When it comes to horror movies, one film alone created the template for creature features and set the bar very high. Jaws had suspense, cinematography, directing, characters, plot, drama — it was pure genius.
Since Hollywood is a world bereft of creativity, movies have followed the same formula: tragic and torturous death to open, sympathetic and unsympathetic characters, and refrain from showing the beast until necessary.
Piranha 3-D follows this template so closely it’s almost unimaginable except that it also veers wildly toward being a pure drive-in cinematic experience. It’s more of a cult-exploitation-grindhouse experience. It’s fun garbage.
No one even needs to know what the stories of these frivolities are because they’re so basic: there are beautiful people enjoying their lives before everything is interrupted by what is wild and untamed and uncontrollable. These films are guilty pleasures. They let us live out our fears without fear of personal impact.
So in 2010, Alexandre Aja has decided to revisit the long-dormant Piranha franchise. Good for him for trying to do something more for the world.
Piranha 3-D has some bite. It starts when an underground earthquake near Lake Victoria opens up a passage to an underwater lake where a colony of unhatched mesolithic carnivorous fish species have been waiting for a food source. Lucky for them, the water is teeming with thousands of unsuspecting drunk co-eds partying it up during spring break. Only the sheriff, played by Elisabeth Shue, can stop them. Or can she?
There’s no point to debating the artistic merits of something like this except to discuss how the comical death scenes and gratuitous nudity can benefit a culture by reflecting a deeper anxiety about such things. Aja has baked a movie based on competing recipes and done it pretty well. Do we see endless people’s limbs chewed to the bone? Yes, but only at the same time that we have extended underwater nude bathing sequences with eye candy models. Many other forms of amputations and exhibitions follow consequently and concurrently. In this kind of exploitation, there is no difference between violence and eroticism. It’s all for the audience’s amusement.
That doesn’t mean it’s really that good. Piranha is really awful actually, but it’s done incredibly well. It’s ripe for the Raspberry Awards with its over the top acting, makeup, blood and special effects. The idiocy of the vastly annoying characters was infuriating but only to the point of knowing that most of them would be chew toys sooner or later.
When you’ve got bathing beauties, prehistoric man-eaters, utter fools and complete bastards alike, there’s a lot more opportunity to laugh than cry. Just when you thought it was safe to go into the multiplex, too.