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Feature


When two teen hikers disappear around Lost River Lake, private detective Maggie McKeown teams up with the local drunk to search for clues. Their investigation takes them to a secret military base where they inadvertently let loose an experimental strain of mutant piranha. Now the guests at every resort downriver are on the menu. (Taken from the PR.)

I have relatively clear and fond memories of watching Piranha as a kid. It showed up surprisingly often on late night television and I always enjoyed its campy fusion of horror and black comedy. Don't get me wrong, I'm under no illusions about it's status as a Jaws rip-off, and nor do I consider it to be a particularly 'good' film, but it has a certain rough charm and the seventies setting always brings out nostalgic feelings. The performances are uneven and hammy, and the effects were quite obviously done on a shoestring budget, but it's still pretty entertaining in that low-budget, schlocky sort of way. It dishes up a bit of everything you'd expect to find in a film of this ilk: a mad scientist, reluctant heroes, corrupt officials, nubile girls flashing their boobs, and or course a fair smattering of gore. It's far more enjoyable than the recent mean-spirited remake and serves as a reminder of a time when bad films could still be enjoyable. Plus Dick Miller is in it, so it's automatically worth at least one viewing.

Video


Second Sight's UK release of Piranha arrives on Blu-ray as a 1.85:1 (1080/24p AVC) presentation that appears to remain true to the source material. Curiously the US release was opened up slightly to 1.78:1 - and as such revealed a sliver more information at the top and bottom of the image - but such a minor difference is largely incidental. As for the quality, well obviously we're talking a bout a low-budget film that is now over thirty years old, so don't go expecting miracles. However, the image is actually quite pleasing, in particular the strong natural contrast and colour palette. Detail is more than acceptable and while there is grain it's perfectly filmic, with only night-time sequences looking heavy. Of course this is entirely understandable for low-light scenes in a film of this vintage. There are a considerable number of film artefacts to be found peppered throughout the film, but strangely I didn't find that they detracted from the viewing experience; on the contrary, such anomalies almost enhanced the experience of viewing this campy creature-feature. All things considered the film looks better than I ever expected it to, which is reflected in the score.

Audio


People hoping for a 5.1 (or greater) remix are going to be disappointed, but the film's LPCM 2.0 track is respectful and perfectly serviceable. The various elements of the mix are nicely balanced and dialogue is intelligible throughout, if a little on the flat side at times. Of course this is something common to a lot of low-budget movies of the era, so that's not a criticism per se. Obviously there aren't any surround gimmicks and even stereo panning is limited, but the sound effect of the veracious piranha swarming on their prey is as effective as ever (to me it sounds like the gobbling of a sub-aquatic turkey crossed with the high-pitched whine of a dental drill). There's no bass to speak of (just piranha - ho-ho, fish pun!), even when things crash or blow up, but this wasn't entirely unexpected given the film's humble origins. In short, it's a functional track that gets the job done without any bells and whistles.

Extras


Second Sight has assembled an decent collection of bonus material for a film of this vintage and budget, but sadly - as was the case with their recent releases ( Flight of the Navigator and Short Circuit) - it's still missing some of the bonus material found on the US release.

  • Audio Commentary with Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison: This is a pleasant, informal chat track packed with on-set anecdotes and reminiscences.
  • Behind the Scenes: This is a bunch of silent home video footage of the cast an crew from back in 1978, narrated by Dante and Jon Davison. It was actually quite neat to see this sort of candid footage in an age when most featurettes of this type are incredibly slick and overproduced.
  • Making of: This is an interesting vintage piece that includes talking head segments with Roger Corman, Peter Kuran, Joe Dante, Robert Short,  Phil Tippett, Dick Miller, Belinda Balaski, Melody Thomas, and others.
  • Outtakes: A series of blunders and technical failures are the order of the day here, along with plenty of swearing.
  • Stills Gallery: A sequence of still photographs taken on set back in the seventies.
  • Radio and TV Spots: Fairly self explanatory this one. A bunch of material used to advertise the film is available for your viewing (and listening) pleasure.

Overall


Jaws it ain't, but Piranha is one of the better low-budget creature-features I've seen. This Blu-ray release makes the film look and sound better than it has any right to, putting some high-profile catalogue titles to shame (The Big Lebowski anyone?). Bonus material is also surprisingly comprehensive for such a low-key release, although it's a pity that we miss out on some of the features found on the US disc. Even so, I don't have any problem recommending this disc to fans of the of film and those who enjoy similar genre pictures.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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