Piranha is a 1978 American comedy horror film about a swarm of killer piranhas. It was directed by Joe Dante and starred Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn and Dick Miller. Produced by Roger Corman, Piranha is a parody of the 1975 film Jaws, which had been a major success for distributor Universal Studios and director Steven Spielberg, and inspired a series of similarly themed B movies such as Grizzly, Tintorera, Tentacles, Orca, Monster Shark and Great White.
Piranha was followed by a sequel, Piranha II: The Spawning, in 1981, and two remakes, one in 1995, and another in 2010, which got it,s own sequel in 2012. The film was shot at Aquarena Springs in San Marcos, Texas. Screenwriter John Sayles used the proceeds to fund his own films.
- They came downriver in their thousands. Their teeth could strip a living man to the bone in seconds.
- A hideous death lurked unseen in the river...
- Lost River Lake was a thriving resort - until they discovered...
- They're here...Hungry for flesh! Who can stop them?
- There's something in the water at Lost River Lake. Something you can't see...something you can't feel...until it's too late!
- Then... you were shocked by the great white shark - Now... you are at the mercy of 1000 jaws!
Two teenagers exploring at night come upon an apparently abandoned military installation. They take advantage of what appears to be a swimming pool to skinny dip. The teenagers are attacked by an unseen force and disappear under the water. A light activates in the main building and a silhouetted figure investigates the screams, but is too late to help.
A determined but somewhat absent-minded insurance investigator named Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) is dispatched to find the missing teenagers near Lost River Lake. She hires surly backwoods drunkard Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) to serve as her guide. They come upon the abandoned compound, which functioned as a fish hatchery prior to being militarized. They discover bizarre specimens in jars and indications of an occupant. Maggie locates the drainage switch for the outside pool and decides to empty it to search the bottom, but the moment she activates it a haggard and frantic man attacks her, attempting to stop the draining until he is subdued by Grogan. The two find a skeleton in the filtration trap of the empty pool, and learn it was filled with salt water. The man awakens and steals their jeep, but crashes it due to his disorientation, and is taken to Grogan's home where they spend the night. They take Grogan's homemade raft down the river, where the man wakes up and tells them that the pool in the facility was filled with a school of piranhas, and that Maggie released them into the river. They are skeptical until they come across the corpse of Grogan's friend Jack (Keenan Wynn), who has bled to death from an attack on a fishing dock.
The man reveals himself to be Doctor Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy), the lead scientist of a defunct Vietnam War project, Operation: Razorteeth, which was tasked with engineering a ravenous and prodigious strain of piranha that could endure the cold water of the North Vietnamese rivers and inhibit Viet Cong movement. The project was shut down when the war ended, but some of the mutant specimens survived the poisoning protocols, and Hoak tended to them to salvage his work. Grogan realizes that if the local dam is opened, The School will have access to the Lost River water park (a tourist trap) and summer camp on the other side, where his daughter is in attendance. Traveling downriver they encounter a capsized canoe with a boy whose father has been killed by the fish. Hoak rescues the boy but suffers mortal injuries when The School attacks him; he dies before he can tell how to kill them. Blood from Hoak's corpse causes the piranha to tear away the raft's lashings, and they barely get to shore. Grogan stops the dam attendant from opening the spillway and calls the military.
A military team led by Colonel Waxman (Bruce Gordon) and former Razorteeth scientist Dr. Mengers (Barbara Steele) feed poison into the upstream section, ignoring the protests that the fish survived the first attempt. When Grogan discovers that a tributary bypasses the dam, Waxman and Mengers quarantine them to prevent the agitated pair from alerting the media. When they escape, Waxman alerts law enforcement to capture them. The School attacks the summer camp during a swimming marathon, injuring many and killing two.
The School continues downriver. Waxman and Mengers arrive at the water park to intercept Grogan and Maggie, but the piranha attack the resort, killing many, including Waxman. Grogan and Maggie commandeer a speedboat and rush to the shuttered smelting plant at the narrowest point of the river. Remembering the empty facility pond, Grogan realizes the fish can survive in salt water; if the school passes the delta, they will reach the ocean and spread over the entire world. He intends to open the smelting refuse tanks, hoping that the industrial waste will kill the fish. They arrive at the plant ahead of the fish, but the elevated water level has submerged the control office, and Grogan must go underwater; he ties a rope around his waist and instructs Maggie to count to 100 before pulling him out. Grogan struggles to move the rusted valve wheel when The School arrives and attacks him. The assault hyperadrenalizes him, and he manages to open the valves just as Maggie guns the engine and pulls him to safety. Maggie takes Grogan back to the water park, where a massive MEDEVAC is tending to the victims; his injuries are severe and he is seen in a catatonic state.
Mengers gives an on-site television interview, providing a sanitized version of events and downplaying the existence of piranha. Her voice is heard carrying out over a radio on the shore of a West Coast beach. As she says "there's nothing left to fear", the piranha's characteristic trilling sound drowns out the waves on a beach, indicating that the fish have made it to the ocean.
- Bradford Dillman - Paul Grogan
- Heather Menzies - Maggie McKeown
- Kevin McCarthy - Dr. Robert Hoak
- Keenan Wynn - Jack
- Dick Miller - Buck Gardner
- Barbara Steele - Dr. Mengers
- Belinda Balaski - Betsy
- Melody Thomas Scott - Laura Dickinson
- Bruce Gordon - Colonel Waxman
- Barry Brown - Trooper
- Paul Bartel - Mr. Dumont
- Shannon Collins - Suzie Grogan
Based on reviews from 22 critics collected by the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 68% gave Piranha a positive review.
The film was released theatrically in the United States by New World Pictures in August 1978.
In 2004, New Concorde Home Entertainment released the film on special edition DVD. This version is currently out of print.
In 2010, Shout! Factory re-released Piranha on DVD and Blu-ray.
Piranha was first remade in 1995, and this version was also produced by Roger Corman and originally debuted on Showtime. It used footage from the original for certain sequences.
The next remake was Piranha 3D in 2010, directed by Alexandre Aja.
The newest remake is Piranha 3DD.