PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1981), is director James Cameron’s (Avatar, The Terminator, Aliens) first film, and is a sequel to Joe Dante’s 1978 film, Piranha. It stars Tricia O’Neil (Titanic), Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Pumpkinhead), Steve Marachuk (Eyes of Laura Mars) and Ricky Paull Goldin (The Blob).
If you thought regular piranhas were bad, then prepare yourself for piranhas with wings! Anne Kimbrough (Trica O’Neil) is a diver and scuba instructor at a the swanky Caribbean island resort, Club Elysium. When its revealed that one of her students died during a scuba expedition, Anne begins an investigation of her own, only to discover a horrific secret: someone has spliced genes to create piranha-like fish with wings enabling them to fly and kill. She tries to convince the resort to call off their annual fish fry, but management feels this threat isn’t justified and brushes her off. With the help of her ex-husband, police chief Steve Kimbrough (Lance Henricksen) and her biochemist boyfriend, Tyler Sherman (Steve Marachuk), they race against the clock to put an end to the feeding frenzy before the body count reaches unfathomable proportions!
I’m going to be completely transparent, I have not seen the 1978 film Piranha. I know, I know, it’s a travesty that I should remedy soon and I promise I will. With that said, I wasn’t sure what I was about to get myself into with PIRANHA II or if I would be lost by the film’s storyline. Luckily, that wasn’t the case because, let’s be honest, how confusing can a film be that’s centered around flying piranhas? With a premise such as that, I assumed I was going to be in for a train-wreck of a film, but surprisingly, I actually enjoyed it! Even though it’s 80s cheesiness at its finest, there were aspects of PIRANHA II that really stood out in a positive light, most notably the practical effects (which I’ll get too shortly).
First and foremost, let’s talk about the fact that the acclaimed Academy Award-winning director James Cameron made this. Though he often sites Terminator as his first film, he’s technically wrong. However, since there was a lot of drama behind-the-scenes of this film that impacted Cameron’s finished product, I can see why he doesn’t consider this to be his first directorial feature. Regardless, I find it interesting that Cameron got his start directing a low-budget horror film and I think it would be fascinating to see a horror feature from him now that he’s so widely known. As for the acting as a whole, it left a lot to be desired and I think that’s partly due to the script and the talent available. I did enjoy Lance Henriksen though, who portrayed Police Chief Steve Kimbrough because how can you not love Lance Henriksen? I also enjoyed Tricia O’Neil as Anne Kimbrough, as it was refreshing to see a smart, determined woman who was confident in herself and her decisions without relying on the damsel-in-distress method so many of these films require.
As I’m sure you’ve come to find out, I’m a huge fan of practical effects and PIRANHA II does not disappoint. Sure, some of the flying piranhas look like rubber, something in which James Cameron has confirmed due to budgetary constraints, but the makeup effects used to show the carnage from these attacks were actually pretty impressive. One of the special features on Shout Factory’s release is an interview with special effects artist Brian Wade which I found to be rather informative as he discussed the lengths they went to achieve what these piranhas were capable of. As for the presentation of the film, I felt the 2K scan, which was taken from the original camera negative, looked really clean and sharp, with certain colors, most notably red, being highlighted pristinely throughout the film.
With all that said, PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING is a ridiculous movie with over-exaggerated acting, gratuitous nudity for the sake of nudity, and flying piranhas strong enough to tear a body to shreds. It is very far from James Cameron’s best work but honestly, I don’t think anyone was expecting anything mind-blowing. Though there were a lot of issues I had with the movie, and moments in which I didn’t even know why they occurred in the first place, I still found myself enjoying the film as a whole. It may be stupid and campy, but it allowed for some impressive practical effects and more screen time for Lance Henriksen, and you can’t go wrong with that. As summer begins to come to a close, I definitely would suggest picking up PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING and giving it a watch right before you go for a swim; just make sure you are on the lookout for any genetically altered species that could be lurking in the water around you…
PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING is now available to own on Blu-ray from ShoutFactory.com.