PIRANHA - Blu-ray (1978)
Director: Joe Dante
Shout! Factory

Remember the height of the DVD boom? It was just a few short years ago. From 2003 to 2005 (roughly) cult film fans had it made in the shade. Blue Underground released the MONDO CANE Collection giving Criterion a run for its money in terms of quality and presentation, Panik House unveiled the Pinky Violence Collection (a set which I fully intend on being buried with) and Something Weird, through Image Entertainment, were releasing shining gems on a regular basis, each overflowing with trailers and shorts that were all too often more entertaining than the films they were supplementing. Then things started to decline. Several distributors closed up shop, the brick and mortar stores stopped stocking their shelves with anything that wasn’t released from a major studio and the prospect of seeing the release of any cult title with an array of extra features became few and far between. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still a number of indie labels doing the Lord's work (Synapse, Severin, Scorpion, Code Red, etc) but when it come to packing a cult title to the gills with extras, no one brings back the glory days like Shout! Factory. Thanks to their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line Shout! has, in a very short amount of time stepped to the forefront as a distributor worth taking note of and their release of PIRANHA is no exception.

Having stocked up on the essentials (tequila, rum, vodka, etc), Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman, THE SWARM) was all ready to pour himself a drink and settle back for a relaxing week all to himself. Unfortunately plucky investigator Maggie (Heather Menzies, Sssssss) just couldn’t let that happen. No, she had to ruin not only Paul’s week but the week of anybody wanting to enjoy the tranquility and majesty of Lost River Lake. Sent on assignment to locate a missing couple, Maggie recruits a reluctant Paul as her local river guide. Traveling to an abandoned military base, Maggie’s instincts prove to be right on the money as it appears that the missing couple’s last hours were spent skinny dipping in a seemingly neglected salt water swimming pool. Maggie’s eagerness to close her latest case however proves to be her undoing as she foolishly drains the large pool in order to look for more clues and in the process accidentally lets hundreds of tiny, genetically modified, man-eating fish loose into Lost River Lake. Once the realization of what they have done sinks in, Paul and Maggie scramble down river in a vain attempt to out swim the spawn of piranha and warn the summer camp down stream, where Paul’s young daughter is currently spending her week, as well as the new resort further down river, whose grand opening is set to bring out the whole town for an afternoon of water skiing, inner tubing and scuba diving.

I don’t think Roger Corman ever meet a blockbuster he didn’t want to “homage” and in the late 1970s, Steven Spielberg’s summertime success JAWS was no exception. Deciding to go in an opposite direction and produce a picture with an undersized aquatic menace, Corman tapped his number one trailer cutter Joe Dante (THE HOWLING, GREMLINS) to helm just such an underwater opus. Working off a screenplay by John Sayles (THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET), Dante and crew headed to Texas where in less than a month they were able to shoot a creature feature that delvers on every entertainment level a drive-in fan could ask for. Combining elements of horror and comedy in a way that few can, Dante’s PIRANHA is a pitch perfect send-up of JAWS. Overflowing with blood, nudity, stop motion creatures, crazed scientists, little monsters with razor sharp teeth and a who’s who of cult character actors (Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Barbara Steele), PIRANHA is about as ridiculously fun as a film can be. If you’ve already seen it then I’m preaching to the choir but on the off chance you’ve haven’t, I implore you, go out and buy it. I know times are tough and money is tight but trust me, you will be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable b-movie masterpiece than this, and Shout! Factory has gone above and beyond with putting this one together.

Released on DVD and Blu-ray, Shout! Factory’s special edition of PIRANHA is the stuff dreams are made of. The new anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) presentation looks terrific. Grain is healthy but never overpowering and colors appear bold and accurate. Outdated special effects work does stick out rather blaringly in such ideal conditions but thanks to tight editing and some clever film trickery they still pack an effective wallop. Overall as Blu-ray transfers of older low budgets films go, Shout! Factory’s 1080p transfer is inspiring. The PCM 2.0 English speaking soundtrack sounds solid enough with no noticeable flubs or errors and given the film's age, is probably as good as it’s ever going to get.

Special features are kicked off by an audio commentary with Dante and producer Jon Davison. The track, which is ported over from New Horizon’s 2000 full frame DVD release, is an incredibly enjoyable one, allowing Joe and Jon to relive the film's shoot, its locations and budget limitations. Other extras brought over from New Horizon's now vastly inferior release include a blooper and outtake reel and behind-the-scenes footage shot by Jon Davison that features commentary by both him and Dante. “The Making of Piranha” is a brand new behind-the-scenes look at the film that features new interviews with Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Dick Miller and Belinda Balaski to name a few. This new featurette serves as a perfect companion piece to the film, providing both insight and personal reflections on the making of the picture and its impact on its players, both behind and in front of the camera. Radio and TV spots accompany the film's original trailer which is also presented in its “Trailers From Hell” incarnation with the added commentary by producer Jon Davison. Throw in posters, press books and lobby cards from around the globe, additional scenes from the network television version, a collection of New World trailers and a reversible slip cover and you have the must own release of the summer, if not the year. (Jason McElreath)