The year was 1981. Just three years after Joe Dante cut his proverbial teeth in the horror genre by making the low budget cult flick Piranha, someone decided it would be a good idea to make a sequel. After the original director hired to tackle the project proposed the idea that Kevin McCarthy's character from the first one return as a mangled mess of a man, even though he was quite clearly killed in the film, that director (Miller Drake) was promptly fired. It was at this point that the special effects director of the film was given the reigns to direct the entire thing. That man, who had never at that point directed anything aside from a ten minute science fiction short he made with friends a few years prior, was James Cameron.
The script, punched up by Cameron himself under the pseudonym H.A. Milton, was essentially a rehashing of the first film, only with one slight change to the titular villains; they were given wings, the result of a government experiment (what else!) designed to create a fish that could live both in and out of the water. Yep, before the government created mega sized piranha, they created flying piranha. Nice going, guys.
Naturally, the flying razor tooth fucks get loose and invade a summer resort, taking it upon themselves to turn the tourists into a veritable all you can eat buffet of human flesh. Yummy.
Now the interesting thing about Piranha 2 is that it's an Italian production, made with a mostly Italian cast and crew. And it very much feels like an Italian horror film, with lots of weird awkward moments and terrible dubbing abound. I actually didn't realize this until I watched the movie last night, so you can imagine my surprise when I popped the disc in my PS3 and immediately wondered if a Fulci movie had accidentally made its way into the DVD case!
OK let's just cut right to the chase here. Piranha 2 is a godawful film, and not in any kind of fun way either. To lump it alongside films like Troll 2 and one of my personal faves, Ice Cream Man, in the 'so bad it's good' category would quite frankly be giving it way too much credit, because there's really nothing about it that provides any kind of fun or entertainment. It's just plain boring, and incredibly uninteresting on every level. While it is true that getting shitfaced drunk and watching it with an audience (as Cameron himself in later years admitted was the only way to see it) would make it a bit more fun than watching it at home alone, as I did last night, I find it hard to believe that there's any pair of beer goggles on this planet that could turn the movie into anything worth spending an hour and a half with. I know my boy Tom Bryce disagrees with me there, and I challenge him to someday get me drunk and make me fall in love with it, but there's just really nothing at all to see here. It's just run of the mill low budget killer fish drivel, lacking in any cool kill scenes or anything else that makes the best of the low budget killer fish sub-genre fun. There are plenty of boobies though, if that helps any. Plenty of man bulge too.
At this point, in the year 2012, there have just been so many movies of this sort that are light years ahead of a film like this in the fun department, so it's almost not even fair for a film like this to come into my life nowadays and try to entertain me ... no matter how many beers I've guzzled down. When I can pop in something like Alex Aja's Piranha remake and enjoy a full hour and a half of incredible creative gore and all the gratuitous full frontal female nudity I could ever desire to see in one movie, the 1981 version of such a film just doesn't do a damn thing for me. You can chalk it up to me being jaded, but I'm pretty certain there was no point that Piranha 2 was anything more than a super crappy Jaws ripoff. So yea, I'm pretty sure I'd feel the same way about it no matter what point in my life I saw it.
Since I always try to find the good in every horror movie I watch, I will say that this one does have two things going for it that at least help it bring something to the table; Lance Henriksen & Gianetto De Rossi.
Henriksen is one of my favorite actors alive today and in Piranha 2 he plays a role that's pretty rare for him; the sheriff, a good guy who's a family man above all else. Though this was made before he really came into his own as an actor, and though he doesn't get all that much screen-time in it, it's nice to see him on screen, as it always is. That said, it's generally a lot more fun seeing Lance be bad.
**HENRIKSEN FUN FACT : THE BUDGET OF PIRANHA 2 WAS SO SMALL THAT NO WARDROBE WAS EVEN PROVIDED FOR THE ACTORS. AFTER BEING TOLD THIS BY CAMERON WHILE OUT FOR A COFFEE, LANCE PULLED A WAITER ASIDE AND BOUGHT HIS PANTS OFF OF HIM FOR $75, TO USE FOR THE MOVIE. HE EVEN TOOK IT UPON HIMSELF TO HAND CARVE A GUN OUT OF WOOD, SO HE'D HAVE SOMETHING TO FILL OUT HIS HOLSTER**
As for De Rossi, he's the Italian special effects maestro who worked on many films in Lucio Fulci's library, including The Beyond & Zombie. Of course that means that the gore and makeup effects are pretty good in the movie, though De Rossi never really gets to let loose and bring to life the extremely grotesque images he was able to pull off for Fulci. The death scenes in the film are all pretty generic and not all that gory, and it's mostly the makeup effects on people after they've been chewed up by fish where De Rossi gets the chance to shine. But yea, he's totally underutilized.
I'm not exactly a believer in that whole 'everything happens for a reason' thing but if I was, Piranha 2 would be a damn good piece of evidence that I'd likely use to support that claim. Why do I say that? Because it almost feels to me like the only reason the film exists was so that its creation could pave the way for bigger and better things in the future. Allow me to explain.
For one, who the hell knows if James Cameron ever would've become what he became as a filmmaker if he weren't given the job directing this film. Though he had an interest in making movies beforehand, it's quite possible that he could've continued his whole career in the business as a special effects dude, rather than a director, which would mean no Terminator or Aliens, at least the versions we know and love.
In addition, doing this film gave Cameron a lot of experience shooting in and around water, where he has spent a whole lot of his time as a filmmaker. Ya gotta wonder if he got bitten by the deep sea exploration bug while making Piranha 2, though that's pure speculation on my part. At the very least, he must've gained experience doing the film that helped him with future films like The Abyss, Titanic and his many underwater documentaries.
Speaking of Cameron's future work, he actually conceived the idea for The Terminator while making Piranha 2. Story goes that Cameron became very ill from food poisoning while making part of the movie in Rome, which resulted in him having some very strange nightmares. One of those nightmares featured an invincible robot hit man from the future that was sent to kill him. Yep. So thank you, Piranha 2. And thank you, food poisoning!
Now the other thing the film indirectly led to was Lance Henriksen's career. It was through making the movie that Henriksen and Cameron met and became friends, which later down the road led to the two teaming up for Aliens, the film that changed Henriksen's life and career. Prior to that film he was considering throwing in the towel and doing something else with his life, and it was that movie that turned everything around for him both in terms of his career and his acting style, both of which he credits that experience for enriching. If this hunk of junk never existed, who knows what would've ever become of Henriksen's career, and I shudder to think of a world where someone like him spent his life doing something other than acting. Hell, it was also through Cameron that Lance ended up in Near Dark, directed by Cameron's friend/future wife Kathryn Bigelow.
So who knows. Whether you believe everything happens for a reason or not, it's at least a nice thought to look at a bad film like this as serving some kind of purpose. Because it definitely doesn't serve the purpose of entertaining, that's for damn sure!
Bottom line being, while flying killer fish + James Cameron may sound like the recipe for sequel success, Piranha 2 sucks shit. It's a B movie creature feature that fails to provide the one thing B movie creature features should always bring to the table; fun.
But maybe, just maybe, the ole butterfly effect gives it a good enough excuse for existing. For that, I will forgive it for boring the hell out of me last night!