Released in the US by Columbia Pictures, Piranha 2: The Spawning was a lower budgeted sequel to the original (and far more fun) Joe Dante directed/John Sayles scripted B-movie classic, which Roger Corman produced in 1978, and later remade for TV in 1995.
With the sequel rights in his hand, schlock writer/producer/director Ovidio G. Assonitis, best known as Oliver Hellmann on the English-language release versions of fine works such as Beyond the Door/Chi Sei? (1974), Tentacles/Tentacoli (1977), and There Was a Little Girl (1981), tried to start a franchise along the lines of Jaws - forgetting, of course that Jaws 2 was an overlong and dull clunker - and enlisted the directorial skills of an untried and tested feature film director named James Cameron.
Before he broke box office records, validated the grating bellows of Celine Dion, and hypnotized disaster fans to see Titanic again and again (sometimes after taking cold simpatico showers), Cameron had toiled in the B-movie arena working as an assistant director, as a visual effects artist on projects like John Carpenter's Escape from New York, and making a short film with Randall Frakes called Xenogenesis.
Piranha 2 doesn't behold any moments of genuine talent; it's just a straightforward drive-in B-movie with a few bits of wet gore, and ridiculously contrived spots where the film stops cold to show-off jiggling boobies, and tight bikini bottoms bobbing and whip-panning across the frame.
The film's filler opening (almost 4 mins., followed by a 2:30 mins. credit sequence) riffs Jaws with a new spin: this time the victimized couple stay together, swim down to a sunken shipwreck, and in the darkness of a rusty, tetanus-infested cabin, cut off their swimming attire and engage in foreplay and nipple fingering. Sadly, their hydro-erotic session alerts a cloud of piranha, and in the middle of the couple's breath-play, the fish indulge in a smorgasbord of salty white meat, ruining the pair's chance of achieving sexual closure.
The water-bourn scenes are actually the best-shot sections within an otherwise generically photographed film that's mucked up in Columbia 's full frame transfer, likely taken from an old video master. (The end credits pop back to what looks like a slim 1.66:1 ratio, but original side material disappears or is cut off at the edges during the full frame section, making one believe the film may have been composed for 1.85:1.)
Cameron's visible influence lies in some decent underwater diving scenes and fish assaults, and film does have some very interesting parallels to the marital archetypes that dominate subsequent scripts. Not dissimilar to The Abyss, the leading couple are a bickering, separated pair - Anne (Tricia O'Neil) heads the hotel's diving program, while hubbie Steve (Lance Henriksen) is the island's police chief - and their marital status is revealed to Anne's flirtatious beau Tyler (Steve Marachuk) in a line that's a variation on the famous moment in The Abyss, in which the audience discovers diver Bud is still married to opinionated mining rig designer Lindsey, via the couplet, "I hate that bitch," to which a colleague ripostes, "Probably shouldn't have married her then."
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Tyler, a military DNA tweaker responsible for giving flight to the piranhas, is unsurprisingly sacrificed at the end because, as in the old fashioned Hollywood Code films, the hunk has to die so the married couple can reunite and form a family again - something teenage son Chris (Ricky Paull Goldin) tells mom he wants in the film's post-credit opener.
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The film's other characters - a local dynamite fisherman and his soon-to-be-chum son, a stuttering sex-starved cook, a geriatric sexpot flirting with the hired help, a sex-hungry wench wanting to snag a doctor and getting a geeky dentist instead - are all clichéd, and the best written-material comes from the disputes and missives between parents Anne and Steve.
One gets a sense Cameron tried to fix the script and give it some backbone by beefing up the conflicts between the three adults in the son's life, since the action scenes are relegated to cheap scares, like the first flying piranha that emerges a la Alien from the chest of a munched-up cadaver (don't piranhas devour they prey to the bone?)
A later sequence in which the school of flying teeth fly up from the water and assault stupid vacationers on a grunion hunt is barely pulled off, proving this was clearly a low-budget production with clumsy continuity. (Puppet wires are glimpsed in the film's 'slaughter' sequence of gauzy-lensed, unattractive extras, and Tricia O'Neil's tan frequently changes from natural to cosmetic.)
Like Tentacles, producer Assonitis engaged Stelvio Cipriani (billed in English versions as Steve Powder) to score the film; Cipriani's music is more orchestral than Tentacles, with less thematically repetitive cues. The film's sound mix is straight mono, although the sound effects track was separately pre-processed with a signal-delay to simulate depth. (The effect is pretty awful in scenes where characters climb up from the water into a boat, giving off a hollow drainpipe racket.)
After Piranha 2: The Spawning, director Cameron dropped out of site for a few years before establishing his career with The Terminator, in 1984. Henriksen, who had previously appeared in the Assonitis-produced The Visitor / Stridulum (1979), later appeared as a detective in Terminator. Screen-son Ricky Paull Goldin subsequently moved into TV, and starred in numerous shows, including the daytime soap Guiding Light in 2001, proving there was hope for some cast & crew after appearing in a dumb flying fish movie.
The steel-toothed fish franchise was revisted by producer Roger Corman in a cable TV remake of the original film, Piranha (1995), and shaken back to life by director Alexandre Aja with Piranha 3D (2010).
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan