“We want fish. We want fish.”
The film opens on still waters, featuring a buoy and a small boat in the distance. The sounds of intimacy, coupled with the buoy moving slowly back and forth make up the soundtrack. Then two voices appear; voices that sound horribly dubbed, like something from a Fulci zombie film. The scene cuts and features the couple underwater, diving towards a sunken ship. Once inside coitus begins, with a naked woman mounting her partner. Cut in-between their trite passionate display is a first person perspective which eventually leads to a swarm of piranhas attacking the divers. As blood fills the screen the scene cuts to the opening credits and we’re entering Piranha II: The Spawning – possibly one of the corniest movies ever made.
A predominately Italian venture, Piranha II is James Cameron’s directorial debut. Unlike Cameron’s other films (Terminator I and II, Aliens, Titanic, etc.), Piranha II is horribly cheap in just about every way. The plot is pretty much absurd – a military experiment gone askew leads to flying, air breathing piranhas (a biological experiment where grunions, flying fish, and piranhas are mixed to create a killer fish capable of surviving in multiple environments) – and other aspects, such as the acting, score, and visual aesthetic, are subpar. This shouldn’t discourage, since Piranha II: The Spawning is a quality B-movie, containing a fair amount of gore, flimsy stereotypes and gender roles, horrible dubbing, a Freudian Oedipal relationship between a mother and son, and Lance Henriksen. The film takes place at an island beach resort, which is teeming with sexually aroused women and male Adonis’s. Henriksen plays Steve Kimbrough, the local peace officer and is probably the only decent actor in the film. His ex-wife Ann (Tricia O’Neil) and son Chris (Ricky Paul Goldin) have a very sexually charged relationship, containing features of Freud’s Oedipal complex. For example, in the films first act an exchange between Ann and Chris displays both Chris’ concern over his mother’s dating and a very erotic near kiss. Ann works at the hotel as a diving instructor and hotel guest Tyler’s (Steve Marachuk) advances irritate Chris, prompting Ann’s comment, “You’re a very strange boy.” Aside from this comment Ann doesn’t dismiss Chris’ sexual familiarity, demonstrating she condones this behavior even if she doesn’t engage in it. With his father out of the way, Chris tests the water, trying to see if he can fulfill his desire. Even though Chris didn’t kill Steve, his parent’s separation leaves a void he’s trying to fill.
This is a reoccurring theme in some of Cameron’s films – Sarah and John’s relationship in Terminator II: Judgment Day and the Elektra complex depicted in 1994’s True Lies between Arnold and his daughter – and it’s interesting to see where it originates in his films. I’m not suggesting Cameron intentionally places these themes in his films, but the films mentioned above illustrate a commonality in some of his works. Considering the inane ideas Piranha II presents, I’m sure necessity dictated additional plot points, since a film about flying piranhas isn’t interesting enough to fill 90+ minutes. However, the script (which he also rewrote the screenplay under the pseudonym H.A. Milton) is lacking in just about everything. The only truly interesting parts of the film involve flying piranhas and a great deal of padding is necessary to make it more than a 30 minute film. Aside from this film’s unnecessary plot points, Piranha II is filled with nudity. In addition to the underwater sex scene, the film features two naked women on a boat and a long line of other scantily clad and nude women.
The special effects are pretty corny and the first full shot of the flying piranha copies Alien – a mutilated corpse in a morgue hosts one of the fish, who attacks the night nurse. The scene’s quite violent and sets the stage for the rest of the film. Piranha II is rife with violence: the final scene features the mutated piranhas crashing an outdoor “fish fry” (dinner is a “gift from the sea”) at the hotel, where the guests meet their demise in quite graphic ways. However, if you’re looking for a decent amount of violence, Piranha II delivers; just don’t except anything more than cheap looking flying fish biting people to death, accompanied by a fluttering sound supposedly representing piranhas flying.
My major complaint with the film is the treatment of women, both as sexual objects and unstable people, incapable of logic and reason. Ann’s attempts to tell the hotel manager that murderous flying fish are going to kill the guests he says she’s having, “paranoid delusions.” Of course! This must be it, since women are incapable of rationality (please not the sarcasm). The hotel manager, towing the bigoted party line regarding women, is dubbing Ann a hysterical woman, incapable of sanity. Never mind the overwhelming evidence that people are dying because of giant fish, if it’s coming from a woman it’s not valid. Of course the hotel manager gets his comeuppance when the bloodbath ensues.
My last point regards the film’s climax lifting a trick from the original Jaws and Hitchcock’s The Birds. The hotel manager resembles the mayor, whose stubbornness permits death and the end of the summer season. Like The Birds, the fish come along and attack the guests; there are even some guests without eyes. Unlike the two before mentioned films, Piranha II is much more violent and the final scenes aren’t without merit. Just be warned, if you can’t handle movies with terrible dialogue and a fuzzy plot, Piranha II: The Spawning isn’t the movie for you. However, if you enjoy silly films from almost 30 years ago, James Cameron’s first feature film is a must see.
I couldn’t find an American trailer so here’s the Japanese one