Friday, October 05, 2012

Blood in the Water

It's kind of refreshing to see exploitation as shameless and in your face as what one finds in Alexandre Aja's remake of Piranha (2010). It's vicious little film that indulges in the basest pleasure of the genre: tits and blood. Tits and blood in copious amounts. It's kind of a throwback to the bad old days of exploitation. I don't know that it makes the movie particularly good, but it's a nice purity of purpose, and it occasionally shocked a laugh out of me with its sheer nastiness.

An underground earthquake has released a school of prehistoric piranhas into Lake Victoria, Arizona. The piranhas have presumably been dormant in some underground antechamber beneath the lake. Unfortunately for the town of Lake Victoria, it's spring break, and the local constabulary have their hands full with rowdy college students. The sheriff is Julie Forester, who is hard-nosed about her job. Her son, Jake, is a good kid who has only a hint of rebellion in him. He resents being stuck at home babysitting his two younger siblings while the party rages around him. He has the hots for Kelly, who kinda likes him back, but when he's accosted by one of the visiting porn stars who also takes a shine to him, Jake suddenly finds himself hired as a location scout. He has to do this on the sly, given his babysitting duties, so he pays his little sister sixty bucks for her silence and heads out onto the lake with the porn crew. The head of this crew is Derrick, who spots Kelly in the crowd, and she comes along, too, mostly to spite Jake. Meanwhile, Jake's siblings also head out onto the lake. Meanwhile, Julie and her deputies are investigating the disappearance of retired oceanographer, Matt, who was last seen on the lake during the earthquake. Her divers are the first to fall victim to the piranhas, and soon, she and her officers are trying to wrangle the party out of the water. Meanwhile, Derrick and his crew have their own problems. He's frustrated at the slow pace of his shoot, and he resents the fact that Jake bullies him into rescuing Jake's brother and sister. Derrick is kind of a dick (a trait amplified by the blow he's snorting), and he grounds their boat while piloting in a fit of rage. At the party and around the boat, the feeding frenzy is about to commence.

As befits a remake of a Joe Dante movie, this starts off as a self-referential movie. The first victim of the piranhas is Matt, played in a glorified cameo by Richard Dreyfuss. The movie says his last name is Boyd, but while he's out on his boat, he's humming "Show Me The Way to Go Home," which marks him as an alternate universe version of Matt Hooper. After this bit of meta-cinema, Aja (perhaps wisely) drops the kind of in-jokes that Dante specialized in. Maybe he was irked at the fact that he couldn't get the cameos he wanted from Dante and James Cameron (director of Piranha II). In any event, the end result is a movie that retains the original film's mean streak without its knowing wit. It favors, instead, a kind of brute force humor, in which gore occasionally functions as slapstick, while it also occasionally functions as grue. A lot of this film's grislier set-pieces play like they were dreamed up by a gore-loving 13-year-old after mainlining old E. C. Comics. The scene where the parasailer lifts out of the water without any legs, for instance, is worthy of Johnny Craig at his ghastliest. Certainly, Derrick is the kind of villain E. C. specialized in, and his ultimate fate--in which the asshole pornographer gets his penis bitten off by the piranhas--seems like something Al Feldstein might have done if he could have gotten away with it. Or maybe not. It's a bit on the nose, especially when we see Derrick's member float lazily through the water. We also see one of his actress's boob implants float by in the same shot. This isn't exactly subtle. I do like the pulp exuberance with which all of this is staged. Good taste be damned.

I'm almost ashamed of the fact that I was so entertained by this movie, because I know that it's pretty bad, and worse, I know that it's particularly retrograde when it comes to the horror genre's usual moral universe. This is a movie that relishes the punishment it doles out to its crowds of snotty bourgeois college kids; I'm sure that townies everywhere (but particularly on Padre island or Fort Lauderdale) probably get a sadistic thrill out of this. This goes hardcore slasher movie in the coding of its characters deaths when it focuses more intently on Jake, Kelly, and Derrick's predicaments, given that it's the virtuous kids who survive, while the depraved sluts and drug-snorting pimps are devoured. This bothers me a bit.

The cast for this film is ridiculously good for the nature of the film. Certainly, Elizabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, and Richard Dreyfuss are high-rent actors. Jerry O'Donnell is probably about right for the movie, though, while Kelly Brook and Riley Steele were surely cast for their physical attributes. I should note that their underwater pas de deux briefly turns the film into an art film (of a soft-core erotic variety) and is unexpectedly lovely given how gaudy the rest of the film is.

In all, not a particularly good film, but an entertaining one, and I discount entertainment value at my peril. I've been seeing a lot of dour, plodding art films lately, and plenty of dour, plodding horror films, too, so this film, with its bold colors and its gleeful sadism was like a jolt of adrenalin. I was already beginning to view the October Challenge as a slog, so this perked me right up. That's got to count for something.

Current tally: 5 film

First time viewings: 5

From Around the Web

Rev. Anna Dynamite over at Dreams in the Bitch House discovers Lionel Atwill and takes in a run of comedies.

Eric at Expelled Grey Matter goes old school with the 1924 version of The Hands of Orlac.

Tim over at The Other Side views Solomon Kane and finds it good.

Another light day for links. Send 'em in, boys and ghouls, and I'll list 'em.


Renee said...

I see our brains are doing that thing again...

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing this when it was in theatres-I was one of only four or so people in the theatre!

By the way, have you seen the new Dredd movie?

Vulnavia Morbius said...

I haven't seen Dredd yet. I think it's still playing. I'll have to look.