"Lost River Lake was a thriving resort... Until they discovered..."
When a girl and her boyfriend go missing, a private investigator is hired to find them and enlists the help of a local mountain man to help her search near to the old army test base where they believe the teenagers were headed. Assuming them drowned in a large pool, they drain the water into the river, accidentally releasing a horde of flesh-eating piranhas which escape into the river system. The fish proceed to munch their way down stream, heading towards a kid's holiday camp and a newly opened holiday resort.
One of a number of 90s TV remakes of infamous producer Roger Corman's greatest hits, I actually saw this version of Piranha before the original so it was all new, fresh and pretty good for my first trip into killer piranha territory. Eventually I tracked down the original, watched it and then instantly changed my mind on this. Corman neutered Humanoids from the Deep with his watered-down TV remake and whilst he hasn't quite done the same here (the original wasn't exactly dripping in sleazy exploitation that could be removed for modern audiences), the same question pops into my head - why remake it? It wasn't a perfect film but this remake plays out like a scene-by-scene reshoot: a few slight tweaks to characters and story and more of an emphasis on blood and nudity is about the most noticeable changes.
The screenplay here is virtually identical, with minor alterations to fit more in line with then-contemporary 90s pop culture, and the film plays out exactly the same as it did in 1978, with whole scenes just remade without any changes. Where the problem really lies with this remake is that the writers have substituted the wit and humour of the original with more emphasis on gore and violence, most likely due to original director Joe Dante not having anything to do with this (and on the DVD commentary for the original film, Dante expressed his dislike for this remake). I can see why he dislikes this - the serious tone doesn't help because at its core, Piranha was a parody of Jaws and needed this light-hearted nature to make it work. Without the humour, it turns into another generic monster flick with something on the loose in the water which is what we get here.
It doesn't seem like anyone is trying to make this remake better than the original; they're just happy to be in work by the signs of the finished article. Scenes are lifted from the original but sometimes they're out of sequence with the events in the revamped script and it makes no sense. Character decisions and motivations are stuck between their 78 counterparts and their slightly amended versions - about 85% of this is lifted from the original but it's the remaining 15% that causes issues as no one has bothered to properly rewrite the script to account for the changes. At least the pacing of the film isn't too bad. There's not a lot of waste in the running time (Corman wanted it sleek and ready for the TV movie slot) and the piranhas don't usually go too long between meals. It's not just semi-naked women who the piranhas tend to feast on either because it's open season here so kids and dogs are also on the menu. Just as he did with the remake of Humanoids from the Deep, Corman re-uses old footage of the piranhas from the 1978 version rather than shoot new special effects. The role of the military is massively scaled back too, presumably to save on costs.
William Katt and Alexandra Paul share little chemistry together as the two leads but on their own, they're more than capable of handling themselves. Katt, in particular, at least keeps things ticking over with a likeable character you can get behind. Monte Markham has his turn as the businessman who refuses to believe that there's a problem and won't close his resort for fear of losing business.......you know the score by now with this stereotype. Mila Kunis makes her screen debut in this but you'll be hard pressed to recognise the sweet little girl here as the stunning young woman she's is now. Cast-wise, the film is no better or worse off than the original, though Kevin McCarthy’s barmy scientist was sorely lacking from this one (and a sign of things to come in the 2020s, his character has been gender-swapped for a woman for no apparent reason).
As a little added note, since I watched this remake, then the original and its sequel, director Alexandra Aja would remake this in 2010 with the enjoyable Piranha 3D, which in turn resulted in a sequel, the rather cheesy Piranha 3DD. Who would thought in 1978 that the initial film would turn into a five-film ensemble?
Piranha is an unneeded remake which hardly breaks any new ground but at least it doesn't damage the original too much. It’s hard to really sum up: if you’ve seen the original, you’ll have already seen this inferior remake. But out of curiosity, you’ll watch it anyway. If you haven’t seen it, you’re better off with the original. But then you’ll watch this as well out of curiosity to compare. So yeah, just watch this as well. It’s pretty solid on its own two legs but is vastly weaker than the original.
Director(s): Scott P. Levy
Writer(s): Richard Robinson (story), John Sayles (original screenplay), Alex Simon (screenplay)
Actor(s): William Katt, Alexandra Paul, Monte Markham, Darleen Carr, Mila Kunis, Soleil Moon Fyre, Kehli O'Byrne, James Karen
Duration: 89 mins