Piranha – USA, 1978 – reviews

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Piranha (1978) is being released by Scream Factory as a collectible Steelbook Blu-ray on June 11, 2019, limited to 5,000. A new 4K of the original camera negative, plus a new commentary by executive producer Roger Corman. New artwork by Nathanael Marsh (The Thing; Halloween II and III; The Fog; et al) adorns the cover.

Special features:

  • Audio commentary with executive producer Roger Corman (new)
  • Audio commentary with director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison
  • The Making of Piranha – Interviews with executive producer Roger Corman, director Joe Dante, and actors Dick Miller, Belinda Balaski, and more
  • Behind-the-scenes footage
  • Bloopers and outtakes
  • Stills galleries
  • Behind-the-scenes photo gallery from creature designer Phil Tippett’s archives
  • Additional scenes from TV version
  • Theatrical trailer
  • TV spots
  • Radio spots

Here’s our previous coverage of Piranha:

Piranha is a 1978 American horror feature film directed by Joe Dante (The Howling, GremlinsTrapped Ashes; Burying the Ex) and stars Bradford Dillman (Bug), Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Keenan Wynn, Barbara Steele (Black Sunday; Shivers), Dick Miller and Belinda Balaski.

Produced by Roger Corman, Piranha is a low budget parody of the 1975 film Jaws, which had been a major success for Universal Studios and inspired a series of similarly themed killer critter movies such as GrizzlyTintoreraTentacles, and Orca. Screenwriter John Sayles (Alligator) used the proceeds to fund his own films and also wrote the tie-in novelization.

The film was followed by a sequel, Piranha II: The Spawning, in 1981, and two remakes, a cable TV remake in 1995, and a 3D remake in 2010, that spawned its own sequel in 2012.


Two teenagers exploring at night come upon an apparently abandoned military installation. They take advantage of what appears to be a swimming pool to skinny dip. The teenagers are attacked by an unseen force and disappear under the water. A light activates in the main building and a silhouetted figure investigates the screams but is too late to help.

A determined but somewhat absent-minded insurance investigator named Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) is dispatched to find the missing teenagers near Lost River Lake. She hires surly backwoods drunkard Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) to serve as her guide. They come upon the abandoned compound, which functioned as a fish hatchery prior to being militarized. They discover bizarre specimens in jars and indications of an occupant. Maggie locates the drainage switch for the outside pool and decides to empty it to search the bottom, but the moment she activates it a haggard and frantic man attacks her, attempting to stop the draining until he is subdued by Grogan.

The two find a skeleton in the filtration trap of the empty pool and learn it was filled with salt water. The man awakens and steals their jeep, but crashes it due to his disorientation, and is taken to Grogan’s home where they spend the night. They take Grogan’s homemade raft down the river, where the man wakes up and tells them that the pool in the facility was filled with a school of piranhas and that Maggie released them into the river…


A classic, lively, fun and old-fashioned monster movie, Piranha is a delight. And the new Blu-ray edition looks fabulous and is full of extras, including a lively commentary from Joe Dante and producer Jon Davidson, some great 8mm behind-the-scenes footage (again with commentary), outtakes and a ‘making of’ that is pretty badly put together and pretty poor quality, but does feature a lot of the cast and crew discussing the movie. All in all, there’s a tempting selection of supplementary material for a film that would be an essential purchase anyway.

David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA

Piranha: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics [Blu-ray]Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

Other reviews:

‘Piranha rises above the pack because it goes about its task in an intelligent, lov­ingly crafted way. The basis of its savvy approach is a smart script by first-time screenwriter (and future indie-film icon) John Sayles that layers the storyline with quirky, well-drawn characters that charm the viewer into caring about them. Thus, when the monster-fish attacks kick in, it’s a pleasant surprise how dramatically involving it is because the audience is invested in these oddball heroes.’ Schlockmania


Buy DVD: Amazon.co.uk

“Dante’s cunning filmmaking, with plentiful gore yet judicious, mostly suggestive sense of the physical mayhem spread by the killer fish, which, apart from some unfortunate shots of them swimming in schools, are mostly glimpsed in quick flashes of wicked teeth and darting, nipping blurs, is shot and edited with the kind of zest that truly marks out talented filmmakers even in low-budget fare.” This Island Rod

“This one is cheap but funny […] The trailer doesn’t even try to pretend it’s not a rip-off, claiming “These are the man-eaters who go beyond the bite of all other jaws. Sharks kill alone, but piranha come in thousands.” This is the kind of drive-in film that simply has an x-factor and cleverness not present in most of its forgotten peers…” Paste magazine


How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime by Roger Corman with Jim Jerome, Da Capo Press

Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses Roger Corman King of the B Movie
Buy: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

horrors of the deep piranha the last jaws tentacles

Buy Horrors from the Deep: Amazon.co.uk

Cast and characters:

  • Bradford Dillman … Paul Grogan
  • Heather Menzies … Maggie McKeown
  • Kevin McCarthy … Dr Robert Hoak
  • Keenan Wynn … Jack
  • Barbara Steele … Dr Mengers
  • Dick Miller … Buck Gardner
  • Belinda Balaski … Betsy
  • Bruce Gordon … Colonel Waxman
  • Paul Bartel … Mr Dumont
  • Melody Thomas Scott … Laura Dickinson
  • Barry Brown … Trooper
  • Shannon Collins … Suzie Grogan
  • Shawn Nelson … Whitney
  • Richard Deacon … Earl Lyon
  • John Sayles … Sentry

Filming locations:

Aquarena Springs, San Marcos, Texas


Piranha II: The Spawning – Netherlands, 1981 – reviews

Piranhaconda – USA, 2012 – reviews

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