Piranha, an undisguised Jaws ripoff from the late ‘70s, is no match for the Spielberg’s blockbuster phenomenon (which makes a cameo appearance as a video game). This Roger Corman creature feature, helmed by Joe Dante (of Gremlins fame) is nonetheless a surprisingly good B-movie. It contains all the B-movie trappings: skinny dipping teenagers, unconvincing special effects, an ocean of blood and a decidedly anti-authority slant. Dante’s filmmaking is solid, though not up to Hollywood standards yet.
Piranha is distinguished by a mature approach to the carnage unleashed by its piscine terrors. Occasional jokiness doesn’t distract from a film that treats death with gravity surprising for an apparently “trashy” genre film. Dozens of victims fall prey to the piranhas’ ravenous maws, but while the depictions of these deaths may not be convincing (scenes go on too long to maintain suspension of disbelief; after a while you’re just watching actors flail around in the water), Piranha ensures that the victims feel like real people. When an old man’s legs are mutilated and he perishes trying to crawl to safety, or when pre-pubescent campers are savaged in a river, the film refuses to soften the blow with a gag, unlike its recent remake.