A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that gore and violence are this movie's primary reason to exist, with extensive (if chaotic) underwater shots of people bloodily devoured by small, sharp-toothed fish, sometimes right down to exposed skeletons and severed limbs. Child characters as well as grownups get chewed (though the lens mainly dwells on adult casualties). There is some profanity and a fair amount of drinking (hints that the hero is an alcoholic). There's also female nudity and skinny-dipping. Questionable behavior includes trespassing, bad driving, and stealing police property. US government, military, cops, mayors, and authority figures right up to camp counselors are portrayed as unsavory and untrustworthy. This is not to be confused with a deluxe Piranha 3D remake from 2010.
What's the story?
In rural Texas Maggie (Heather Menzies), a brash missing-persons tracer, teams up with Paul (Bradford Dillman), a hard-drinking backwoods single dad, to find some campers, whom viewers already know were killed while swimming -- eaten by something lurking in a mysterious fenced-off reservoir. Paul drains the perilous pool, accidentally releasing into a local river network the movie's menace, a school of US military genetically-engineered piranha fish -- not giant-sized but extra vicious and super-resilient, designed as bio-weapons in Vietnam-style jungle wars. Paul and Maggie try to warn the neighboring river-edge community (and save Paul's little daughter, at a swim-oriented summer camp) but find themselves stonewalled by shady cops, a general, and businessmen covering up the impending bloodbath.
Is it any good?
Part of the entertainment factor of Piranha is that it has no pretensions of being anything but brisk schlock-horror killfest, intended for drive-ins and grindhouses and nothing more. Word is that Steven Spielberg himself endorsed PIRANHA as the only one of the many, many Jaws rip-offs that had any redeeming value. Despite much bloodletting, the barely-shown-and-better-for-it piranhas aren't exceptionally scary or awe-inspiring, but one appreciates the clever economy in doing lots of vague little water monsters instead of one big, painfully fake one. Still, this one is way too gory for kids, so it is best appreciated by adult film buffs.
Talk to your kids about ...
- In theaters: August 3, 1978
- On DVD or streaming: November 19, 1999
- Cast: Barbara Steele, Bradford Dillman, Dick Miller, Heather Menzies, Keenan Wynn, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Bartel
- Director: Joe Dante
- Studio: MGM/UA
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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