CORMANIA!!! Two Cents Film Club Takes a Bite Into Classic Corman Production – Joe Dante’s PIRANHA

1978 Corman/Dante collab Piranha is next up in a month of honoring independent film legend Roger Corman

Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

James Cameron, Francis Coppola, Gale Anne Hurd, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, James Horner, and Martin Scorsese all have something common: they all got their start working with Roger. And that’s FAR from a comprehensive list. Amazingly, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that Roger Corman may be the single most influential filmmaker of the last century. As a director, he pioneered the art of crafting movies with low budgets and high returns. As a producer, he perfected it. His productions have lent a start to scores of actors and filmmakers, including many of the biggest names in Hollywood.

This month on Two Cents we look back on the legacy of a legend and say THANK YOU, in our own way, to the late, great Roger Corman.

Next up is the 1978 creature feature that truly launched Joe Dante’s career. As noted above, Corman liked to take a chance on young, lesser known filmmakers… and, in the case of this film, it paid off. One of Corman’s most recognizable films and the film that put Dante on the map, some will argue Piranha simply a Jaws ripoff and others love it so much that they have given it true cult status. Both of these arguments hold weight, of course. Is it a Jaws ripoff? Indeed… but it’s also so much more to many of us.

Without further ado, we celebrate the master with a look at Piranha!

Ed Travis

Sure it’s an unrepentant Jaws rip-off, but hot damn it sure is a fun one! I had a blast with Joe Dante and Roger Corman’s Piranha, and it felt like the kind of movie that everyone involved had a blast making as well. Cheap without feeling lacking, funny on purpose, and paced like a race against time, this little slice of the 70s knows precisely what it is and welcomes the viewer along for the ride.

I was particularly impressed with the creative low budget ways that the crew found to depict a school of raging killer fish. Sure, there are some cheesy effects that don’t really work. But most of the time the rubber fish on the end of poles shaking around, paired with fun sound effects and tons of fake blood, make for a pretty effective threat.

And all the gore effects and massacre set pieces dispense with any of the subtlety that Jaws may have offered and deliver a better time at the movies than any Jaws sequel ever provided. Oddly despite having seen the more recent 3D and DD reboots, as well as generally being a Joe Dante fan, this was my first ever viewing of Piranha and I’m only sorry that it took the passing of Roger Corman for me to finally check this out. It’s a fun example of what Corman was able to do when he set a filmmaker like Dante loose and you better believe I’ll be checking out the James Cameron-directed sequel as soon as I can. 

(@Ed_Travis on Xitter)

Austin Vashaw

Piranha isn’t necessarily the greatest film to come out of the Corman factory, but it is a superbly entertaining one and certainly demonstrates one of the famed producer’s most critical acumens: the ability to identify and develop talent. Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling, The Burbs) got his start cutting trailers for Corman before getting the chance to occupy the director’s chair. Piranha, his solo directorial debut (after being teamed with Allan Arkush on Hollywood Boulevard), may be thought of as a Jaws knock-off, but it’s stylistically pretty unique, and you can already start to see the the emergence of the Dante brand: humor mixed with horror, a love of monsters, distrust of bureaucracy, and of course an exceptional supporting cast. A mix of genre veterans like Kevin McCarthy, Barbara Steele, and Keenan Wynn, and many future repeat collaborators, including McCarthy, Belinda Balasky, Paul Bartel, and most notably Dick Miller.

Like Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Francis Coppola, Ron Howard, Jack Hill, and many other beloved directors, Joe Dante is absolutely representative of how Corman could attract great people and help them grow – while consistently making fun movies and turning a profit in the process.

@VforVashaw on Xitter

Julian Singleton

Despite being a rip-off of Spielberg’s Jaws, I ended up seeing this film before both Spielberg’s film and even Dante’s later Gremlins. It worked wonders for getting me to go swimming in the lakes and rivers of nearby San Marcos, where Piranha was actually shot. Revisiting the film, I completely forgot just how hilarious it really is. Dante’s script, co-written by none other than John Sayles, has some amazing one-liners (“They’re eating the guests, sir.”) that pepper the right amount of laughs among the bubbles of blood.

Bradford Dillman does his best James Brolin impression as a self-serious stoic, macho hero; Heather Menzies-Urich is a wonderfully gung-ho heroine matching him at every turn. I totally forgot that Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ Kevin McCarthy shows up as the ill-fated scientist, as well as Dick Miller stepping into Murray Hamilton’s shoes as a slimy waterpark owner. All of them sell the increasingly bizarre and gory shenanigans with aplomb, delivering as much gravitas to this as they would have to Spielberg’s original film.

What especially bowled me over was the editing – the tension was so high every time these demonic fish struck, with each cut nipping at the viewer like the razor-teeth on screen. It heightens the fantastic effects work by legends Rob Bottin and Phil Tippett early in their careers, turning submerged rubber puppets on sticks into the stuff of nightmares.

Piranha has the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humor coupled with amazingly economic screen craft, which epitomizes just what a producer like Roger Corman brought out in the creatives he took under his wing.

(@Gambit1138 on Xitter)

Justin Harlan

If you know me and my wife, you know that one of our greatest pleasure in this life is watching underwater creature features. From classic predators like Jaws to underwater sci-fi like Leviathan to the shittiest of “shitty shark movies”… we can’t get enough. Naturally, Joe Dante’s 1978 Piranha is amongst the ones we rewatch annually. While the over-the-top big budget remake and sequel from more recent years are a blast, the sequel deserves its flowers, and the 80s TV remake is fun – none are on the level of Dante’s original in terms of overall enjoyability factor.

Almost everything hits perfectly. The weird science monologuing can get a bit tedious, but the absurdity of the monologues even makes those enjoyable in their own way. In fact, if you were to rewatch this film while partaking in some medical grade cannabis edibles, those particular scenes just may rank among the best. If you need proof, just know that I have done the research… for scientific purposes, naturally.

(@thepaintedman on Xitter)


Our June block of films pays respect to legendary independent producer and director Roger Corman, who passed away in May. We’ve covered many of his films before, including here on Two Cents, but for Cormania, we’ve curated an eclectic lineup of films that we feel say something about him not only as a producer and director, but as a rebel and visionary as well.

Got something to say? We’d love to have you join us!

Upcoming picks:

June 24 – LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960) 

Previous post Powered-Up GODZILLA x KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE Romps onto Feature-Packed 4K Blu-ray
Next post THE BIKERIDERS Explores the Depth of the American Man’s Soul