Piranha (1978)

Being nibbled to death by a swarm of piranha is a different agony, I imagine, to being bitten in half by a great white shark. The standard issue opening victims, David and Barbara, go swimming in a pool at a seemingly deserted top secret military compound in the middle of the night. The unfortunate Barbara jokes with David she isn’t the Creature from the Black Lagoon, just before they are both eaten alive. We cut to Maggie, the woman sent to find them, playing a Jaws video game.

This film wears its ripoff credentials on its sleeve, and matches Jaws beat for beat, from the steady stream of individual deaths, to the business-focussed mayor, to the big event in the water, even throwing in a water skiing scene à la Jaws 2. The performances are over-the-top, and the music is heavy-handed, but it’s paced perfectly, and the special effects are a minor miracle on the film’s tiny budget.

Where Jaws’ fourth of July set piece results in one death, here Dante unleashes the piranha on a summer camp of pre-teens, and in the finale, there are bloodied bodies everywhere. It’s fun, with some nicely timed comedy moments, but in truth it has a surprisingly dark heart.

Letterboxd: Piranha (1978), dir. Joe Dante.

Wikipedia: Fascination