How old does a movie have to be before it can qualify for a Retro Review? What makes it a Retro Review rather than just a review? These are the questions I was asking myself this morning while pondering this review. Does Piranha 3D qualify, seeing as it is from 2010? If we let this slide, then how long is it before we are doing Retro Reviews of The Rock? GoldenEye? These movies are all older than Piranha 3D.

That said, we have reviewed Steven Spielberg’s favorite Jaws rip-off – Piranha – already in this bracket. And the greatest flying piranha movie ever made – Piranha II: The Spawning – as well as the greatest squinting only performance ever, by Lee Majors in Killer Fish. We have a sub-genre thing going on here. It belongs in this category, alongside its fishy brothers, surely? And I am an anal completist.

I was also staggered to read among Outposters that there a few people among you who have yet to see this? Why should you rush to your chose purveyor of video-visual entertainment immediately to correct this? Read on…

Piranha3D

 

Piranha 3D

Piranha 3D is just magnificent. It really is. It’s magnificent because it knows exactly what it is and never sets out to be anything different. It just opens up and invites you to share the joke with it, while giggling maniacally right next to you on the couch and offering you up endless free hits on some really quality gear from a great bong. It understands the symbiotic relationship between this kind of movie and silliness. It revels in it.

At no point does it try and be anything more high brow than a masterful homage to some properly over-the-top splatter. And what a splatterfest it is! Just when you think they won’t actually go there, they do.

The cast and crew know exactly what they are doing here and, tonally, Piranha 3D just nails things. The more I think about it, the more I realise this was probably harder to get right than they make it appear.

Director Alexandre Aja knows horror. He became noticed for Haute Tension (known as High Tension in the US and Switchblade Romance in the UK) back in 2003, before really getting a profile boost from his remake of The Hills Have Eyes in 2006. He’s no stranger to gore.

Originally Chuck Russell was to direct but after several scripts, including one that apparently was closer to a straight remake of the original Dante movie, he moved on. Aja came in after first being approached way back at conception stage. What he produced with his filmmaking partner Grégory Levasseur is a blood soaked masterclass in not taking yourself too seriously while still delivering the horror.

Piranha 3D

How blood soaked? The movie famously got through 80,000 gallons of fake blood during production.

We begin in Lake Havasu, doubling as Lake Victoria, Arizona. Richard Dreyfuss himself appears in a cameo as fisherman Matt Boyd, in his small boat. He is drinking Amity beer and humming Show Me The Way To Go Home. This movie really is going to be that on the nose!

A small earthquake hits and splits the lake floor, causing a whirlpool and Boyd falls in. Bad news for him, the earthquake appears to have opened a chasm into an underground, prehistoric lake. Something is in the water with him. Lots of something. And they are very hungry.

Straight away the movie sets its stall out. It gives you a famous actor, a totally unsubtle Easter egg homage, and then immediately dispatches them in a manner gory enough to make you sit up and wonder if this really is supposed to be amusing… or are you just a little bit sick for chuckling along?

That question will return to your mind again and again as things really get going.

Spring Break, Boobs, Porn Stars

That just about sums it up nicely. A huge number of the incidental female roles in this are played by adult entertainers. Those of you who bother with such things as porn star names can actually play “spot the starlet” throughout this movie.

Holding all this together are the wonderfully stern twin presences of Elisabeth Shue and Ving Rames as Sheriff Julie Forester and her Deputy Fallon. That’s Academy Award nominee Shue and Golden Globe winner Rhames… in this B-movie? Yes, and that kind of explains the level this is shooting for in one casting.

As I previously mentioned, they know exactly what they are doing.

With the Sheriff off looking for the missing Boyd, we are left with her son, Jake Forester, to be our guide as the town fills up for spring break with jocks, bros, bikini clad hotties… fish food, basically.

Jake, and his inevitable high school crush Kelly (Gossip Girl star Jessica Szohr) meet Derrick Jones, a pornographer played with over the top, scenery chewing sleaziness by Jerry O’Connell. He has a boat, some starlets in tow and wants out on the water to shoot. British glamour model Kelly Brook, and real-life porn star Riley Steele are Derrick’s starlets.

Kelly Brook

You already know what is going to happen, but by this point you don’t care as you are just along for the ride.

A team of seismologist divers arrives, Novak, Sam, and Paula. They are here to investigate the fissure. That really doesn’t go well for the two of them that venture into the underground lake. Once again, the movie knows exactly what it is going here.

Not only does the speed and savagery of the piranha attack make you suddenly feel a little uncomfortable to be laughing along with this, it also takes a relatively well known actress (Dina Meyer – Starship Troopers) and turns her into a lump of desiccated meat in a wetsuit less than 5 minutes after she appears on screen.

Piranha 3D
“Carmen or Diz… oh, never mind.”

Here a piranha is captured, and enter Christopher Lloyd in full Doc Brown mode, but now an expert on ancient aquatic life that delivers the bad news. These piranha are prehistoric, thought extinct and clearly more aggressive, and hungry, that any kind seen before.

Piranha-3D

This leads us to the glorious centrepiece of the movie. As is traditional, there has to be a slaughter. The school of hungry piranha gatecrash the spring break party and we see cameos from everyone from Eli Roth to porn actresses Ashlynn Brooke and Gianna Michaels meet their ends in spectacularly gory ways. Flying steel cables cut torsos in two, out of control speed boats decapitate and scalp, and all the while the fish eat their fill with some genuinely unsettling scenes of people being swarmed and ripped apart.

Again With The Uncomfortable Chuckle

The sequence, and the aftermath, are wince inducing. The scene was famously part of a sizzle reel that was released to promote Piranha 3D, then banned from everywhere from MTV to YouTube for its violent, gory content.

If, by this point, you aren’t all-in on Ving Rhames vs. a school of piranha armed with a spinning outboard propeller, then I don’t know what is going to bring you onboard.

We may only be just over half way but we still have more deaths, an underwater aquatic lesbian ballet set to music, and a regurgitated severed penis (in 3D!) to come, and this movie is only 88 minutes long. More movies should be just 88 minutes long.

Lets be clear on this. The movie is trash, but it is deliberately trash, it knows it is trash and it just doesn’t care. This might be the closest I have seen in modern times to those Italian exploitation splatterfests that Boba Phil and Shawn like to talk about. Maybe those two wrong ‘uns are on to something as this movie is just one hell of a good time.

Before the FX shot removed the green

Objectively, Piranha 3D should be a 2 star movie all day long. Yet because it is in on its own joke, and goes about its business so exceptionally beautifully with decent profile actors and has the sheer balls to fill itself up with porn stars as well, it scores far, far higher.

It is funny without being a comedy, it is gloriously OTT without being camp, and it is fun while also making you feel a little bit sick in your stomach. To this day, I am still not entirely sure how they achieved it, but they did.

Laugh, wince, watch through your fingers, feel uncomfortable that you are having such a good time and question your own humanity as a result. Piranha 3D will make you do all that, and more. If you haven’t seen it, check it out immediately but make sure its the full cinematic version. You know how puritanical those TV censors can be!

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