Release Date(s)1978 (June 11, 2019)
Studio(s)New World Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
One of the earliest entries in what is now known as the “Jawsploitation” cycle of movies throughout the 1970s and beyond, Joe Dante’s Piranha was also a major hit for New World Pictures in 1978. A mix of nature gone awry and the irony of human error, the film still manages to work many years after its sequel and remakes have all but disappeared from the conversation.
Although Piranha wasn’t the first film that Joe Dante had directed, it was certainly his most ambitious comparatively. After all, ripping off Jaws (a self-admitted movie from everyone involved) was no easy to task. Jaws set the box office standard for adventurous and terror-induced storytelling, all stemming from what lurked below the murky waters, far out of sight from human ignorance. As Roger Corman described it, the decision was made to go small when it came to how to ape Jaws, attempting to initially hide the fact that they were ripping it off.
From the puppeteers literally bopping mechanical fish on sticks off camera to Phil Tippet’s stop-motion walking fish to not one, but two scenes of large groups of people being attacked and devoured, the film also has quite a pedigree to back it up. A screenplay by John Sayles sets the tone for the seemingly normal everyday lives of vacationers, camp counselors, and an alcoholic shut-in. Mark Goldblatt’s co-editing work on the film provides much of its frenetic bite, madly cutting between shots of the attacking piranha and the poor unfortunates who happen to be in the water. Then there’s the cast, which includes Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Barbara Steele, Keenan Wynn, Paul Bartel, and the late, great Dick Miller.
A huge success at the time of its release, Piranha gave Joe Dante the opportunity to walk away from New World Pictures and make other genre films, including The Howling, Gremlins, Innerspace, and The ’Burbs, among others. It also fed the appetite of moviegoers during the that time who were eager to see any and all forms of nature devouring their human counterparts – giving them a literal school of reasons to never, ever set foot in open waters.
Shout! Factory re-releases Piranha on Blu-ray through the Scream Factory label with a Limited Edition Steelbook featuring a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, which upon completion, was approved by Joe Dante. The film looks much sharper and clearer than its HD predecessor, capturing finer details, particularly in the shadows, but also during both underwater moments and on land. The color palette is fairly lush, showing off a variety of bold hues, including the reds, blues, greens, and yellows of the summer camp and the Lost River resort. Blacks are deep and contrast levels are virtually perfect, never blown out or foggy. It’s also a stable and clean presentation, aside from occasional speckling.
The audio is presented in English mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Despite the source, it’s a potent presentation, particularly when it comes to the sound of the piranha and Pino Donaggio’s score. Dialogue exchanges are always discernable, though when the attacks begin on the campers and vacationers, wordplay is justifiably difficult to make out. Other sound effects, including ambience, also function well. There are no instances of leftover hiss, crackle, dropouts, or distortion to contend with either.
Also included is a nice extras package, including a brand new audio commentary with Roger Corman, moderated by Justin Beahm, which is understandably slow given Roger’s advanced age, but still a treat to hear. In addition, there’s another audio commentary with director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison; The Making of Piranha, a 20-minute documentary featuring interviews with Roger Corman, Joe Dante, effects crew members Peter Kurran, Robert Short, Phil Tippet, Chris Walas, editor Mark Goldblatt, actors Dick Miller, Melody Thomas Scott, and Belinda Balaski; a Trailers From Hell commentary on the film’s trailer with Jon Davison; 10 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage with commentary by Dante and Davison; nearly 13 minutes of additional footage from the TV version; 7 minutes of bloopers and outtakes; the trailer and teaser, both presented in HD; a TV spot; 3 radio spots; an animated poster and still gallery featuring 73 images; and an animated gallery of Phil Tippet’s behind-the-scenes photographs featuring 48 images.
Not included from the previous Shout! Factory DVD and Blu-ray is a booklet with an essay by Michael Felsher and additional trailers for other Roger Corman related films. Not included from the Koch Media Limited Edition Region B Blu-ray release is They Are Eating the Guests!, an interview with director Joe Dante; Piranha Symphony, an interview with composer Pino Donaggio; the Sitges Awards featurette; a German trailer for the film; the Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel documentary; a set of extended interviews from the documentary; a Special Messages to Roger featurette; and a trailer for the documentary.
With lovely Steelbook packaging and a terrific transfer, Scream Factory’s Limited Edition Blu-ray re-release of Piranha is most assuredly worth the upgrade for long-time fans.
– Tim Salmons