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James Cameron, Ovidio G. Assonitis
Tricia O'Neil, Steve Marachuk, Lance Henriksen, Ricky Paull Goldin, Ted Richert, Leslie Graves
Writing Credits:
H.A. Milton

A new breed of terror.
Rated R.

Standard 1.33:1
English Digital Mono
English, Spanish, Thai, Chinese

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 1/28/2003

• Bonus Trailers


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Piranha II: The Spawning (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 27, 2003)

A sequel to a cheap rip-off of a classic doesnít seem like an auspicious way to start a career, but thatís exactly what happened in the case of James Cameron. Before The Terminator kick-started his directorial life in 1984, Cameron took the reigns of 1981ís Piranha II: The Spawning, a sequel to the 1978 original. That film came as an obvious piece of thievery based on 1975ís classic Jaws.

With such low-reaching material, would the nascent King of the World be able to make something out of nothing? In the case of Piranha II, the answer comes back ďnopeĒ. Those who seek signs of Cameronís later directorial prowess will leave Piranha II sorely disappointed. It seems no better than it might have been with a no-name director behind the camera, and the movie comes across as a near-total disaster.

Set on the Caribbean vacation spot of St. Annís, the movie starts with a midnight scuba dive by a couple. They make a little nookie but get interrupted by some killer fish who chomp them up but good. We then meet some of the inhabitants of St. Annís, and we focus on Anne Kimbrough (Tricia OíNeil). She lives in the Club Elysium hotel, where she also works as a diving instructor. Recently split from estranged husband Ė and local police officer Ė Steve (Lance Henriksen), Anne resides with their teen son Chris (Ricky G. Paull), who also does some casual work for the tourists.

Another guest at Club Elysium develops a romantic interest in the nearly single mom. Tyler Sherman (Steve Marachuk) wants to get to know her, but she resists. Only when the fish-caused death toll starts to mount and Tyler displays some knowledge of the source does the couple start to come closer. Club Elysium owner Raoul (Ted Reichert) puts his head in the sand, however, and denies the threat, but the steadily-increasing stack of gnawed corpses indicates that somethingís wrong.

Essentially, Piranha II does little more than remake Jaws, though it tosses in a little Jaws 2 for good measure. Anne takes on the Chief Brody role, while Raoul plays Mayor Vaughn. The plot follows a similar thrust, as few believe the threat despite all the mounting evidence.

At least Jaws made the danger a little more distant, especially when fishermen caught a shark. In Piranha II, the denials simply seem idiotic. Granted, everything else about the flick appears moronic as well, so that element makes sense.

What is there to say about Piranha II? The movie is almost impossibly bad. From the rehashed story to the cheap and crummy effects to the limp and stiff acting, almost nothing goes right. The sole redeeming factors stem from the occasional female nudity. One of the divers at the start goes full frontal, and we also meet a couple of topless babes on a boat.

Otherwise, I can find nothing of interest in this terrible movie. I wish I could report that Piranha II offers a neglected gem from a director on the rise, but it stands as a radical aberration in the Cameron canon. Take Jaws, eliminate the interesting characters, compelling story, vivid action, excitement, tension and charm, and you have Piranha II.

The DVD Grades: Picture C- / Audio C+ / Bonus D-

Piranha II: The Spawning appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The decision to make a film like this pan and scan seemed odd, as it clearly would appeal to a lot of Cameron fans whoíd want the original dimensions. The cropped picture consistently looked problematic and didnít seem very satisfying.

Sharpness came across as somewhat weak. The image looked fairly gauzy and soft much of the time. The picture didnít appear tremendously fuzzy, but it usually appeared ill defined and hazy. Jagged edges and moirť effects created no issues, but I did notice some rather prominent edge enhancement, a factor that lowered the level of sharpness.

Although print flaws didnít seem horrendous, they came across as intrusive at times. The movie displayed instances of marks, grain, streaks, grit, specks and other issues. While the film definitely could look cleaner, it still seemed decent for the most part.

Colors came across as consistently bland and lackluster. Despite the tropical setting, the hues didnít achieve any sense of spark or life. The image seemed gauzy much of the time, and the colors appeared flat and limp. Black levels looked inky and murky, and shadows tended to be rather dense and heavy. The movie featured some of the darkest ďday for nightĒ shots Iíve seen, and low-light sequences generally were tough to discern. This became more intrusive during the second half of the film, which mostly took place at night. Contrast seemed off, as much of the film presented a very overblown sense of lighting.

As I watched Piranha II, I flip-flopped between a ďC-ď and a ďD+Ē grade for the image. I went with the higher mark due to the movieís age and low-budget origins. In addition, a number of shots looked pretty decent. Nonetheless, the picture generally was weak, and the cramped pan and scan transfer didnít help; this definitely wasnít an open matte image, as the sides appeared notably cropped. Insult to injury department: the opening and closing credits presented the original 1.85:1 dimensions.

The monaural soundtrack of Piranha II: The Spawning improved upon the visuals, but it remained fairly drab. Actually, much of the time the audio seemed reasonably distinct and accurate. Speech was acceptably natural and warm. Some lines appeared fairly thin, but they usually came across as pretty solid, and I noticed no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Some excessive echo marred effects at times, but they remained clean and accurate across the board; the mix seemed pleasantly free from distortion. Bass response was a bit boomy but decent. Music sounded clean and bright; the score lacked much depth, but it remained generally positive. Ultimately, the single-channel nature of the track restricted its success, but for a 22-year-old mono mix, Piranha II sounded fairly good.

Despite the prominence of the filmís director, Piranha II provides almost no extras. Actually, it doesnít include anything directly related to the film itself. Instead, we only get trailers for Columbia-Tristar products Anaconda, The Forsaken and Creature Features.

Thatís too bad, as Iíd love to hear the participants try to explain this piece of junk. Few films live down to low expectations as spectacularly as Piranha II: The Spawning, but the flick seems just as terrible as one might anticipate. Those who enjoy female nudity will get a couple of thrills, but absolutely everything else about the movie appears laughably atrocious. The DVD offers fairly weak picture with average audio and no supplements of note. I canít recommend this disaster to anyone. Even James Cameron completists should steer clear of Piranha II; itís not worth a look for historical reasons.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1.7368 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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