While not sharks, I’m including these movies in Shark Week because it’s still killer fish and both of the movies make several nods towards Jaws as well. I’ve yet to do a side-by-side comparison of these types of movies. I unfortunately couldn’t find the 1995 version of Piranha which was actually a straight remake of the original 1978 version. The 2010 film is more of a campy reimagining to the movies than an actual sequel or remake.
The main thing that you will see is that the 2010 version significantly ups the deadliness of the titular piranha while oddly lowering the stakes. In the 1978 version, a private investigator accidentally releases genetically modified killer piranha into a river when she drains a pool while looking for 2 missing persons. Mutant fish aside, it’s seems really dumb to dump the water from an abandoned military testing site into a river when you don’t have any idea what’s in it but whatever. Everyone in the 1978 film is completely idiotic in service to the plot. The military gets notified that one of their abandoned super weapon projects is loose but the Colonel in charge doesn’t shut everything down because he has a financial stake in the local opening of a lake resort. Which is doubly stupid since postponing an opening is going to end up costing a shit ton less than dealing with a bunch of dead tourists but again, whatever, everyone has to be stupid for this movie to work.
In the 2010 film, the piranha instead come up from an underground lake that has been cut off from the outside world since the Pleistocene era but get an opening after an earthquake. Instead of being genetically modified, these fish are prehistoric ancestors of the modern day piranha and are much larger and meaner. The above ground lake is in the middle of spring break and is host to hundreds of horny co-eds that want to drink and fuck around in the lake. Our main character ends up on board the boat of a “Girls Gone Wild” analogue and ends up having to save his little siblings and would be girlfriend. While the body count and gore gets amped WAY up from the 1978 version, the stakes aren’t as massive since it’s a single lake. The 1978 movie, however, shows that if the mutant piranha manage to get downstream far enough, they could get out into the ocean and then there would be no way to contain them.
The ‘78 film has a much better sense of danger than its modern counterpart. One of the first things in the path of the rampaging fish is a summer camp of children where the main character’s daughter currently is. The 2010 film follows the more modern sensibility of the death and carnage being basically alright as long as it happens to “bad” people which would include both the sleazy movie guys as well as your standard spring breaker. The 2010 film also billed itself as being in 3-D which, as we all remember from the Jaws 3-D review, means that there are a bunch of real shitty CGI shots that serve no purpose but to have things jumping out at the viewer. I do appreciate the commitment to using a lot of practical effects for the gore in the newer film and those goofy looking CG fish do at least add to the already ridiculous camp nature of the film.
A quick note on casting for the films. The 1978 movie has our second appearance of Dick Miller this Horrortoberfest after his initial cameo in Chopping Mall. We also get horror icon Barbara Steele and Kevin McCarthy back as his favorite thing to be in a horror film: raving man that knows the truth. The 2010 managed to snag a shit load of stunt casting including an opening scene with Richard Dreyfus listening to the song he sang in Jaws and his character is even named Matt as well. There’s a C-list star studded cast with Ving Rhames, Jerry O’Connell, Elizabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, and more as well as several big name porn stars. I think both of these casting decisions worked wonders for what the movies were going for. Namely, serious horror and a nod to movies past in the 1978 film and the creation of an over-the-top spectacle for the 2010 one.
I actually ended up liking both of these for very different reasons. I’d give Piranha ’78 a 3.5 out of 5 and Piranha 2010 a 4 out of 5.