Article 4343 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Joe Dante
Featuring Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy
What it is: JAWS-inspired thriller
A strain of genetically mutated piranha are accidentally released from an abandoned army site into a nearby river. Is there any way to stop them before they reach the ocean?
According to IMDB, Universal originally intended to sue New Line for this movie because of its similarities to JAWS; however, Spielberg saw an advance copy of this movie and loved it, so the suit was dropped. I’m not sure whether the suit would have stuck; though the movie does have some similarities (an underwater terror and an attempt by authorities to downplay the threat), it’s far from a slavish imitation of its source. This is the first movie I’ve covered from the oeuvre of Joe Dante, a director whose work I generally enjoy; his love of using actors from older genre movies and his references to those earlier films add a lot of fun to the proceedings. On top of the actors listed above, the movie also features Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Keenan Wynn, Paul Bartel and Richard Deacon. It also features the screenwriting debut of John Sayles. Overall, the movie is fairly uneven, and there are moments where the editing could be better, but there are a number of individual moments I really like; in particular, the scene inside the laboratory (which also features a little bit of stop-motion animation with a miniature monster running around) is very entertaining. One thing it certainly does is to up the fantastic content a bit; by making the piranha genetic mutations, there’s some science fiction added to the plot as well. I look forward to covering more of Dante’s films in the future.