Piranha II: The Spawning [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (13th September 2018).
The Film

If not for the brief involvement of mega-director James Cameron, “Piranha II: The Spawning” (1981) would be little more than a footnote in the annals of infamous Italian horror sequels. Cameron, by his own account, worked on the film for around three weeks before being unceremoniously fired by executive producer Ovidio Assonitis, who then took over helming the remainder of the production. None of the ingenuity and style for which Cameron is known can be seen in “Piranha II”, and the final product more closely resembles the aquatic horror of “Tentacles” (1977), another Assonitis film. Both films feature the same composer, Stelvio Cipriani, whose compositions elevate each tremendously, and a glance at the crew list would likely reveal a number of returning names, too. Point being, just because Cameron’s name remains on the final cut (which is due to a contractual obligation) it doesn’t mean it is his film.

A couple’s underwater sex session is savagely cut short in the film’s opening double murder before we are introduced to the staff and tourists at Hotel Elysium. Steve (Lance Henriksen) is a local police officer who cruises the waves in his skiff, keeping the peace in this quiet seaside community. His estranged wife, Anne (Tricia O’Neil), is a scuba instructor who takes tourists on underwater adventures. When one of her students is found half-eaten during a dive, Anne is forced to work with Steve as he tries to solve the mystery. Affecting their working relationship is Tyler (Steve Marachuk), a visiting hunk who learns Anne is married the worst way possible – when Steve walks into their bedroom unannounced. But then, Steve just walks away like it’s par for the course.

While everyone is trying to figure out what ate our hapless diver, the coroner learns the truth later that night – which, of course, means he is going to die. It seems one of the coastal creatures hitched a ride up to the mainland within the dead diver’s body, and it flies out at the opportune moment to add another kill to its list. Then, it flies away. Oh, boy… Turns out Tyler knows a bit more about these predatory piranha than anyone else, though his knowledge comes too little too late as a major party happening at the resort suddenly finds itself packed to the gills with a hundred extra guests.

This is a bad movie. Cameron once famously described it as “the finest flying killer fish horror/comedy ever made” and, seeing as how there are no other challengers to that throne, he is technically right. Lance Henriksen, unsurprisingly, steals the show delivering a sweaty, serious performance that is leagues above anyone else in the cast. The best compliment I can afford the many piranha deaths is most are unique since it isn’t very often you see a flying fish latch onto a man’s jugular. But these fish… they look less like fearsome predators and more like the sort of cheap, molded toy you might buy in bulk at a 99 cent store - hardly the stuff of nightmares. Most of the mutilation mileage comes courtesy of half-eaten corpses, which are frequently featured. I think the producers were hoping the shock of seeing a flesh-and-skeleton floater would distract viewers from the fact that whatever ate the person looks like a rubbery pancake with eyes.

Once again, Stelvio Cipriani does the heavy lifting by delivering a score that should be employed in a better film. Even the worst Italian horror films often feature lavish, lush compositions by some of the industry’s most proficient composers. Morricone probably has 50 such titles under his own belt alone. Cipriani’s score swings from rum-soaked Caribbean cruise cuts over to symphonic suites with ease, showcasing his flair for variety as well as his mastery of main title themes. Every film he has composed for should come with a CD soundtrack as a mandatory bonus feature. His work is that good.

Cameron reportedly was able to cut his own version of the film, or he broke into the editing room and made an attempt as apocryphal tales have claimed, but the version included here is the cut assembled by Assonitis. I’d be curious to see Cameron’s original vision, but I have my doubts it would be any better than the current version.

Video

Scream! Factory has gone back to the original negative and created a new 2K scan, giving new HD life to the 1.85:1 1080p image. The picture is still slightly soft and a bit gauze-y, with average detailing and so-so fine detail. Colors are richly saturated, selling the heat-soaked environment of the coast. The blue of the ocean is bright and crisp. Film grain is moderate though at times a bit static, too. Black levels are consistent and often deep.

Audio

An English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track gets the job done, with clean – and clearly ADR-ed – dialogue. At times the track sounds a bit canned (go figure) but Stelvio Cipriani’s score is given ample room to swell and breathe in lossless; that’s enough to keep my ears satisfied. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

“Interview with Actor Ricky Paull Goldin” (1080p) interview runs for 15 minutes and 55 seconds – The actor has fond memories of shooting in Jamaica and working alongside such future heavyweights as Henriksen and Cameron.

“Interview with Make-Up Effects Artist Brian Wade” (1080p) interview runs for 14 minutes and 9 seconds – Don’t expect to hear much about the film’s behind-the-scenes drama but Wade does respond to criticism about the piranha design and his history with Cameron.

A theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 1 minute and 50 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

Sure, this might be the “finest flying fish movie ever made” but the only reason most viewers are giving it a spin is because of the credited director. Most will be disappointed. For me, even as a fan of low-budget Italian schlock, this is a snoozer that is saved by a stellar score and the big party scene where most of the resort guests are savagely eaten.

The Film: C- Video: B- Audio: B Extras: C+ Overall: C+

 


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