Friday, September 23, 2011

Film Friday: Piranha 3D (2010)

I don’t often call for the brutal murder of an entire film crew, but in the case of Piranha, I think it’s necessary. Do not see this film. Seriously. Don’t. Normally, I’m a sucker for these kinds of films, but this is an atrocity.

** spoilers. . . yeah, whatever **
Piranha or Piranha 3D or Piranha 3Ds and an F or whatever it’s called is the story of what happens when an earthquake opens a passage from an underground lake containing super-aggressive, two million year old piranhas to a lake used by hundreds of drunken college kids for spring break. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot involving the sheriff (Elisabeth Shue) who must save her kids, who have gone out on the water on a boat with Jerry O’Connell (Sliders), a porno director, and two porn stars. There’s also a scene with Richard Dreyfus which is supposed to be an homage to Jaws, but isn’t. Jim from Taxi (Christopher Lloyd) has a scene as a scientist. Ving Rhames has a speaking part as a deputy. The rest is sex or carnage.
No. . . Just No.
When I first heard about Piranha, I was actually a little excited. I’m a sucker for films like this because they’re pure escapism. Indeed, when it comes to mindless fun, there’s nothing better than watching some washed up star or never-has-been chasing a giant Dinocroc or Sharktopus or the Abominable Panda. Horrid acting, bad dialog, lousy effects, plots that make no sense and moral dilemmas written by ten year olds. . . it’s all fun. And when these films somehow get a budget and some real actors, the fun goes up a notch!

But Piranha was not fun, it was revolting.

Piranha combines the most violent gross-out moments of Saw or similar torture porn with the over-the-top sleaze of Girls Gone Wild. You will be treated to several minutes of lesbian sex, followed by more naked girls, followed by about 20 minutes of the most disgusting dissections of humans ever. If you can think of something disgusting to do to a human body, they do it in this film. And like all filmmakers with nothing to offer except shock, they carry this on way too long. I’m not kidding when I say the massacre lasts about 20 minutes, with each moment trying to get more disgusting than the prior moment. And this is on top of the gruesome killings that dot the rest of the film.

Cult Classic? Hardly.

Piranha wanted to become a “cult film.” Cult films somehow develop a fanbase despite being truly awful. And those fans will spend money on these films for decades. But like Snakes on a Plane and other manufactured wannabe cult films, Piranha failed. There are two reasons for this.

First, these manufactured films fail because they are marketed wrong. People who enjoy cult films do so because they feel they’ve stumbled upon something the rest of the world missed. A movie like Piranha, by comparison, is sold as a “cool” movie. It’s the difference between finding a cool bar in the bad part of town and having a commercial bar made up to look like a dive. The cult film crowd knows the difference. And if you’re trying to reach the cool kids with your advertising, don’t expect these people to fall for your pitch.

But even more importantly, the whole concept of how they try to manufacture films like Piranha is wrong. Most cult films are truly earnest. The creator had a vision which they loved and they set out to see their vision made into a film. Evil Dead was shot over a period of a year and a half, on a shoestring budget, despite numerous hurdles. Sam Raimi didn’t set out to make a bad movie, he set out to put his vision on film the best he could. Rocky Horror Picture Show, perhaps the greatest cult classic, started out as a play written by a man trying to sort out his gender issues. Neither filmmaker expected commercial success, far from it, but they genuinely believed in what they were making and they weren’t trying to make something that would be mocked.

Piranha on the other hand, like Snakes on a Plane and other attempts at creating a cult classic, was made to be mocked. Studios think the common thread in cult classics is that they are bad films. Indeed, they are so bad and so campy that they seem to a professional as if they were meant to be bad. Hence, studios cynically set out to make bad, campy films when they try to create cult films.

But this completely misses what fans see in cult films. Cult fans aren’t looking for bad movies, they are looking for earnest movies that turned out all wrong. They are looking for films made with a lot of love, but little talent. They see the diamond in the rough, even if no one else does. What Piranha offers is a diamond that’s been scratched up to look rough. Indeed, whereas Evil Dead or Rocky Horror strove to reach their full potential, it’s obvious to anyone watching that Piranha never even tried. Think of it this way, we love the minor league player who gets his shot but just can’t pull it off. . . yet we despise the pro who only gives it half his best effort.

What’s more, the studio is so afraid of being tagged with having made a bad film that they fill these fake cult films with signals to tell you they intended the film to stink. This is downright insulting. It’s like an author taking a chance on some unusual style for their book but then constantly inserting editor's notes to tell you what they did is intentional. Have faith in your work or don’t bother.

Finally, let’s cut to the truth about Piranha. Piranha stinks not because the studio tried to make a bad film, but because it is a bad film. If the studio had any idea how to make this a good film, it would have done so. When it realized it didn't know how to make this film work, it came up with this bullship idea of intentionally making a bad film. In other words, this was the best the studio could do, and all the rest is a cover up. . . it's sour grapes ("I could have done better, but I didn't try."). What’s more, like the studios do with other failures, it tried to hide its failure with over-the-top sex and gore, which it then pretended is all part of the gag. Tell me you can't hear the executives laughing at the "idiots who will buy anything."

So it is without heavy heart that I am calling for the brutal murder of the entire cast and crew of this film. . . except Ving Rhames, I like him.

What are your favorite cult classic? Or giant monster film?


T-Rav said...

Andrew, I can't sanction that demand. Christopher Lloyd is great because he was Doc Brown in Back to the Future, so please exempt him from your "Piranha" jihad. Er...wait...from your "Piranha" quest from liberation...or...oh, now I'm confusing myself.

AndrewPrice said...

All right T-Rav, I'll take Lloyd off the list.... but not the director! No way.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I'm impressed I managed to finish both articles last night! :)

T-Rav said...

So am I Andrew! Thanks for going the extra mile for us, I feel like that debate was important enough we needed a post on it.

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome! I agree. I think it was an important debate and needed to be summarized.

Tam said...

My secret favorite bad monster movie is Tremors. Can't help it.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, I love Tremors. I can't tell you why, I just do. It's a fun movie with great characters and a great cast. I even like Tremors II -- great sense of humor!

LawHawkRFD said...

First there was Piranha, then there was Piranha, Piranha, and now there's Piranha 3d. The whole bunch of them aren't worth a bucket of warm spit. I like vicious monsters and flying body parts as much as the next guy, but c'mon--mutated piranhas? Aren't real piranhas bad enough? Besides, nothing is ever going to top the megalodon jumping out of the water and pulling a jumbo jet out of the air in Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

Oh, and I'm a big fan of Tremors and the first sequel too. My favorite classic monster movie is It Came From Beneath The Sea. I think octopuses are cool, '54 Fords are cool, and giant tentacles bringing down the Golden Gate Bridge are ultra-cool.

LawHawkRFD said...

And did I forget to mention the 2010 blockbuster Mega Piranha starring Tiffany? Never heard of it? Don't worry, neither has anyone else.

Ed said...

I saw part of this the other night. I turned it off halfway through the "carnage", right as the stage collapsed.

I like "Rocky Horror" is that wrong? ;)

T-Rav said...

Personally, I recommend "Spring Break Shark Attack." It's just so hacktastic. Dozens of sharks attacking stupid teenagers at once, and a bunch of them die; the love interests are that girl from The OC--anyone remember that show? It existed--and some guy who's probably in the closet; she gets nearly date-raped by some frat guy caricature, who then gets eaten by a shark--come on, this is gold!

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I have enjoyed all those films! :)

And you're right, that is moment that will not be topped when it brought down the jumbo jet. Whoever thought that ridiculous bit up is probably a genius! LOL!

Tiffany.. yep. LOL!

Urkel was in one a few weeks back too -- giant shark v. giant octopus. Hawaii and Costa Rica got wiped out.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, No that's not wrong... but we're going to pretend it is and laugh at you mercilessly. ;)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I enjoyed that one too.

And you know what was a surprisingly good film? Category 6: Day of Destruction with Brian Dennehy. Skip Category 7 though... that one stunk.

T-Rav said...

Yeah, I agree. Category 6 was good, Category 7 more or less sucked. If I remember right, they took some pretty cheap shots at Dick Cheney.

Speaking of cheap schlock, New York Magazine has an article saying that a third of next year's movies are going to be sequels, reboots, re-releases, etc. The totally creative gems we can look forward to: Journey to the Center of the Earth 2 (HOW?!?!), Underworld 4, Die Hard 5, Scary Movie 5, Step Up 4 (there were three of those?), some other crap, and Titanic in 3-D, because then we can watch Kate Winslet say "I'll never let go, Jack," and then drop him into the water, only now it'll be like she's right in front of us when she's doing it, so it'll be more frustrating when we want to punch her in the face but can't. Um...what was I talking about again?

Oh, right. I might go watch Underworld and Die Hard, because I liked the last of those that I saw, but probably not the others, because they're probably gonna be stupid.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Only a third? That's pretty sad isn't it?

Titanic 3-D... oh joy.

Yeah, I think Cat. 7 included shots at Cheney. But even without that, it just stunk. Cat 6 on the other hand was a surprisingly good story as disaster stories go. It had some pretty decent characters, good effects and the story kept moving nicely. I approve. Plus, I like Dennehy a lot.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I know these CGI things all run together, but how can you get the beasties wrong in the Urkel movie? It was Mega Shark versus Crocosaurus. Urkel tries to kill them with his sonic balls in the Panama Canal, but fails the first time. He then lures them to an underwater volcano, where his sonic balls set off the volcano, the crocosaurus and her eggs are fried, and the attack submarine Urkel used to be on (in?) explodes inside the mega shark (which had obligingly swallowed the sub earlier in an unexpected plot twist). Urkel is of course rescued by a helicopter that swoops him out of the water just before the sub explodes.

You have to pay attention. These plots are more nuanced and more filled with forgettable characters than War and Peace. I hope you see now why a UC Berkeley education is so very much worth the money. LOL

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's the one! Urkel and his sonic balls... which end up being nothing more than a time waste throughout the plot.

I love the dialog in that one. It was especially horrid. I remember whole scenes where the three of them are in the helicopter arguing and I'm thinking, "nothing they just said makes any sense?" And they tried to hide that by just being angry. It was awful... but I enjoyed it. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Um... where to start? I never saw this film, mostly because of the over-the-top gore. I seem to have a gore threshold and I hate that I do because it's preventing me from watching some good movies (and bad ones, too!). Chestbursters and soldiers getting beheaded by CGI bugs are about as much as I can take. Torture porn... not for me by a freaking longshot.

Thankfully, in the case of this film, the best bits are online in glorious HD (wink wink).

In the case of the SyFy Channel stuff, I'd love nothing more than to watch one of these with friends and make fun of it. But I have one friend who hates the idea - he thinks a bad movie needs to be discovered by accident, not purposely sought out for the sole purpose of mocking it.

The Soup usually features clips from these films, including the one that featured Tiffany and Debbie Gibson where they actually say the line, "I think we're alone now."

And I do feel bad for some of these actors. I suppose some, like Lance Henriksen, are journeyman actors and as much as they're respected by nerds like me, they'll also take an easy paycheck. But Brian Dennehy?

AndrewPrice said...


You probably remember Mystery Science Theater? I loved that show and my friends and I all adapted their lines to real life. But I had one friend who just wouldn't watch the show. His reasoning? We tried showing him Gamera and he said, "this could be a good show if they would stop talking over the movie." Um... no. What can I say? Some people just can't think outside of the very, very, very small box.

You should skip Pornranha. I have a pretty high threshold for gore, though I don't particularly "enjoy" it per se, but this one just repulsed me.

I'm honestly not sure what to make of these actors. On the one hand, they are working. And they improve my viewing enjoyment by being in these films. On the other hand, it does seem like slumming.

Henrikson is great. I have no idea why Brian Dennehy did Cat 6? Maybe it was a bigger budget film than we realize?

Yeah, Tiffany v. Debbie Gibson... that was a great moment when they started fighting. LOL!

In terms of "finding" bad films, I don't think it matters how you find them, because it isn't really the "bad" films that have the staying power -- it's the ones that have that something special, where you can see what the creator was trying to do, where you feel like they were so close to doing something good/great. Those are the ones that have staying power and which become cult films.

T-Rav said...

LawHawk, no, no, NO!!! It was "Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus"! Get it right! ;-)

Gordon Winslow said...

I loved Piranha 3-D.

The pacing was fantastic and Elizabeth Shue did exactly the right things in that role. I was looking to drink some beer, watch some carnage, and enjoy myself, and that's exactly what I did.

I've seen plenty of those Sharktocroc movies (a friend inflicts them on me all the time), and this was way more fun. The comparison to torture porn is off-base. I have a strong stomach and I can't watch that stuff, because it seems to ask me to get enjoyment from a bad part of the soul, and I can't do it. I would compare P3D more to Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, although it's not nearly as good a film.

I'm with John Nolte on this one, and I usually agree with you more than Nolte.

Also, your definition of cult movies is off, I think. I'm not sure I have one that's better, but plenty of cult movies aren't awful. Not that the Oscars mean much these days, but Peter Jackson's early works aren't awful. I didn't like Bad Taste, but Meet the Feebles and the aforementioned Dead Alive are brilliant. Katy Bigelow took home the statue not long ago, and her Near Dark is slowly earning its due. Beyond the Oscars, Samuel Fuller's flicks get the Criterion treatment, and Harold and Maude is an undisputed classic.

For the record, I have a framed original poster for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in my living room.

AndrewPrice said...


You make a good point on the torture porn stuff. They seem to revel in the idea that it's cool to torture someone, whereas this was just seeing a bunch of bodies torn apart. So the sadistic element was missing here. Still, this one struck me as just way too far. But that's probably just a matter of taste.

On cult movies, I really do think the key is that the public sees these as bad films whereas the cult film fans see a diamond in the rough. I'm not sure how else to say it. There may be exceptions. Sometimes good films simply get overlooked because of bad marketing or they came out at the wrong time and then they build an audience and eventually get recognized as good films. But I think most cult films continue to be rejected the public at large even after they get recognition by the fans.

I would love to nail down a better way to define them if you have any suggestions?

Gordon Winslow said...

"Cult films somehow develop a fanbase despite being truly awful."

That was what I objected to, and I hope I gave examples to counter it.

"I would love to nail down a better way to define them if you have any suggestions?"

Now that's a tough question. Damn you lawyers. If I'm trying to nail it down, I'd say a movie that attracted a passionate audience despite a lack of recognition from the mainstream. That covers most of them, but I'm not sure it covers them all.

Perhaps the best (if weaselly) answer is that there are different types of cult films. "So bad it's good" is certainly one of those, but "unrecognized masterpiece" is also one. "Diamond in the rough" is a legit third--I think Sam Fuller's films would fall into that category.

There may also be a space for a movie that was actually popular that some people get really obsessed with. I never got Ferris Bueller but I know people who can quote the whole damn thing. Would that count?

AndrewPrice said...

Gordon, I see your point and I agree you listed some good movies that are definitely cult movies. So let me say that my definition was clearly too narrow.

"Films that people become obsessed with" might actually be a good definition -- though that leaves the question of what gets them so obsessed in the first place?

It really is a bit of poser.

One thing is for sure though, just trying to make an intentionally bad movie will never work. I really think there's got to be an element of the creator trying their best to this. I think there needs to be that "something" (that moment of vision that speaks to us) that people latch onto -- whether the public at large gets it or not.

I think that's why I like cult films a lot, because there's something about them that borders on genius, even if when they don't quite achieve it. Films that are just bad can be a good way to blow a couple hours, but cult films stick with you and I think it's the moment of insight that keeps them in your mind and keeps you coming back. It's like staring a painting where you think you see something incredible, but can't quite figure out what it is you see -- you really become obsessed with figuring it out.

I think cult films are like that because all the cult fans I know or who have been interviewed really see these as deep films.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: Umh, uh. As usual, I was absolutely correct. As I said in my first comment, the giant shark snatched the jumbo jet out of the air in Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. In that jewel, the shark bites a big submarine in half, but is attacked by a smaller Japanese submarine using a torpedo. This damages the shark enough for the octopus to entangle the smaller submarine. Then the recovered shark attacks the octopus. They fight mightily, but the octopus strangles the shark to death, only to die from tentacle-bleeding caused by fatal shark-bites.

Jaleel White (Urkel) and his sonic balls were in Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus, just as I indicated. In Octopus, the submarine was outside the shark. In Crocosaurus, the submarine was inside the shark.

So there--nyah, nyah, hyah!

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav PS: I never make mustrakes. Particularly about octopuses. LOL

kishke said...

Come on now, it wasn't that bad. Just a silly movie not trying too hard but still fun some of the time. The gore was so cartoonish it wasn't even cringe-inducing, and I'm someone who cringes easily at that kind of stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

Kiske, You're not alone in saying I'm overstating how bad this film was. So I will reduce my Fatwa from a brutal murder to just a savage beating. :-)

Seriously, this struck me as incredibly gruesome and way over the top for what the rest of the movie was. I can put up with a lot of gore, but this one just seemed too much for me.

kishke said...

I get you, but really, I thought they were trying to be funny with the over-the-top gore. It was more like a parody of a gory horror flick than an actual gory horror flick. There were a number of gory sight gags. They were having fun with it.

AndrewPrice said...

kiske, That's a fair point and I definitely saw where they were trying to be funny with the carnage, like the scene where something on O'Connell gets eaten. But it really didn't work for me. I thought it got inappropriate. I can definitely see where people would disagree, but for me, it was just too much.

tryanmax said...

I went through a Godzilla phase as a kid, so I am still partial to all those monsters. I'm talking about the ones from the 50's - 70's. Mechagodzilla, Mothra, Ghidorah, Rodan, etc. etc. etc.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I love those -- and Kung Fu films. Those were always on Saturday afternoon television (before cable). So I grew up watching those. :)

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