Fishies pt 1 (Piranha, 1978)

piranha_1978_posterJoe Dante’s third film was one of Roger Corman’s knockoff films.  Corman had a formula and it had a lot to do with seeing what was big or on the verge of big and following suit with lower budgets.  And it worked.  A lot of well known filmmakers and performers came out of the Corman Machine.  Dante, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Gale Anne Hurd and John Sayles are but a few.

The first writing gig for John Sayles, Piranha is the tale of a young private detective named Maggie who is searching for a rich man’s daughter who disappeared on a hiking trip.  She meets up with local guide Paul and they find a remote building with a large pool.  They suspect maybe there could be bodies in the pool.  They find the lever to flush the pool, but get in a struggle with a crazed gentleman who wants to make sure they do not succeed.  After they managed to flush the pool, they find two skeletons.  Ultimately, it turns out that the pool was full of genetically altered piranha who are making their way down the river eating everything that comes into their path.  The river is taking them right to a local summer camp and a grand opening of a resort.

As is to be expected, there is a race against time (Paul’s daughter is at the camp) as Maggie and Paul try to warn everyone.  The local mayor wants them jailed, as he does not want to hurt tourism.  Did I mention that Piranha was made to cash in on the success of Jaws?

Sayles and Dante do not treat this as just a knockoff of a bigger film.  They understand the limits of their budget, and center things to work within those boundaries.  This results in a fun monster movie that has plenty to enjoy.  It is not nearly as exploitative as other Corman films (Corman often had deals with distributors requiring sex scenes and gratuitous nudity) and the gore is low level.  The titular piranhas are often unseen or blurry shadows.  The attacks often involve people disappearing beneath churning waters.

The cast is enjoyable, especially Corman regulars like Paul Bartel and Dick Miller.  Kevin McCarthy is always dependable for the “Maniacal Scientist” role, and he does not let the viewer down here.  Piranha has earned it’s cult status, being one of the more clever attempts to take advantage of a hit movie.  It manages to avoid simply being an imitation and is quite memorable in it’s own right.

 

 

I Love L.A. (Escape From L.A., 1996)

Escape-From-LA-posterJohn Carpenter’s first sequel.  Escape From L.A. brings back Snake Plissken.  The setup here is that in the late 20th century, a Presidential predicts a major earthquake will hit California and Las Vegas because of their sinful ways.  Unlike Pat Robertson, his prediction comes true.  American makes the now island of Los Angeles a one way prison.  The president was elected to a lifetime appointment.  They instituted a theocracy.  If you were to sinful you were sent to L.A. (but you get the option to repent of your sin and be immediately electrocuted).

In the future of 2013, the President’s daughter (oddly named Utopia, because a hyper-religious parent would name their kid Utopia?  Or is the implication that he used to be a hippie?)  has stolen an important prototype and run off to L.A.  Like before, the government calls in Snake Plissken and forces hm to make a deal to go into L.A. and get the prototype back so a potential invasion of America can be averted.

Plissken runs into all sorts of Oddballs, such as evil plastic surgeons and a surfer gang.  He gets help from the morally ambiguous Map to the Stars Eddie and the sexy Taslima.  He takes on Cuervo Jones in an attempt to get the prototype.

Like most sequels, Escape From L.A. mimics Escape from New York a lot.  There is even a scene where he walks into a club and finds a dead Rescue Team member he was tracking.  On the other hand, the film really amps up the action.

The film has stuff that does not really make sense.  The Evangelical President outlawed eating of red meat?  I mean, it might make more sense if the laws were based in Old Testament.  The effects are not..well…effective.  Many scenes are clearly green screened.  The basketball sequence just does not compare to the gladiatorial combat of the first film.

This is not to say the film is terrible.  The cast, including Steve Buscemi, Valeria Golina, Pam Grier, Stacy Keach and Cliff Robertson are all good.  And Russell slips right back into the skin of Snake Plissken with ease.  One of the most entertaining moments is when Snake is captured by the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Played by Bruce Campbell).  He leads a group of surgically enhanced misfits…they need to keep replenishing their body parts and look like the surgical disasters of nightmare on E! Television.

Escape From L.A. is fun, but comes no where near the classic status of Escape from New York.

 

 

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