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Roger Corman produced this shameless Jaws rip-off at the height of the “nature gone wild” boom of American cinema and struck B-movie gold. Scripted by John Sayles and directed by Joe Dante, this tongue-in-cheek thriller stars Bradford Dillman (doing his best Rip Torn impression) as an antisocial mountain man and Heather Menzies as a rookie detective who race a school of mutant piranha downriver. Dante and Sayles provide the requisite blood and gore for this drive-in meat market: a kids’ summer camp and a waterfront amusement park await the little beasties. Along the way, riverside retiree Keenan Wynn gets his ankles stripped clean, camp counselor Paul Bartel is chomped on the cheek by a hungry little bugger who takes to the air, and hordes of unlucky bathers are caught in the center of a feeding frenzy. What differentiates this little gem from the legion of similar knockoffs are the satirical swipes at military arrogance and crass commercialism, Dante’s energetic enthusiasm, and the bursts of black humor: “Lost River Lake: Terror, horror, death. Film at 11.” The culty cast also includes Invasion of the Body Snatchers‘s Kevin McCarthy as the hysterical scientist guarding the creatures, horror diva Barbara Steele as a devious government researcher, and longtime Corman regular Dick Miller as an unscrupulous entrepreneur (“Sir, the piranha are eating the guests”).
The DVD features good-humored commentary by director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison, who also narrate the 10 minutes of good-quality home-movie footage shot by Davison. There are also six minutes of outtakes. –Sean Axmaker
Rating: (out of reviews)
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