Skip to main content

We spliced in genes from different species to create the ultimate killer organism.

Piranha II: The Spawning
(1981)

(SPOILERS) James Cameron’s first movie, except he protests that he was replaced after two-and-a-half weeks (or was it eight days?), shut out of the editing room, and generally disabused of any notion he had a say in the finished picture. And yet, he can’t escape this sequel to Joe Dante’s cheap and cheerful original as his generally cited debut, however divested of it he may be. Jimbo also cared enough to (apparently) produce his own edit for a little-seen laserdisc version. I had next to no desire to revisit this particular scene of a crime, but in the interest of fairness to his oeuvre and a thorough exploration of the works of the Jim-meister, I steeled myself and… Piranha II: The Flying Killers, or Piranha II: The Spawning, as you will, is a very long 90 minutes.


Piranha II plays less as a horror movie than a combination of bad ‘70s porn, where every other scene anticipates a major unfurling, and bad ‘80s vacation comedies, where the holiday makers have only raunchy antics on their minds and you’re dreading the arrival of Rodney Dangerfield. As for the salient respective ingredients of those genres, there is nudity in Piranha II, but not nearly enough to be a selling point. And in terms of laughs, they are there, but only of the unintentional, flying fish variety, since they go straight for countless jugulars and produce fountains of spectacular rouge.


In its vague defence, however, Piranha II is blessed with Lance Henriksen in a not-quite lead role. In the early scenes at least, he’s looking like he’s going to wrestle the movie singlehanded from the rubbery airborne poissons, passing through the proceedings entirely unblemished, and exuding cool in the way only a guy with a receding hairline who has made the most of bit parts throughout the previous decade can.


Lance might seem overly dismissive towards the views of estranged wife Anne (Tricia O’Neil, the very definition of a yummy mummy, so much so their son Chris, Rick G Paul, seems worryingly enamoured of her, at least until he finds someone his own age), but we have to stack up the evidence here. Anne is evidently a prototype for Cameron’s tough bitches, I mean strong women, albeit without the muscles and weaponry and desire to act in as disconcertingly masculine a fashion as possible to prove how highly competent a representative of her gender she is.


But she’s also unscrupulously reckless in her desire to prove herself right, and there’s absolutely no consequence or repercussion from this. It’s directly down to her breaking into the morgue that an attendant is killed (in admittedly hilarious fashion; but still, that’s no excuse) and there’s a general sense that everything she does is because she’s a wilful, headstrong heroine who must be right, rather than because there are good sensible reasons for her behaviour. So she’s your basic Cameron leading lady, just marginally less finessed than usual. Her travails are ultimately in aid of the restoration of the family unit, something we’ll see more of in Aliens, Terminator 2 and True Lies.


Also present and correct is some decent underwater photography, another of Cameron’s great devotions (and likely to be revisited once again in one of the Avatar sequels, if rumours are true). Steve Marachuk offers a solid turn as a stud-come-weasel working for unscrupulous corporations, who are yet again responsible for a scientific experiment gone awry (they’re all alike, unless they’re providing backing for your next movie that is , eh Jim?) And, also as per the first Piranha, the event organiser refuses to listen to the warnings of imminent peril.


Along the way we meet a yacht owner straight out of Magnum (Ward White) and an obnoxious hotelier (Ted Richert). There are some occasionally gruey moments (notably a half-eaten character stumbling from the ocean), and some downright abysmal interludes (anything involving Arnie Ross’ Mal the Cook), but the main fault of Piranha II is that it’s so soporofic, even though it’s over before most Cameron movies properly begin.


Cameron came aboard after the original director, Miller Drake (who provided second unit on Alligator, and is mostly known as a visual effects guy) was nixed; it’s ironic that he started out on a “series” built on a firm sense of humour, since his subsequent movies illustrate, if nothing else, that this isn’t his forte. Not to say he can’t come up with decent gags (as Hudson in Aliens illustrates) or that “the finest flying killer fish horror/comedy ever made” isn’t a good way to turn the movie’s failures into a self-deprecating positive (minus the comedy bit). But True Lies proved that going wholeheartedly down the comedy route announced his deficiencies for all to see, as does the comic business in something like this. The only way for Piranha II: The Spawning to have (ahem) flown would have been to embrace its absurdity the way Joe Dante could, and Jimbo just isn’t that kind of guy.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.