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

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.