Archive for the ‘Movie Review’ Category

31. Tragedy Girls (2017)

Director: Tyler MacIntyre

Starring: Alexandra Shipp, Brianna Hildebrand, Josh Hutcherson, Craig Robinson, Kevin Durand, Jack Quaid

2017 turned out to have been an incredible year both for straight-up horror and the horror comedy. The latter category includes the fabulous “Tragedy Girls.” This movie works just as well as a critique of the level of importance we place on our Twitter feeds as it does as a reference-heavy, satirical slasher. Even as I was going through and spotting all the various Easter eggs left for horror connoisseurs to find, at no point was I able to sit back and correctly anticipate the direction of the plot. Truly, an expectation-defying thrill!

“Tragedy Girls” wastes absolutely no time in taking an abrupt left turn away from the path of predictability. In the opening scene, high schoolers Craig Thompson (Austin Abrams) and Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) are making out in a car at night in the middle of nowhere when they hear a noise, and Sadie shames Craig into checking it out. Everything including the atmosphere and the soundtrack in this scene screams early 1980s slasher. We know how this is supposed to play out. When Craig gets a machete to the face, we expect Sadie to be next. Not so fast! Although serial killer Lowell Orson Lehmann (Kevin Durand) appears to have the drop on Sadie, she has help in the form of best friend McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp), and together they subdue the madman. It turns out that Craig was just bait to lure Lehmann in, because the girls are up-and-comers themselves and would like to learn a thing or two from someone more experienced in bloodshed. When he refuses, they simply lock him up like Hannibal Lecter and decide to go on with the killing spree on their own.

Though they are careful enough to keep their murderous ways a secret from the residents of Rosedale, Sadie and McKayla run a blog called Tragedy Girls, and this provides them with either the motive or the excuse (take your pick) to do the evil things they do. Treasons they come up with for choosing their victims are as ridiculous as they are petty. For example, McKayla’s ex-boyfriend Toby (Josh Hutcherson) must die because he has more Twitter followers than the Tragedy Girls.

Not only are the girls’ reasons for killing people outrageous, but things never seem to go quite as planned. Half of the time, their victims don’t pass on right away. The ones who do die instantly wind up being recorded as tragic accidents. To avoid this “Final Destination”-like trend, Sadie and McKayla sometimes go the extra step of dismembering the corpses. They WANT the public to think there’s a serial killer on the loose and there is. There are three, counting the two of them and Lehmann once he escapes from the makeshift cage. By this time, Sadie and McKayla have managed to erode the public’s trust in the police force, angering Sheriff Welch (Timothy V. Murphy). He’s also none-too-pleased about how close that Sadie and his son, Jordan (Jack Quaid) are becoming. That all changes when Lehmann attacks the couple inside the Welch household, with Sadie turning herself into a hero overnight by saving Jordan’s life. What no one in town knows is that Sadie was only there that night to destroy McKayla’s phone, which a suspicious Jordan had stolen.

Sadie’s new public image is a tough pill for McKayla to swallow, although she’s more miffed about not getting a mention in Sadie’s big public speech. So, McKayla resolves to get back at her friend during Prom using Lehmann. During the final act, after Sadie and Jordan are voted Prom King and Queen, you’re just counting down until the eventual “Carrie” moment. It comes, yes, though not in the way you might be expecting.

I love all the little references to classic horror films. My favorite has to be the death of the Mayor (Rosalind Chao), whom Lehmann kills in a manner that evokes the most famous image from “Cannibal Holocaust.” What I wasn’t as much of a fan of was the social commentary in regards to our obsession with Twitter. Not that I didn’t appreciate what the movie had to say about it, but the mere inclusion of it served to remind me how annoying that social media can be.

I also wish that the soundtrack had been better. The music in the opening scene was great, and the music used for the scenes between McKayla and Toby are (intentionally) hilarious in their sugary sappiness. Other than that, however, the music is pretty disappointing. Had it been up to me, I’d at least have included “Sexy Sadie” by The Beatles (or at least a decent cover) due to the relevant lyrics. Hell, a few other Beatles tunes could have worked as well… especially during the Prom scene… even “Run for Your Life” after some gender swapping in the lyrics. But I also get all the reasons why not.

As important as setting the right tone was to “Tragedy Girls,” it would have meant nothing if the casting hadn’t been perfect. Taking time off from their roles within the X-Men Universe, Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead in the “Deadpool” series) and Alexandra Shipp (Storm in “X-Men: Apocalypse” and the forthcoming “Dark Phoenix”) are wonderful as Sadie and McKayla. These really feel like two girls who’ve been partners in crime since they were kids. Hildebrand is especially good, giving her character an irresistibly devilish personality to match her distinctive look. If you’re like me, and you love horror movies with memorable characters, callbacks to the classics and plot twists that subvert your expectations, “Tragedy Girls” has everything you’re looking for!

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30. Castle Freak (1995)

Director: Stuart Gordon

Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jonathan Fuller, Jessica Dollarhide

Back in the days when the television network Syfy was still known as the Sci-Fi Channel, before its lineup was burdened by reality series and crappy shark movies, this was often a channel I liked to switch to late at night. Often I would discover some off-the-wall movie that would intrigue me enough to stay up to finish it. One such movie featured a truly horrifying creature terrorizing a blind girl. Because this was a time before one could just press a button on your remote to learn the title of the program you were watching, I never found out the name of the movie. I’d almost forgotten about it until earlier this year when 1995’s “Castle Freak” came up on a list of horror movies ‘you have to see!’

John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs) travels to Italy with his wife Susan (Barbara Crampton) and daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) when he learns he’s the inheritor of a castle. John is a recovering alcoholic, and his marriage to Susan is nearing its end due to her inability to forgive him for a drunk-driving incident which resulted in the death of their son and Rebecca becoming blind. What no one seems to have been aware of is that the Duchess who until recently was the castle’s owner had locked away her son, Giorgio (Jonathan Fuller), down in the dungeons and had spent the last several years torturing him.

As the Reillys are settling in, Giorgio frees himself of his bonds by chewing off his thumb. Though Rebecca cannot see Giorgio she can clearly hear him moving around her bedroom. It takes a while for anyone else to recognize that something is amiss, even after the cat goes missing. It’s only after people start to go missing that the police start to take the matter seriously. After being rejected by Susan, John suffers a relapse and gets absolutely shitfaced in a bar, where he meets a prostitute whom he brings back to the castle. Giorgio kills the prostitute after John backs out of sex with her and leaves her alone. Naturally, he becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance/death.

John is just about to piece everything together (including the fact that he and Giorgio are brothers) when the cops take him into their custody. Susan and Rebecca aren’t allowed to leave the castle because the cops still have questions. The cops get picked off one by one, and then Giorgio knocks Susan unconscious and takes Rebecca down to the dungeon. This marks the start of the section of the film which I had seen previously, and it turned out to be an even smaller portion than I had remembered. As you might expect, the finale involves John figuring out how to get out of the police station and back to the castle to save his family from his brother.

For a cheap 1990s direct-to-video release, “Castle Freak” is actually pretty good. I can point to two very clear reasons why. The first is the impressive full body cast used to transform actor Jonathan Fuller into the monstrous Giorgio. A large part of the reason why I’ve posted the VHS cover instead of the DVD cover is because the latter spoils what the monster looks like, something the movie waits to reveal until very late. The second is actor Jeffrey Combs. He’s just amazing to watch in whatever he’s in. I first saw him in guest appearances on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” but have since checked out the majority of his horror credits, especially those like “Castle Freak” in which he collaborates with director Stuart Gordon.

I’ll freely admit that nostalgia also plays a role in how I feel about “Castle Freak.” True, I hadn’t seen the whole movie until just recently, but it still harkens back to an earlier time in my life, and that’s never a bad thing. I can fully understand others not placing the same value in the movie as I do. As to those who’ll seek out and watch “Castle Freak” for what it is and not for what memories it can conjure, there’s definitely more substance to this one than the usual made-for-video fare, and I’d recommend it on that basis.

29. Don't Breathe (2016)

Director: Fede Álvarez

Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovato, Stephen Lang

As I’ve recently detailed, I find it satisfying to discover a film I like that hasn’t been gifted with a majority of positive reviews. When the opposite (a positively-reviewed film that I’m NOT crazy about) comes along, it leaves me confused. This occurred most recently when I sat down to watch 2016’s “Don’t Breathe.” Any time a popular horror film fails to grab me, I go into full-on analyzation mode to figure out what I must have missed. Sometimes, it’s a prejudice against a specific sub-genre that I can’t get past. More often, as in the case of “Don’t Breathe,” it tends to be one or more of the decisions made in the film’s writing/production that has managed to irk me in some way.

Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are the three dumbasses… sorry, I meant protagonists… who, as the professional burglars they claim to be, decide their next score should come at the expense of an old man who lost his sight. But it’s all okay, you see, because Rocky’s home life is absolutely horrendous. So sympathize with her, damn you! What entices them to the idea of this particular heist is that the Blind Man (Stephen Lang) has some $300,000 from a wrongful death settlement after a young woman crashed into his daughter’s car and killed her. Alex has to think it over before agreeing, relenting only because it will mean that Rocky, whom he has a crush on, can finally get away from home.

What they should have been worrying about, yet none of them do, is that they have done a half-assed job of scouting both the house and its occupant. True, they know that he’s a Gulf War veteran, but they don’t have any idea how well he gets around. They also haven’t bothered to check which parts of the house are tightly secured, what kind of dog the man owns, and they don’t have the first freaking clue which part of the house the money is in. They did bring some useless sleeping gas, though. Money figures, since the guy has to be fast asleep, it’s totally cool to use a gun to open a lock. Not only is the money not behind this locked door, but the noise has of course awakened the Blind Man. While this is going on, Alex is looking for a way for them all to get back out of the house. The Blind Man kills Money, and Rocky hides away in a closet.

After witnessing the Blind Man checking a safe inside the closet, Rocky waits until he leaves and then opens the safe to find the money, which turns out to be more than the promised $300,000, and she puts it all into her backpack. Rocky has just proven that she does not care that her boyfriend’s brains have been blown out of his skull right in front of her. All she cares about is getting away from home. Some protagonist she is! Of course, both Rocky and Alex are now trapped inside the house. What’s more is the fact that the Blind Man is now wise to the fact that Money was not the only intruder, as was his dying declaration.

A long chase ensues, partially in darkness after the Blind Man cuts the power, and ends with Rocky’s capture and Alex’s apparent death. This is where “Don’t Breathe” makes one last ditch effort to manipulate the audience into sympathizing with Rocky. It turns out that the Blind Man had kidnapped the woman who accidentally killed his daughter. Wanting a child to replace the one he’d lost, the Blind Man had forcibly impregnated his captive using a turkey baster. This method, he says, proves that he’s not actually a rapist. This is total bullshit, of course, but that’s his defense. Now that the woman has been accidentally shot to death by the Blind Man while he was in pursuit of Rocky and Alex, it is his intention that Rocky should take the woman’s place.

Alex’s supposed death turns out to be a case of trick photography on the part of the filmmakers, nothing more than a fake-out akin to the infamous dumpster scene from the 6th season of TV’s “The Walking Dead.” It also proves equally ineffective, as Alex is killed for real not long after his reappearance. Rocky gets away, though not before being captured a second time, and certainly not without taking the man’s money with her!

Morally bankrupt characters are certainly nothing new to horror. It isn’t even out of the question for them to become the heroes of their story. But it’s almost as though “Don’t Breathe” is aware that Rocky is a selfish person, and that she along with her male companions are so incredibly stupid that it overcompensates by making its villain that much more of a reprehensible monster. The thought is that Rocky and her crew therefore cannot help but become sympathetic simply by default. Their foolish actions throughout do not earn them this right. Most characters like this at least learn a valuable lesson by film’s end, but Rocky has clearly learned nothing.

Normally, I’d suggest a change in tone, as horror comedies in particular tend to handle these types of characters much better. However, the story which “Don’t Breathe” sets out to tell cannot function the way it does unless it takes the material seriously. It’s not like “Don’t Breathe” is actually a bad movie. The acting, especially from Stephen Lang, is quite excellent. I suppose what it all boils down to is whether or not you can allow yourself to get past the questionable motives and decisions of the main characters. Though it’s clear that quite a number of viewers have been able to do this, I was among the minority who could not.

28. Hush (2016)

Director: Mike Flanagan

Starring: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr.

A point that is made no less valid by repetition is the idea that the invention of the cellphone is an obstacle to modern horror. It’s really hard now to come up with valid excuses for why a character in a horror movie can’t instantly get themselves out of trouble simply by dialing 911 or otherwise contacting the local authorities. 2016’s “Hush” manages to find a loophole to get itself out of this trap, which should have then resulted in a more suspenseful than average movie. It almost gets there if not for one fatal flaw.

Maddie Young (Kate Siegel) is an author who has been deaf and mute, exactly the kinds of handicaps you don’t want to have if you’re a horror movie character, since age 13. This has the effect of rendering her unable to notice everyday things like ringtones or fire alarms without a little something extra. The night that Sarah (Samantha Sloyan) comes running up to the house bleeding, screaming and banging on her glass door, Maddie remains oblivious to the fact that her friend is being stabbed repeatedly. The murderer (John Gallagher, Jr.), who wears a plain white mask, figures out Maddie’s disability from the fact that no noise he produces can disturb her, and makes a game out of being able to sneak inside the house at will.

After getting Maddie attention by stealing her phone, taking pictures of her and then sending them to her laptop, the murderer flattens the tires on her car and cuts the power to the house, making her sense of sight almost as useless as her sense of sound. Up to this point, “Hush” has built up a terrific amount of tension and produced an intimidating villain. Then, just as things were getting good, we get to the fatal flaw: The killer removes his mask, removing the mystery and revealing himself to be an average-looking douchebag with a neck tattoo.

If you’ve ever seen 1967’s “Wait Until Dark” starring Audrey Hepburn (who, for those unaware, portrays a blind character), consider the remainder of “Hush” to be a bloodier, more drawn-out version of that film’s final act. Maddie and the killer each take their turns on the offensive in a cat-and-mouse game that gets bleaker for both with every move/countermove. There is one scene where the movie makes you think that Maddie has been killed with considerable time in the movie left to spare, but it turns out simply to be a scenario that Maddie is playing out in her head. In fact, as an author, Maddie is able to think of several ways this struggle can end, none of them leaving much chance of her survival. The struggle only ends after one has done more than the other to use Maddie’s deafness to their advantage.

“Hush” grew out of director Mike Flanagan’s desire to create a horror movie that was completely silent, before backing off after considering that the target demographic might not go for that kind of a movie. I think this was a mistake, because “Hush” as a silent movie sounds like it had the potential to be more visually interesting than what we ended up with. It would have also meant that we could have dispensed with the bland dialogue which actor John Gallagher, Jr. was saddled with. That’s on Flanagan as well, as he also co-wrote the movie with his lead actress and wife, Kate Siegel. This is the second Mike Flanagan film I’ve seen that I could classify as a nice try, the other being 2013’s “Oculus.”

The biggest flaw in “Hush” is its villain. Less dialogue still would not change the fact that the killer does not remain shrouded in mystery for long enough. I’m not saying that a horror movie villain has to wear a mask in order to be scary. What I am saying is that a mask keeps the imagination at work, and that’s a good way to keep the audience invested in the story. This is why so many horror icons do keep their true faces hidden. You also don’t have to keep the villain masked the whole time, as most reveal themselves during the climax. By doing the reveal as early as “Hush” does, you’re making the audience wonder why in the hell he used the mask in the first place, distracting from what should have been a fun way to spend less than an hour-and-a-half of one’s time.

27. 47 Meters Down (2016)

Director: Johannes Roberts

Starring: Claire Holt, Mandy Moore

One of the greatest joys in watching movies is finding a good one that you didn’t expect to like. Almost as satisfying is the knowledge that the movie isn’t as well-received by the majority of critics. It must mean that you know something that others don’t. This describes exactly how I feel about 2017’s “47 Meters Down,” one of the biggest surprises of this year’s marathon. I chose this movie for no other reason than because I had an extra spot to fill, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences I had all month.

“47 Meters Down” tells the story of Lisa (actress/singer Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt, yet another alumnus of TV’s “The Vampire Diaries”), two sisters on vacation in Mexico. Lisa is feeling down after her boyfriend has broken up with her. Kate wants Lisa to cheer up, so they go out for a night of drinking and dancing. While out on the town, the sisters meet a pair of men who have a boat with a shark cage and invite them to observe some sharks. Kate is up for it, but Lisa takes some convincing before she agrees. Of course, neither of the sisters has any diving experience, a fact they lie about to go ahead with this spontaneous adventure.

Although Lisa has acquiesced to pressure from her sister, she’s still very apprehensive about the whole thing, and the conditions of the boat and its rusty shark cage aren’t helping matters. The boat’s captain (Matthew Modine) blows off these concerns, and the girls hop in the cage anyway. As you might expect from the film’s title, the cable lowering the cage snaps and Lisa and Kate are sent plunging forty-seven meters below the surface. This is the point where “47 Meters Down” starts to show what it’s made of.

Given their current predicament, Lisa and Kate have more than one problem to deal with. One is the sharks who are circling around their position. The other is the fact that the two only have a limited air supply, one which is decreasing with every panic-filled breath. At this distance, they are just out of communications range with the boat’s crew, forcing them to exit the cage whenever they need to send word. Tension follows, as one wrong move will result in either of them becoming shark food. When Lisa goes to meet one of the boat’s crew who is coming down with a replacement winch to help pull the cage back up, he is killed by the sharks. Lisa grabs the man’s spear gun and the winch, but she gets lost on her way back to the cage. Fortunately, she’s still in close enough range with her sister that she can tell Kate to make some noise to help her out.

Attaching the winch, Lisa and Kate are more than ready to blow this aquatic popsicle stand. If you’re paying attention to the film’s runtime, you’ll note that it’s far too early for a successful rescue. Indeed, the attempt to raise the cage fails, sending the girls tumbling down once again. The sisters now are faced with even less air than they had before, and the angle in which the cage fell has caused Lisa’s leg to be pinned down. It’s up to Kate to notify the crew, which she does, and they send down tanks and flares. As Kate collects them, the captain warns her of the possibility of nitrogen narcosis which using a second tank could produce. Sadly, it appears that Kate is killed by one of the sharks just as she gets back to the cage. The spare tank intended for Lisa sits just beyond her reach outside the cage, requiring the use of the spear gun to bring it closer. From there, things get screwy.

The whole time I’d been watching “47 Meters Down,” the vibe I’d been getting from this movie reminded me of my first time watching “The Descent” (one of the best movies, regardless of genre, of the last fifteen years). In that movie, a group of women also take a poorly planned trip down a deep and dangerous hole in the world. The system of caves in that movie offers similar perils to the shark-infested waters of “47 Meters Down.” At any given moment, instant death could be waiting just around the corner. Both films also offer final acts which challenge your perception of what’s real and what’s not. In “47 Meters Down,” that comes courtesy of the nitrogen narcosis from which Lisa begins to suffer.

By no means am I making the comparison to “The Descent” as a means to imply that “47 Meters Down” is anywhere close to being in the same league. It isn’t, but that shouldn’t count as a criticism. In an era when one can easily find dozens of intentionally stupid shark movies being consistently shoveled out, it’s wonderful to accidentally happen across one that actually makes the effort to present a suspenseful tale. Both lead actresses are terrific in their roles, creating instantly sympathetic characters. Mandy Moore in particular possesses a Kristen Bell-like cute factor that compels you to root for her.

Ultimately, it’s the atmosphere of “47 Meters Down” that had to be on point for this thing to work, and boy is it ever! There are times during the course of the film where you almost feel as though you’re inside the shark cage, controlling your breathing so as to conserve oxygen. Not even the semi-confusing final scene can take away from that. I can honestly say that I have zero interest in “47 Meters Down: The Next Chapter,” due out in 2019. This movie told a compelling, complete story that cannot benefit from being rehashed. I do however believe that “47 Meters Down” can be further enjoyed upon multiple viewings, a theory I plan on testing in the near future.

26. Piranha (2010)

Director: Alexandre Aja

Starring: Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Steven R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss

Among the horror community, the combination of boobs and gore is roughly comparable to peanut butter and chocolate. Together, they are seen as being more pleasing than they are individually. However, undeniable is the evidence that most of the very best films of the genre get along just fine with only small doses of either. When your senses are being overloaded with scenes both of extreme violence and sexual content, eventually the overall effect is watered down. This is a crisis which the 2010 “Piranha” remake (also known as “Piranha 3D”) runs into very early on in its brief 88 minutes.

Jake Forester (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the legendary Steve McQueen) is a teenager on spring break. Being the son of the town sheriff (Elisabeth Shue), Jake is stuck babysitting his bratty brother and sister when he’d rather be out partying like the other 2,000 or so kids his age who are already out on the lake. Determined, Jake finds a way to ditch his siblings once their mother is out patrolling. Jake is spotted by Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell), a sleazy Joe Francis type who is shooting his latest movie featuring college girls doing stupid things they’ll regret once they’ve sobered up. Derrick needs a local to guide him around the area, which gains Jake access to Derrick’s boat.

This bit of business gets Jake in a bit of hot water, not with his mother but rather with his crush, Kelly Driscoll (Jessica Szohr), who boards the boat to get back at Jake for lying about his plans. Already onboard for Derrick’s movie are actresses Crystal (pornstar Riley Steele) and Danni (Kelly Brook), the latter of which forms a friendship with Jake. Derrick would like Kelly to participate, too, and she does until she becomes ill from too much alcohol and has to go below deck.

While all of this is going on, Jake’s mother has been investigating mysterious disappearances, leading to a gruesome discovery which brings up the possibility of closing the lake for public safety. Further investigating (and further loss of life) reveals that a school of piranha is responsible. Not only that, but they seem to have emerged from a fissure generated by a recent earthquake. The Sheriff and her remaining crew bring one of the piranhas to marine biologist Carl Goodman (Christopher Lloyd), who recognizes this breed as having been declared extinct for a very long time. Okay, so this time, the piranhas are prehistoric rather than being the result of a military experiment. Whatever…

The piranhas eventually crash the spring break party, tearing to shreds pretty much everyone we’ve been introduced to apart from the Forester family and Kelly. Oh, and of course Carl Goodman who supplies the out-of-nowhere setup for the sequel, which ends up as 2013’s “Piranha 3DD.” Ha ha, get it? Boobs! Actually, humor is one of the stronger features of “Piranha.” The 1978 original already was a parody (of sorts) of “Jaws.” The 2010 version goes full throttle with this idea, casting Richard Dreyfuss in the opening scene as an ill-fated fisherman who sings “Show Me the Way to Go Home” shortly before becoming the piranhas’ first victim. It ends up as the cleverest thing this movie does.

Steven R. McQueen, the second “The Vampire Diaries” alumnus in my marathon, does okay. He’s helped out by a good supporting cast, several of whom don’t last nearly long enough. Particularly good are Christopher Lloyd, whose Carl Goodman is an obvious callback to Doc Brown from “Back to the Future,” and Jerry O’Connell who is appropriately abrasive as the sleazy Derrick Jones. The movie thoughtfully saves the most gruesome demise for his character. On the other hand, Elisabeth Shue (whom I generally like) is miscast as Sheriff Forester. Greg Nicotero of TV’s “The Walking Dead” is credited as Key Special Makeup Effects Supervisor. That might account for how well done the carnage looks overall, however this movie is such an insane bloodbath that I just can’t seem to care after a while. If you’re looking for a good Alexandre Aja-directed remake, watch 2006’s “The Hills Have Eyes,” instead.

25. Piranha (1978)

Director: Joe Dante

Starring: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Steele, Dick Miller, Belinda Balaski

If “Grizzly” is to be considered as a “Jaws” rip-off, then what does that make 1978’s “Piranha”? This Roger Corman-produced cult classic was such a clear cash-in on the success of “Jaws” that Universal Studios threatened but did not go through with a lawsuit that could have prevented the release of “Piranha.” Like a kid being told by their parents which films are not okay for them to watch, I have no doubt that this action by Universal caused at least some to want to see “Piranha” even more. It’s a good thing they did because, while “Piranha” may stand as an inferior cousin to “Jaws,” it’s a good enough horror movie all on its own.

After two youngsters go missing during a late night swim in a pool that doesn’t belong to them, Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) is sent to find them. She needs someone to help her find her way around the area, and that’s where Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) comes in. Paul used to be a respected figure, but all anyone knows him by these days is as the town drunk. Their search leads them to the facility where we saw the kids go missing/get eaten. Worried that the two may have drowned, Maggie decides to drain the pool without first determining what its intended purpose is. This is always the thing to do when barging in uninvited, because taking actions which have unforeseen consequences never results in catastrophe.

The two are confronted by Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy), who they knock unconscious as he tries frantically to stop the pool from draining. When he comes to, he tries to commandeer their jeep, but he’s so out of it that he crashes it a short time after. So Maggie and Paul take Hoak back to his place and watch over him to make sure he’s not badly messed up, and they bring Hoak along when they use his raft. As he wakes up, he notices Maggie dragging her fingers through the water and stops her. When she asks why, he explains that he’s been continuing a Vietnam War bioweapon experiment involving a school of piranha. This is why the tank had been filled with salt water, as Maggie and Paul had discovered. The carnivorous fish had been trained to survive in salt water, and releasing them endangers not just the lives of those at a nearby summer camp but everywhere else should the piranhas be allowed to get far enough downriver and multiply.

We lose Dr. Hoak shortly after this, which is sad because Kevin McCarthy is so good in the role, but necessary to help keep the plot moving along. Without Hoak’s guidance, it’s up to Maggie and Paul to fix the mess they themselves have helped to create. I would add the words “before it gets any worse,” but you know better than that. When it does get worse, boy this movie does not screw around! After calling the military for help and being locked up to prevent the media from being alerted, Maggie and Paul have to waste more time busting out of lockup. Meanwhile the school of piranha is in the process of attacking the summer camp. “Jaws” made a big deal out of the shark eating one child. The piranhas attack anyone and everyone swimming around in the water. This includes most of the children and one of the counselors, resulting in several deaths and other serious injuries. Paul’s daughter Suzie (Shannon Collins), one of the young campers, remains unharmed due to the fact that she’s afraid of swimming.

A resort promoted by Buck Gardner (Dick Miller) is the piranhas’ next target. Gardner receives many warnings about the piranhas, but has laughed them off as the ravings of a drunkard. When the piranhas eat many of the guests and some military personnel, Gardner is panic-stricken and horrified. Maggie and Paul then come up with one last plan to stop the piranha from spreading. It seems to be effective, nearly resulting in Paul’s death, though the film’s ending leaves room for a possible sequel. That sequel does eventually happen, but even director James Cameron would tell you to stay away from “Piranha II: The Spawning.” There’s also a 1995 made-for-TV remake, a 2010 theatrical remake, and a sequel to the 2010 film.

“Piranha” is able to present a believable aquatic foe for our protagonists largely due to its low budget, which prevents the piranha from being shown in much more than quick cuts. It is also aided by terrific direction from Joe Dante, who would go on to helm other horror classics such as “The Howling” and “Gremlins.” Also adding to the proceedings is a fantastic supporting cast. In addition to Kevin McCarthy and Dick Miller, Barbara Steele is great as the shady Dr. Mengers, a scientist working with the military to try and keep the situation from exploding into a media circus. “Piranha” is already good, but it could have been even better were it not for the fact that the leads spend the entire movie trying to end a deadly situation they unwittingly helped cause. If you do check it out… and I think you should… don’t bother with the “Jaws” comparisons.