Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)

... aka: Flying Killer - Piranha 2
... aka: Piranha II
... aka: Piranha II: Flying Killers
... aka: Piranha II: The Spawning
... aka: Spawning, The

Directed by:
Ovidio G. Assonitis (uncredited)
James Cameron

There's a lot of gossip and conflicting stories about what went down on this troubled production. Producer / uncredited co-director Ovidio G. Assonitis has stated that James Cameron was fired for doing a terrible job and threatening to send them way over budget. Cameron stated he was fired after a couple of weeks but only because Assonitis was a control freak who gave him no room to work; suggesting the producer wanted to direct the film all along and intentionally hired someone inexperienced just so he could quickly cast them aside and do as he pleased. Producer Jeff Schechtman (whose story may be closest to the truth) confirms that Cameron was possibly overextending the budget but also stated the problems were really Assonitis' fault as he was "a major pain in the ass" to work with. Though the direction is credited solely to Cameron due to early contractual agreements, he claims to have had no hand in editing the film, no hand in writing the screenplay and essentially no further involvement with the movie at all after his firing early on. In other words, the finished product is mostly the work of Assonitis, who really should thank his lucky stars Cameron's name is signed to this project because otherwise it would have been long forgotten by now.

The three stars are Tricia O'Neil (who reminded me a lot of Adrienne Barbeau), Lance Henriksen and Steve Marachuk. O'Neil is Anne Kimbrough, a divorced single mother with marine biology training working as a scuba instructor at an upscale resort hotel called Club Elysium somewhere in the Caribbean. Henriksen is local police chief Steve Kimbrough; Anne's ex-husband and father to her only son (Ricky Paull Goldin). Marachuk is Tyler Sherman, who starts out wooing Anne as one of her students but then reveals himself to be a biochemist who was involved in a top secret project that involved splicing genes from various types of fish to create "the ultimate killing machine." A cargo ship containing four canisters of fertilized eggs from the project sunk and even since people have mysteriously disappeared around the wreck. Hmmm... Either way, someone told O'Neil, Henriksen and Marachuk they were starring in a serious horror film and they all act accordingly. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the rest of the cast that and they ham it up unmercifully.

The roster of ridiculous supporting characters (many of whom seem to have been re-dubbed and thus come off even sillier than they already do) include: 1. A sexually voracious woman who more or less date rapes her boyfriend underwater before both are gobbled up by the fish. 2. A flamboyant resort owner (Ted Richert) who insists on being a judge for the "Mr. Muscle" contest and refuses to cancel a midnight "fish fry" despite the ever-rising body count. 3. An obnoxious millionaire who knows nothing about boats but demands being called "Captain" and his big-breasted teen daughter (Leslie Graves). 4. A pair of freeloading tramps who sunbathe topless on their yacht. 5. A stuttering, geeky cook #4 like to torment with sexual come-ons they have no intentions of carrying through with. 6. A frizzy-haired New Yawk single obsessed with ensnaring a rich husband to the point where she pretends to drown so a dentist will save her. 7. A Jamaican dynamite fisherman who avenges his dead son by standing still and just letting the fish kill him. 8. A horny old cougar who attempts to get a "casual encounter" out of a lifeguard by telling him she killed her ex-husband with too much sex. And there are others just as silly.

The main gimmick here is that the killer fish (which are technically grunion and not even piranha despite the title) can fly. Yes, FLY. They can flutter their wings, leap right out of the water, fly right at you and chew your face off. They can also survive long periods of time out of water; a skill really only used once when one hops out of a corpse to chew up a black female morgue attendant. The real money shot here should have been mass carnage at the finale where the fish start attacking all of the dumb hotel staff / guests we've been introduced to throughout the film. Unfortunately, it's over before it can even get any good. Alexandre Aja's Piranha 3D (2010) is supposedly a "remake" of the original film but actually has much more in common with this sequel. Its blood-soaked finale with dozens upon dozens of annoying Spring Breakers getting slaughtered in gruesome ways is exactly how this film should of ended but doesn't. There's simply not enough payoff.

Joe Dante's original PIRANHA (1978) was a wonderful JAWS-inspired low-budgeter that ended up becoming very successful, so it's no surprise at all this sequel was green lit. However, while the original mixed horror and comedy seamlessly, this film does it rather horribly and almost seems like two parallel films going on at once; a goofy resort comedy and a serious creature feature. The three leads are all pretty good and hold up their end but the humorous elements are much broader, much dumber and much more aggressively campy that in the original. This is also sleazier, with ample T&A provided by a host of women, including Carole Davis (who was a 1980 Penthouse Pet under the name "Tamara Kapitas") and Connie Lynn Hadden (a 1981 Pet). Graves, who began her career on "Sesame Street" (!), had appeared nude in Oui magazine around this same time, though she gets to keep her clothes on here. There are also some gory moments courtesy of Giannetto De Rossi, who is best known for his work with Lucio Fulci.

For the record there are no less than three different cuts of this film in circulation with run times ranging from 84 to 94 minutes. There are not only changes in the editing and Stelvio Cipriani's music score depending on the version you watch but also changes in the scene order. The shorter version has also omitted almost all of the nudity and some of the gore. The Columbia/Tri-Star DVD release, which presents the widescreen film in full screen, is one of the worst transfers I've ever seen from a "reputable" major company.


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