Piranha II: The Spawningrecommended viewing

Flying fish assail busty theives
★★★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1981
Director: 
James Cameron
Starring: 
Tricia O'Neill, Lance Heinricksen, Steve Marachuk, Ricky Paull Goldin
The Setup: 
Them buggers can fly now.
Discussion: 

Mankind is forced to take a good, hard look at the horrific effects of our rapacious greed and rampant destruction of nature's balance as we contemplate the events documented in Pirahana II: The Spawning. This stirring film features a cross-section of humanity as they confront the results of genetic engineering and find, to their chagrin, their faces ripped off by flying mutant pirhanae the size of footballs. Let us now consider some of the individual tales chronicled in this unforgettable look at what can happen at some sexy beachside resorts when management fails to fear nature's wrath.

We join a sexed-up couple who've taken to the open sea in a small inflatable raft to join their bodies upon the waves. She thinks it would be HOT to go scuba diving, in the pitch blackness, into a wreck, at the bottom of the ocean. This, to her, screams passion. Some might say "Into the cold water in the PITCH BLACKNESS?" but those questions are whisked away as we see that on this night, the depths of the ocean are illuminated. They go into a big wreck of a military ship. You might ask if this is your kind of date. Then they go deep, deep into the rusted, disintegrating ship. The guy loses the woman, goes deeper, deeper, then suddenly she appears: NAKED. She is ready to GET IT ON in the rusted-out hulk on the sea floor. It made me realize that my sex life is really quite vanilla. She takes out a giant knife and cuts off his speedo [did I mention that they dove into the rusted out hulk in the blackness of night in bikinis?] and they start to kiss passionately. Personally, I find being hundreds of feet from a fresh supply of air, and the imminent threat of death, to be a damper on passion. Not so these sexy swingles, who cast their air hoses aside and bring their mouths together for many long minutes of oxygen-free coupling. Only the insatiable maws of a swarm of mutant fish can dim the light of their searing lust.

We now have some pretty cool credits that have bright red splashes cascading over a cool blue background. Cool, that is, until they start going on way too long, and then continue going on several minutes after that. At the end of them, we are hit with an unexpected and startling revelation: This is directed by JAMES CAMERON. It's his first film.

We then join a young man going to his home, named Chris. Then we see a lovely lass in a negligible negligee, waking sensually in the morning. We see Chris surprise this sexy lady with a tropical fish, to which she reacts with mild alarm, and we can only assume that these people are a couple. Then--the fish comes loose! And it flops all over the woman's body, including, several times, about her breasts. It goes on quite a bit longer than it seems like it should, but we assume that these two are a hot, sexy, loving couple. But actually no, as we find out in the next scene: SHE'S HIS MOM. Next she joins him for breakfast in a thin nightie sans bra, and at the close of the scene they are laughing and joking with their faces held in kissing proximity. Hope you like a heapin' helpin' of creepy incest with your mutant fish! And honestly--who doesn't!?

Well if you've found the overall vibe to be SEXY, you're right, and it's not about to let up! It seems that our story unfolds in the Club Med-esque Club Elysium, where the cocktails are cold and the action is hot. We start introducing a number of characters, like in a disaster film, only the majority of these ones don't ever amount to anything, and are sometimes seen again, sometimes not. I had a weird sort of sixth sense that I did not need to write any of their names down. We have a frightening older woman come on hard and strong to a young buck, then we cut to two shy women looking to cut loose in the hedonistic atmosphere. One of them is being watched by a panting nerd, so she takes to the water. There, she is attacked! He leaps into the water after her! Just as we're expecting to see the water froth with blood, he carries her out, and the whole thing was just a ruse to get him to save her, so they could meet! BUT! It seems that all is lost when she finds out that he's not a doctor. Still, it's okay--because he's a dentist! Those not ready to have 70s ribald comedy thrown in with killer mutant fish may not be prepared for the unprecedented melange of moods that defines Pirahana II: The Spawning.

First: two topless women sail the waves of the open ocean. Then: Lance Heinriksen. He is Steve, a brutal rogue of the ocean, shirt open, shades on, patrolling the waves as the lawman of the area. He picks up Chris from where he was working on the raft of a millionaire with a nubile, voluptuous daughter. Soon it is revealed: Steve is Chris' dad! And Anne's [that's sultry mom] ex-husband. But the plot thickens. Anne runs tourist diver trips to the wreck, where she soon comes face to face with the chewed remains of one of her party. There is also a Parker Stevenson-esque hunk whose name I did not get, and which I don't feel like looking up, so let's just call him Biff. Biff wants to gently salt Anne's eggs. But! Steve comes, and tells Anne that, wife or not, he's gonna investigate the living shit out of her and make her life a living hell. He refuses to let her study the body, which she fumes over, because not only is she a sexy mom and a tour-dive chaperon, she is also an advanced icthyologist.

But what of our topless sailors, who were last seen frolicking upon the waters? One of them wears a bikini to sneak into the kitchen and load up a box with liquor. She is caught by a kitchen attendant with a speech impediment, and she says she'd just love for him to enjoy the stolen liquor with her on the privacy of her boat, where she can let her hair down. And her friend would just love to have him, and they can all PARTY. You know, a little party? He agrees, and weirdly says that he's a chef and will make them all a wonderful meal, which our comely lass wrinkles her nose at. They make an arrangement to meet later, but alas, we must turn our eyes from these dynamic ladies' exploits to consider the misadventures of our other hapless characters.

Now Anne, sexy mom, tour-dive guide, icthyologist, is also a tough customer, and goddammit, she's gonna see that corpse. She's gotta icthyologize! She is striding through town when she is confronted by Biff, who starts talking to her, ignores her clear instruction to go away, continues to ignore her instructions to go away, until she finally says "Okay, ya wanna be with me?" To which he happily agrees, unknowing that she plans to examine a mutilated corpse. They break into the morgue, and it is really rather funny that the movie thinks this is an even barely acceptable contrivance, that some surfer dude looking for a date is going to break into morgues to examine mutilated corpses. I think some events have been compressed for clarity. Anyway, they go in, find the body, and we get numerous shots of the chewed body. This all goes on for some time. Then! Sudden black nurse weilding pipe! She shoos them out, then stays behind to do some corpse-side housekeeping, when suddenly a FISH leaps OUT OF THE BODY to chomp on her neck. And guess what shit else? Those goddam suckers can fly now. I think you'll agree this has been an eventful few minutes.

Meanwhile, further secrets are revealed as we learn that Biff [turns out I did write down that his name is Tyler, but let's just keep calling him Biff], is not a mere diver himbo, he is part of a top-secret government agency doing undercover work on mutant fish! For God's sake, can you believe this script? Anne and Steve and Biff go to the owner of the resort [is it starting to seem like we have WAYY too many characters?] who ignores their pleas that the tourists are in danger, but overrules them to keep the resort open anyway. And it would seem that the police have absolutely no jurisdiction in the area.

And our theiving beauties? They get the chef to pass him the box of liquor and food, then make him untie the boat, then make him try to jump and fall in the water, then tell him "So long, sucker!" I think it would have been awesome if he had been instantly torn to bloody shreds, and make them feel like, you know, a little bad for, like, a minute, but no. Nevertheless, they meet with fishy justice later upon the open sea, where launching prianhae come shooting at their fleshy protrubrances.

Now this subtitle, "The Spawning..." Is that of any relevance here? Why yes, it is. You see, apparently one night of the year, these particular fish, which I believe remain unidentified, crawl up on the beach of this one place in the world, and spawn. And how do the tourists react to this miracle of nature unfolding in their midst? They organize an event for tourists to snatch up and kill as many of the rare fish, to be grilled up in a smorgasbord! They stride toward the water, rods in hand, but no other discernable fish-catching or gathering tools, chanting "We want fish! We want fish!" I could not make that up. Now, if you might have guessed that the mutant, flying pirahanae have chosen this very night to launch their arial attack on humankind, my little skipper, how very right you are. They come shooting out of the surf, and have a knack for landing right on people's throats. They fly around like bats as the crowds run, and the expected carnage occurs.

Meanwhile, Steve is in a helicopter looking for Chris, who is in a dinghy having a romantic interlude with the nubile millionaire's daughter. Steve and Anne have had some rapprochement amidst the fishy carnage, as they bond over the peril of their shared son. Anne, action ichtyologist, descends into the brightly-illuminated wreck in the dead of night, in order to plant a bomb. Steve crashes the helicopter and ends up in a big boat, Chris and buxom lass in tow. Anne is about to be pulled to her doom by the aquatic menace when she is rescued--by Biff! He just came after her, thinking she might be in trouble, in the depth of the sea. It really is entirely plausible, and so chivalrous. Alas, he receives only a pirahana-mauling for his efforts, as Anne looks at her savior and says a mental "Eh, so much of him. I'm outta here." On the surface, Steve must flee the giant explosion, despite the fact that we have been seeing bombs of the size we have here throughout the movie, and they make at best a small splash. He guns it, and what should hap just by Anne, but their anchor, which she grabs and is whisked to safety. There is a moderate explosion. The pirahana are, to a fish, killed. Yes, even the ones we last saw flying around on land, are dead. They're all dead, okay? The problem is SOLVED. There's a tragic moment as Steve and Chris think that Mom is dead, but no, she emerges like a sodden Venus from the waves. We're all happy and the problem is SOLVED. Thank you so much for coming.

It's a serious downgrade from the original--and that is saying something--but it makes up for it in outrageous silliness, 70s ribaldry, a silly sense of humor, insane character developments, and general ludicrousness. All delivered with Italian early-80s flavor. Still, I got bored just over an hour in, and fast-forwarded through the climax, for which I am not sorry.

It is kind of interesting in that it shows certain of what became Cameron's recurring themes, mostly that of a divorced couple who rekindle their romance through adventure and peril. There is also a certain touch to the action scenes that are unmistakably Cameron, like the wife sweeping to safety on the anchor or the speeding boat. Other than that, just a lot of absolutely ridiculous fun that doesn't stop throwing insane turns at you, and sustains a giddy vibe of exhilarating silliness. Until it becomes boring.

Should you watch it: 

Definitely, if you like 'em bad and ridiculous.

Comments

I'm not sure where I saw this (I think it may have been a special feature on the Aliens DVD) but Cameron said that he ended up only directing the movie for a week or two before getting fired. Apparently the studio that was financing it had a deal with the Italian company actually shooting the movie that they could pretty much do what they wanted but couldn't have an Italian director credited, so they kept Cameron's name for legal reasons. Anyways, little aside I thought was pretty interesting.

was why I was so disappointed that Roger Corman's Lifetime Achievement Oscar was not awarded at the ceremony itself. I was SO looking forward to the assembling of a career clip package, and how it would look when they cut to James Cameron in the audience after showing this one...

Hey Scott,

Totally agree with summation of the film, although I think I like it just that little bit more; it screams drive-in to me, and in my book that always adds points to a movie regardless of quality.

A note on Cameron,: I saw an interview with him on either the above mentioned Aliens DVD or maybe the one for The Abyss, where he talks about how it's super important for a budding director to get 'that first one' under their belt. He said something along the lines of: "It doesn't matter what kind of a piece of shit the film ends up being, the important thing is that it has your name on it with 'directed by' hanging above it. Then you are a director, and when you make phone calls to producers, you can introduce yourself as a director."
Now, who knows from which position he said this, whether he was excusing his involvement in Piranha 2 or what, but I still found it an interesting way of looking at the 'opportunity' to direct a film you know has a strong likelihood of ending up on the trash heap.

No, I absolutely don't begrudge or judge Cameron for making this... I know a lot of directors got their start on Roger Corman films, and hey, we all like fun trash. He seems to have treated the film with the appropriate level of seriousness, which is none... Plus, we can even see some Cameron trademarks, so, no problem with me!