at this point, the film would feel draggy - or even at a crawl, as I'm chomping at the bit to just get on with it.

But I don't feel that here. The scenes are not all strictly necessary, but the characters - even the prickly Mr. Dumont, aren't painful to visit with. I actually enjoyed knowing these people as more than fish food. And though we do need to ramp things up as we approach the obvious big finish at the resort, I'm not feeling impatient to get there.

I have to put that down to the engaging actors and the script that isn't meandering necessarily, and isn't just having scenes of people repeating the same point over and over and over.

The script, the directing & the actors are combining in a wonderful way to keep a basic killer-whatever flick entertaining, even as we can see what is coming oh-so-clearly.

Uh - except for the horribly obvious sped-up footage car racing. We REALLY could've lost those and been better for it.



Scene 53: Paul and Maggie are STILL racing toward the camp. [Which is apparently several states away from town. They're also doing so via more horribly faux-racing via sped up footage. And naturally - as in real life - tires squeal on dirt and grass.]


Scene 54: At the camp, the piranha have arrived via the route that Paul had tried to warn about.

Kids start screaming, as underwater, we see them being chewed on by the killer fish. It takes a moment, but Betsy realizes that something isn't right - that the screams aren't the fun race-related kind. And kids around them are panicking, now.

Around the kids, the water is agitated, and some are pulling out hands running with blood.


Commentary: Yes, it is AWESOME that the kids are not getting ignored so the adults can get it. They're actually attacking the children. And while it's not explicit, I'm pretty sure that a few of the kids aren't making it back to shore.

I love this set piece. Unfortunately, I could see that either Betsy or Laura were going to die, and I wasn't feeling good about it. I really liked the actresses and their characters were warm and funny and supportive and jokey.



Scene 55: Now Mr. Dumont also realizes that something is going wrong. He peers down into the river water, in which he's standing to his waist to help the returning racers get out of their innertubes safely.

One of the piranha launches from the surface to take a nibble on his face!





Now pandemonium is really hitting, as any exposed flesh at all is instantly attacked by the main body of the school. Betsy and Laura try to help, but they're as trapped on their innertubes as the children, many of whom, can't climb up on top of their tubes, and so are being stripped below their waists [again, not too expicitly, but there's a lot of blood and bits of meat around the kids, so you can easily imagine that they're not getting away].

[And since this came out in the wake of JAWS, you can tell that they're stepping through the doors that Spielberg opened with Alex Kintner.]


Commentary: And, also about this scene -- it goes on and on as the kids try desperately to either get up out of the water (and most likely dying) or swimming like mad for the dock where they'll probably live.

This scene is excitingly directed, and the mass children attack was definitely a shock.



Scene 56: In meantime, Suzy realizes that everyone is screaming in fear and pain and that her worst fears [which Paul is never going to be able to soothe, now] have arrived. She struggles with a canoe to go out after her camp mates.

And Mr. Dumont, who has come across as a tool thus far, STAYS IN THE WATER to help the kids get out. [I loved this! How often is the 'jerk' a hero when the time comes -- who is not the star and having 'character development' anyway.]

Suzy finds the canoe way more than a little girl can handle and instead takes out an inflatable raft, despite her terror and the clear danger, in order to go out and rescue who she can.





Scene 57: With everyone who is getting out, having gotten out, that leaves Betsy and Laura sharing their tiny innertube. The piranha are in a frenzy, and start chewing at the innertube! In the meantime, Suzy paddles as hard as a 10-ish year old can.

Laura tries to shout at Suzy to go back, but Betsy pushes Laura to get in the raft. In the commotion, the raft drifts out of reach of Betsy being able to climb aboard, and as Laura and Suzy try to get back to her, Betsy's time runs out.

She falls into the river, and is dragged/pushed down by the ravenous horde of fish attacking her midsection. With any luck, she drowned before they started on her insides.


Scene 58: Paul and Maggie arrive just too late to do anything but survey the damage. Paul is relieved, of course, to find Suzy not injured.

Maggie rushes to a payphone (ask your Wiki!) to warn the marina/resort.


Scene 59: Where the rush of people are enjoying the free entertainment.

Buck Gardner gets the call from Maggie on his briefcase phone. But of course, he takes her for a wackadoo or prank caller, because why the hell wouldn't he?

He gives her sarcastic thank yous for calling and hangs up on her.


Scene 60: Maggie returns to find Laura handling the emergency, also being relatively uninjured as emergency services are on their way. Paul tells her that he and Maggie have to race to the resort to try to get people out of the river.

He shares stares with Mr. Dumont, who is sitting over the body of one of the children, covered with a blanket, who didn't make it.

He leaves Suzy with Laura.


Commentary: I really liked this scene, too. I appreciated the nod to Mr. Dumont as being more than just the asshole-character (which he wasn't really, but he was a bit a wet blanket on things), and his having a very human, grief stricken and in shock moment over what had happened.

The moment was without dialog between he and Paul, which I especially liked, as I expected the usual "I told you so" spat from the hero's mouth, but this doesn't happen. Paul knows he was right, but Dumont is bleeding from his wounds and is obviously broken that someone's parents are going to get the news that their kid died. It was very decent of the movie not to pile onto the man.



Scene 61: Back at the resort - people on the beach, people in the water.

Fatass tries to sit on a lawn chair with a drink, which collapses and soaks him.

Buck meets with a Senator who is also there to gladhand.

Paul and Maggie continue to use sped-up (and repeated!) film stock to race toward the gala.

In the meantime, Colonel and Dr. Mengers arrive. The Colonel tells Buck that Paul and Maggie have broken jail, and Buck tells them about the call he's already gotten. Dr. Mengers suggests Buck reach out to the local papers and warn them about 'crank calls' from their troublemakers.

As Buck is sent off to do that task, the Doctor and the Colonel go aboard a motor raft, convinced that their killer subjects were poisoned upriver.


Scene 62: Elsewhere, a pair of ladies are in a boat pulling a water skiing man behind them. They pass another boat with a trio of divers going into the river.

Our divers swim, swim, swim to tense music. One of our divers falls behind his companions due to something in his fins that is chafing, so they don't witness his sudden demise by killer, mutant piranha. He's killed by laying on the bottom as POV hovers over his face.


Scene 63: Back with the boater pair, the girls complain about how water skiier guy always thinks he such hot shit, and decide to see just how good at staying on his skis he really is.

As the women swing around, though our skiier sees chewed up diver floating on the surface. He tries to get their attention that something is wrong behind them, but the girls take his flailing at them as urging them to go even faster. He's trying to tell them to take the boat in, right away.

One of our ladies starts seeing that something is wrong, and she has the other girl slow down, which is the opposite of what skiier wants because they're still in the middle of the river.

Just as the fish are catching up to him, our brunette sees him urging them to go faster and get him out of there. She has blonde excelerate again. He's still trying to use hand signals to tell them to get him to shore, but brunette can't hear him and doesn't understand what he wants.


So then, a series of things happens: There is another boat with a fisherman drifting. There's a speedboat racing toward our girls. The skiier is pulled to the outer side of the speeding boat, causing the driver to suddenly duck to avoid the ski rope. This causes him to go off course, straight for the man in the fishing boat, who is refilling his engine with a can of gasoline.

Skiier falls. Fisherman dives out of his boat as he sees racer heading on a collision course. Racer drives straight into fisherman's boat, causing him to do a mid-air fly, while fisherman's boat explodes impressively.


Commentary: Okay, again this scene could've been tightened up, but considering the B-Movie roots and the fact it's a Corman production, I have to give a kudo to the stunt work. I would not want to be the driver of the speed boat when that thing landed on the water after its jump. That looked like it would rattle the spine.


Scene 64: Back on the beach, sunbathing, wondering, swimming, etc.

The killer fish arrive. The first victim here is a woman on a float, who gives a few short screams before falling off the raft and into the river. Next is a man, who kids nearby notice flailing with a few yells as his innertube is sunk beneath the waters, and the man doesn't come to the surface, but a bunch of blood does.

And then it's a free for all on anyone in the water.

Colonel notices the commotion, and realizes that they didn't kill the fish off with a "Damn it!".

Meanwhile, Buck is telling a reporter that he's been tricked, and there is no truth to anything deadly in the river. His assistant comes up, angering him for interrupting while he's on the phone with a newspaper. But his assistant is there to inform him that the piranha are eating the guests.





Now, there is no hiding the fact... especially when dead guests are bobbing to the surface with their faces half chewed off.





The fish continue to attack everyone in the water, as some continue struggling toward the safety of the beach, and others do that thing where they don't get out of the water, but stand there screaming instead... and so die.

Many people further out try to get aboard the motorized raft. Colonel spends the last moments of his life pushing people back to the pool of killer fish, before losing his balance and ending up fish food himself.





Maggie and Paul arrive to the chaos ongoing.


Commentary: This is another very well shot set piece, as the camera work is kinetic so you can't see the fake fish effects fall apart in front of your eyes, but it's also not filmed so that you can't see ANYTHING. They again use bits of meat and fake blood to blind the camera, while also letting you see the attacks in progress, making the bloodbath exciting rather than frustrating.

The only effect that they kind of blew it a bit on, is the floating chewed up face (above), since it is held on a bit too long, so its fake-head nature starts to let itself be known. And then you've got the cliche of the Jerk Military Man In Charge being eaten. But the entire drawn out attack sequence has excellent camera work and effects. And again, the kids aren't allowed to avoid begin greviously injured, just 'cause.



Scene 65: While everyone who can get out of the water, is doing so, and the people on shore are tending to the injuries while they wait for help to arrive, Paul and Maggie jump aboard somebody's speedboat tied up to the docks.

Maggie asks Paul where they're going as they race ahead of the school down the river. Paul explains that the old smelting plant, his ex-employer, is sitting abandoned there. Hopefully, if things haven't been permanently capped off, there should be enough old smelting byproducts in the abandoned tanks to poison the fish as they crowd by and finish them off.

But when they reach the site, they find the building's control room has flooded over the months and is underwater now. Paul has to tie a rope around himself and give instruction to Maggie to hit the engines at a certain time to give him enough leeway to open the pipes with the smelting byproducts, while also being pulled to safety before the advancing school can take him out.

While this is happening, we see the piranha continue their journey in his direction, as there isn't anymore flailing people to draw their attention.


Scene 66: Paul goes over the side and into the old smelting works. He finds the pipe valve he needs but naturally it's stuck and hard to turn at first. As he's struggling to release the toxic sludge, the piranha catch up to him! And he's swarmed!!

Paul fights through to get the release valve opened, but can't get away from the attackers.

Upside though, Maggie has reached the predetermined countdown of 100 and guns the engine. Paul is yanked through the broken window of the smelting plant, and out of the piranha's reach... but he's been injured with dozens of bites from the toothy fish.





Behind him, the toxic cloud of leavings fills the area the fish had gathered in to attack him.

Maggie stops the boat and begins pulling the line in, but it seems awfully slack. She finds out that the rope was either chewed through, or just broke, and Paul isn't there!

But, it's okay, he bobs to the surface - injured, but alive.


Commentary: I really, really liked this part too. This movie is just a fun ol' time.


Scene 67: Back at the resort, reporters and ambulances and army corpmen are on the scene. Buck is surrounded by financial ruin in shock at the sheer number of injured and dead crowding his development.

Suzy meantime, has also been brought ostensibly to her father. She's carrying his canteen and crying heavily.

We see that Maggie got Paul back to the beach for help too, his face full of bite marks and he in a state of shock.





He's left waiting for transport, barely responding to anything around him.


Scene 68: In the meantime, Dr. Barbara Mengers has gotten herself to a reporter and is assuring everyone that she's going to be heading a full scale investigation into what has happened, and who is responsible for this travesty (bitch), and of course to see to it that nothing like this could ever happen again.

No doubt, the classified experiments will be carefully hidden. One wonders who she'll set up for the release of the piranha in the waterway -- Colonel Stripped-to-the-Bone, or Robert. And I wonder how she'll explain their ability to have survived the cold waters for as long as they did.

But anyway, her smug, faux-concerned, two-faced mug also assures everyone that the piranha couldn't have survived the slag that was released from the smelting plant, and they're dead. Dead. DEAD.


Scene 69: As people are strolling an ocean beach and listening to her on the radio, and a fisherman is casting off from shore into the ocean waves, Dr. Mengers reports that the piranha could never survive in the salt water, even if a few of them made their escape.

She oily smiles to the cameraman that there is nothing left to fear...





But as we fade out on the roar of the ocean waves, we hear the characteristic whirr of the fish....


The Good: The good starts with the actors, across the board. There are a lot of character actors in this, and they all do great. I'm giving special mentions to Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Belinda Balaski, and Melody Thomas. Even the child actor, Shannon wasn't painful!

I liked the build up to the freeing of the killer, mutant fish (with a small caveat in Other).

I did like how the piranha, the attacks and the aftermath is handled for the most part. Being on a budget drove them to be creative, and it works. The directing, music and special effects crewman all deserve a kudo.

I really liked how the character of Mr. Dumont is set up to be the jerk victim, but he not only lives, but shows real heroism when the children under his care are endangered. It's sad that it was unexpected that he wouldn't try to save himself over the kids, and then end up dead, and it was welcomed.

Both of the multiple victim set pieces of the children's camp and the resort opening are fantastic and fun and grued, and exciting. Very, very good directing.

I always appreciate when the hero isn't Mr. Indestructable, and has to pay to stop the menace, as Paul does in the end.


The Bad: Well, that tiny hole in the plot to give Maggie suspicions that SOMETHING was in the pool where evidence suggests the kids met their end. A relatively intact canine skeleton couldn't have been found after the pool drained, unless larger human bones are also found -- and they're mysteriously not.

The Colonel's illicit investment in Buck's business venture didn't make much sense, either. Colonel's, I'm pretty sure, are allowed to invest their money the same as anyone else.

Oh no. That "exciting car speeding Paul to his daughter" and later the resort was horrible. It was painfully obvious that the car wasn't moving very fast, and then the film was sped up -- and they kept using the insert, despite how crappy the effect was.


Other Thoughts: For the most part, I was kept engaged throughout the film with our characters. But I do have to admit, there were a few long scenes that I was thinking, "this could've been tightened up". The exploring of Maggie and Paul at the secret research lab and the draining of the pool of danger was one such moment. The scene with the jail break was another. None of them went on overly long, but the entirety of the runtime seemed excessive to me. This is especially true of the lead up to the attack on the resort opening which did feel like it needed trimming.

I'm not sure there was even a point to the stop motion thrown in. It was very weird to introduce this little beasty walking around, and have no one notice it and Hoak never mention it, and for it to have no impact on any part of the story. It was nice seeing it, and all, but it just felt out of place when all is said and done.

I do have a bone to pick with Barbara Steele's usage: How they could have a genre legend in their film, and use her so sparingly doing not much, until her smarmy closing line is criminal.

Hm. Naturally we get flashes of boob. Just as naturally, they're not integral to any scene (although, I do like the woman at the marina, who flashes her bosum, and then the knockers get immediately swarmed by piranha -- it almost made it worth the taa-taas being there at all).

I liked that it was Barbara getting the last smarmy line, but she felt wasted as the runtime came to an end.

And you know what? I also appreciated that our leads never end up in bed. There is some small indication that maybe a relationship may happen after the horror is over, but the movie ends before they become obviously a couple, and I adore that a romance is never crammed into the narrative.


The Score: This movie is a wholelottafun, if you're into the B-Movie, killer animal whatsit type film. I loved the solid actors, the effects, and the two major set pieces. The film could've been trimmed for sure - rather than stretching the premise, but there is talent before and behind the camera that keeps you interested.


3.75 out of 5 stars


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