BASTARD PUPS OF JAWS: Piranha II: The Spawning (1981)

Any movie that starts with a couple taking off their scuba equipment to make love underwater inside sunken ship and then being devoured by a school of mutant flying piranha before a James Bond style graphics sequence is immediately going to rocket to the top of any to watch list there is. Get ready: Pirahanha II: The Spawning is here, it can fly and it will eat your fleshy bits clean off.

Anne Kimbrough (Tricia O’Neil, Are You in the House Alone?) is the diving instructor for the Hotel Elysium. She tells her class to stay out of the ship wreckage, but some people just don’t listen and become more food for those little biters.

Anne wants to see the body, but her police officer ex-husband Steve (Lance Henriksen, who I remarked was young in this movie and Becca said, “He’s never been young. He’s always been…leathery.”) won’t allow it. 

This movie is packed with all manner of horrible folks set up to be victims. For example, Jai (Carola Davis, one of the few people to ever pose for both Playboy and Penthouse, has had a really interesting life, co-writing “Slow Love” with Prince, appearing as Roxie Shield in Mannequin and performing the song “Serious Money” that was the original theme song for BET’s Rap City) and Loretta are sea bandits who dock at the vacation spot to steal food before sailing back out to their doom as they soon learn that yes, piranha can fly.

Marine biologist Tyler Sherman (Steve Marachuk, The Eyes of Laura Mars) keeps trying to get with Anne, so for some reason, she takes him to the morgue. Beyond being a diving instructor, she’s was once a marine biologist so that relationship is a natural. They start taking pictures of the dead bodies, but a nurse kicks them out. This is where we learn another important untrue fact about piranha: they can hide inside dead bodies, then fly across the room and kill nurses.

Anne and Tyler beat feet and then do some horizontal mambo. While he sleeps, she studies the photos and is frightened. It gets worse — her ex-old man finds the credit card and comes back to their old house to throw it at her, get mad she’s getting lucky and accuses her of murder. Like I said before, Piranha II: The Spawning is packed with horrible folks.

Much like all films where man — or woman — battle the terrors of the deep, Anne tries to do the right thing and cancel all dives. Raoul, her manager, fires her in response, so she does the only sane — or insane — thing: try and capture a flying piranha as proof. That’s when Tyler drops a bombshell on her: he’s really a biochemist who was part of a team that developed the ultimate weapon, a genetically modified killer fish that can fly. I guess ultimate weapon may be stretching it, because it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you can unleash in a city or the desert or in cold weather. Man, let’s not bring logic into this. Let’s just go with it: flying piranha are the ultimate weapon.

Can it get worse? Sure it can. The piranha are running out of food and turning on one another, which means they will eat anything and everything they can. Anne tries to reason with the resort manager one more time and her ex is even on her side this time, if only to tell her that Tyler is crazy.

Oh yeah — there’s a fisherman whose son gets killed by the piranha and he tries to get revenge and well, it doesn’t go so well.

Of course, while this is all going on, Raoul decides that the resort should have a midnight grunion catching party because that seems like a fun idea for a singles ready to mingle place. Of course, the piranha attack and absolutely decimate anyone and everyone in their path.

Here’s another untrue piranha fact: they are afraid of daylight. Tyler and Anne decide to chase them back to their coffin, err, their sunken ship and taking a cue from every other undersea monster movie, blow it up real good.

What could make all of this even worse? Well, it turns out that Anne and Steve’s son Chris has snuck around behind their back to work for Captain Dumont, with the hope of getting with his daughter Allison. You guessed it — they’re stranded right in the path of the flying fish.

Luckily, everything works out. Chris and Allison survive, free to hopefully spawn themselves someday soon. Anne and Tyler blow up the sunken ship and take out every single little fishie. And Tyler even has the good sense to get chewed up by the monster fish, allowing Steve to not look like a moron that wrecked his own helicopter for no reason and instead the hero that saved his soon to be not ex-wife.

Here’s yet another untrue fact: this film is the first movie directed by James Cameron. Well, parts of it are. Here’s the true story.

The original director was another graduate of the Roger Corman training school, Miller Drake. His script was all about Kevin McCarthy replaying his character from the first movie, coming back from the dead to create flying piranha and even killing Barbara Steele’s character. Producer Assonitis fired him and replaced him with Cameron, who was originally going to do the special effects.

After the first week of shooting, Cameron learned that he was there strictly to follow Assonitis’ orders. There are claims that he wasn’t allowed to see or edit the footage and even broke into the editing room to create his own cut.

Cameron has said, “He just fired me and took over, which is what he wanted to do when he hired me. It wasn’t until much later that I even figured out what had happened. It was like, “Oh, man, I thought I was doing a good job.” But when I saw what they were cutting together, it was horrible. And then the producer wouldn’t take my name off the picture because [contractually] they couldn’t deliver it with an Italian name.”

Lance Henriksen has also stated that the making of this movie was probably the worst time of his life. There was no budget for his uniform, so he bought a waiter’s outfit for $75 and found some badges, then hand carved a gun handle to at least look like an actual harbor officer.

Cameron’s been quoted as saying that this gets better halfway through if you’re drinking a six-pack at the drive-in. I’ll agree — this is a movie made for a large group of people and a variety of substances. I enjoyed it, but as we all know, I’m not really known for having highbrow tastes.

You can get this on blu ray from Shout! Factory.

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