The film has several names depending on the territory. Some people know it as FLYING KILLERS while others know it as THE SPAWINING but we'll just consider it to be PIRANHA 2. Made in 1981 the film shifts its attention to a beach-front community in the Caribbean and tries a lot harder to replicate the tone of JAWS. With Lance Henriksen playing the local sheriff, in a role that obviously imitates Roy Scheider's Brody character, the overall story-arch and darker tone goes for the horror rather than pitching for laughs, although it is still very tongue in cheek (it has to be).
Being a tacky B-movie many would argue that playing it straight was the film's undoing and while there is no question that the film is hugely flawed, I also think that it's massively underrated. People at the time misunderstood it and critics took it far too seriously. As if the original film wasn't comical enough to prepare folk for the sequel it would seem that even the concept of flying fish launching airborne attacks on beach-goers wasn't enough to calm people's reactions. The opening scene is hilarious as we follow two divers swimming amongst a ship wreck. The woman takes off all of her clothes, pulls out a knife and cuts the guy's speedo's off. Their raunchy and gratuitous fuck-session is rudely interrupted by a frenzied school of killer piranhas. The film suddenly cuts to a very cool Hitchcockian credit sequence and the mood of the movie is well established.
Anyone reading this should have a mind for B-movies and would probably know that PIRANAH 2 is credited as James Cameron's first feature film. Obviously embarrassed by the movie, he continues to deny it as his debut and remains adamant that TERMINATOR is his first film. His reasoning for disowning PIRANHA 2 is that he was fired after only a week's worth of shooting and was replaced. His story is widely disputed and most agree that he did, in fact, complete the shoot but was denied any involvement in the editing process. A famous Hollywood legend has it that he snuck into the edit room and re-cut the film, only to be caught and the film then re-cut back to it's previous form. It's difficult to get a clear story of the production and with his embarrassment of it, the production history is rich with tall-tales and contradictions. Nevertheless James Cameron did co-write the script (using a pseudonym), he did work on the visual FX and he did shoot the film. Whether or not he was present for other aspects is irrelevant and his involvement was enough to warrant the director's credit. Cameron continues to be quizzed about PIRANHA 2 and years of prodding have forced him to concede some liability. He famously joked that “I believe that The Spawning was the finest flying piranha movie ever made”.
Technically the film is good. Considering its genre, budget and era it holds up surprisingly well thanks to Cameron's competent direction. Most of the shots are framed well and the underwater sequences are top notch (foreshadowing his fascination with underwater filmmaking). Where the film flounders (sorry, I had to) is in it's editing. The story is stretched out beyond what is necessary and too many scenes overstay their welcome. Most of the action scenes are chopped up as to conceal the hokey effects, and consequently the narrative is stifled. But heck, its so much damn fun regardless.
PIRANHA 2 might not live up to Joe Dante's original film but it does have its own charm and it dared to be more outrageous than it's predecessor. 30+ years on and people still watch it with a cultish enthusiasm and it continues to hold its place as a trashy b-movie classic. A worthy Number Two!
Originally written for Optic Intake Magazine.