After months of hype, viral videos and endless quotes from director Alex Aja referring to the Spring Breakers as “meat,” Piranha 3D finally hit screens this past weekend. And while no one was expecting high art from a movie about killer fish, reactions were largely positive, scoring an impressive 81 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (read our Piranha review here). Piranha 3D follows the B-movie tradition in terms of storyline (or lack thereof) and gratuitous titillation. But unlike the shoestring budget of the 1978 Roger Corman production directed by a young Joe Dante, Weinstein Company did spend some dollars on the production, marketing and 3D conversion, albeit still on a relatively low budget scale by studio standards.
So how do these new, enhanced killer fish stack up against the Corman cult classic? Will Aja’s re-imagining have the midnight movie staying power or will it be yet another barely remembered remake blip? Here are five reasons we liked Piranha 3D more than the original and five more why we still prefer the original Piranha (1978).
Five Reasons Piranha 3D is Better than Piranha 1978
Jerry O’Connell - As a thinly-veiled Joe Francis (of Girls Gone Wild fame), O’Connell is the most likable douchebag since American Pie’s Stifler. Aja refers to him as the “other Spring Break predator” and that’s exactly right. O’Connell digs into this character, has a blast and invites us along for the nudity-infused ride. It’s a shame the story takes him away from the Spring Breakers in favor of his inexplicable wet t-shirt doppelgänger, Eli Roth. Message to Aja: Give us more Jerry on the inevitable Unrated edition!
The Epic Massacre Sequences - Both films feature a red water-splashing sequence where all hell breaks loose. Beach-goers flail in the water and swim for shore as the piranhas feast on an open flesh buffet. But give credit where credit is due. Aja takes this scene to a whole new level of heinous. The blood and brutality are epic and the kill count is incalculable. Bodies are ripped apart, limbs are strewn about and there’s probably more blood than water in Lake Havasu by the end of it all. The blood-drenched scene alone is enough to make it worth at least a periphery viewing for genre aficionados.
Surgically-Enhanced Women - For those in the bigger is better camp, Piranha 3D should certainly be your bag. The woman are packed full of enough Botox, collagen and saline to overwhelm the entire prosthetics budget Greg Nicotero of KNB FX had to work with. And these modern women are far less shy about showing off their enhancements than their three-decade-prior counterparts.
Stomach Turning Graphic Violence - The original Piranha does what it can with the technology of the time and the budgetary constraints, but the kills aren’t particularly memorable in their execution. This time around, Aja and special effects genius Nicotero are able to get quite creative with their kills. A few examples include a scene in which a girl’s hair gets caught in a motorboat propeller and her skin is pulled completely from her face; a maimed spring breaker being carried out of the water as her body comes apart into two pieces and O’Connell’s farewell when he is pulled back onto the boat to reveal his lower extremities have been chowed down to little more than bones and tissue. The fish even ate Mr. Happy.
Aja’s ADD - Normally having a director with a short attention span would be a problem, but in the case of Piranha 3D, it’s rather fitting. The original is almost methodical in its pacing, building the story bit by bit, even as it never takes itself very seriously. In Aja’s case, his gnat-like attention span is usually an asset, never lingering on any one plot line long enough to dull the experience. This also results in some inexplicable and uneven storytelling, but mostly it keeps the good parts coming with little lag.
Five Reasons Piranha 1978 is Better than Piranha 3D
That Biting Sound - Call me crazy, but that cutting, skin-slashing, teeth-chomping sound from the original still kind of irks me. In the new movie the kills are so quick and brutal and the screams so loud, you hardly have time to think to deeply about what it might be like to be eaten alive by piranhas. But the original really focuses on the individual attacks and bites, both in sound and those constant close shots of teeth tearing into flesh.
Balls - Okay, I’m certainly not condoning the use of innocent little kids as targets or anything, but you gotta hand it to Dante and Corman for taking no prisoners. Sure, the teens are still the key target, but no one is safe in this one. Old folks, adults and even cute little child actors are equally tasty to these toothy, carnivorous fish. In the politically correct climate of the current day, kids (especially cute blue-eyed blonde ones) are off limits.
Natural Women - In this age of Paris Hilton party girls, Botox and big, fake boobies, isn’t it nice to see women as nature intended them? Big hair aside, these natural beauties are a far cry from Girls Gone Wild, a voyeuristic view into what women used to look like before all the surgical enhancements.
Subtle vs. Overt Comedy - Conceived as a loose parody of Jaws, Dante, Corman and writer John Sayles (yes, the indie guy) let the humor flow naturally from the utter absurdity of the situation. Mimicking the unintentional camp of the ‘50s, they assure the straight-laced characters are most definitely not in on the joke.
Raw, Less Polished Purist B-Movie - The original Piranha really isn’t trying to be a B-movie. It is one by definition. It’s raw, gritty and creative in the way it delivers the gore and action on the super cheap. The simple summer camp locations feel more natural and identifiable. And the practical effects work is very strong by any standards. As such, the fleshy body parts being devoured in the climactic scenes look appropriately nasty and real. Aja’s new take is certainly prettier to look at, but it’s almost a little too slick and shiny to hide under the B-movie guise. The CG enhancements are possibly too polished, often giving the fish a cartoonish look. And don’t get me started on the 3D. Better than Clash of the Titans, but still mostly pointless. There’s just something weird about a B-movie shot for an A-movie price. Doesn’t it really defeat the whole point?
Check out FEARnet's Post Mortem with Mick Garris and Roger Corman.