Dir: Joe Dante
Star: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 1978
Format: VIDEO

Plucky young investigator Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) is sent to to Lost River Lake in search of a young couple reported missing in the hills. Along the way she enlists the assistance of boozy local Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) a resident on the mountain where she is searching. Further up the mountain they stumble across an old abandoned military base where they discover the backpacks of the missing teenagers. Convinced that the young couple must have fallen in and drowned in the huge pool at the base, Maggie resolves to empty it in order to look for a body. Whilst emptying the pool, the duo are attacked by mad scientist type Dr. Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) who is overpowered in time for the tank to drain. When the doctor regains conciousness he warns that they have released "Operation: Razorteeth" an American military genetic experiment to breed some hyper-intelligent piranha fish that can live in salt water. The problem is that when the pool drained it ran into the local river that feeds the lake that in turn is used by a "summer camp" and a new holiday resort that has just opened. Disbelieving the doctors story to begin with, they are very soon convinced that he is telling the truth and realise that it is up to them to stop the deadly killer fish and save the day......

Okay so the whole genetic tampering storyline has been done much better since, but for the late seventies this wasn't a particuarly bad story. The script on the other hand is pretty bad and unfortunately the film has dated badly but still retains it's charm and dark sense of humour which is now typical of the then fledgling director Joe Dante. Probably better know for the likes of Gremlins he incorporates a skewed tongue in cheek vision to his films which lend them a certain charm. Despite the charm, the film really does have some terrible dialogue and some set pieces that are both corny and loaded with cheese. Some of the direction is right out of the Roger Corman book of direction and some very cliche underwater predatorial photography looks like it is straight out of Jaws. Some of the action is well designed and filmed and there is a couple of nicely photographed pieces...... but not many.

Despite the film suffering somewhat from the dreaded "ooh look a rubber fish syndrome" much of the effects work of Phil Tippett and Rob Bottin is good but some of it does look a bit cheap at times thanks to some poor direction. Surprisingly little gore really and despite the odd foaming mass of red water there is not much particuarly horrific and nothing to make you jump either. You can see the standard fare of chewed feet and a few flesh wounds / bite marks but the viewer isn't treated to anything gruesome which is a pity as some of the kid actors you just want to see get badly mutilated.

By B-movie standards the cast headed by Bradford Dillman isn't terrible. Dillman seemingly relishes his portrayal of drunken hero Paul Grogan and works well with former "Playmate" and token "bimbo" Heather Menzies. The fabulous Dick Miller (Small Soldiers) appears as unscrupulous resort owner Buck Gardner with typically amusing set pieces. Plenty of the usual Roger Corman extras cropping up all over the place and at times the film certainly bears all his hallmarks. Interesting to note that this was the first collaboration for Dante and writer John Sayles who later both went on to make The Howling. The strange sound effect used for when the piranha attack is a little silly and after a couple of times the novelty wears off.

Obviously a blatant cashing in of water bound terror in a decidedly Jaws-esque stylee, but you have got to love it for just that reason. Thankfully the movie doesn't take itself too seriously and even pokes fun at itself occasionally and you just can't help having a giggle. There seems to be an inherent fear of summer camps and water in America and they seem to make so many films based around these locations it makes you wonder if they are just looking for an excuse to stay away from woods and water. The film has very little style and nothing origianl but Dante keeps the pace well in an unstylish sort of way but the lack of suspense is a let down.

There are better films of similar story out their but none with their tongue so firmly in cheek I'm afraid.


Assistant: "Sir, the piranhas..."
Buck Gardner: "What about the goddamn piranhas?"
Assistant: "They're eating the guests, sir"

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home