Piranha (UK: NEL, 1978)
Tagline: "A hideous death lurked unseen in the river..."
Well, yes, now that you mention it this is the novelization of a
screenplay, but we're not going to let such trifling things stand
in the way of a good nasty, now are we? Of course not. We'll
let the uppity literary types with the leather patches on their
elbows worry about that shit. First off, although the cover--and
a pretty damn cool cover, too--says A novel by John Sayles
(the guy who wrote the screenplay) inside we find that it's a
novelization by Leo Callan. Why did Sayles get credit for
something he didn't do? Who can possibly plumb the depths of the Hollywood ego
process. It is what it is. Now the movie version of this is a great creature flick and
well-remembered by us who saw it at the drive-in back in the day. The special effects
by Rob Bottin and Chris Walas are definitely Ghastly, Gruesome, and Gor-ifying. A
nice effort by director Joe Dante that nearly got him sued by the bean-counters at
Universal who cried foul and said it was a rip-off of Jaws. I'm sure it was intended to
cash-in on the Jaws mega-fame, mega-box office dollars...but, seriously, guys,
weren't you just being a little greedy? I rather doubt this B-effort was much of a threat.
Anyway, there's been a remake of this that I've never seen (not too surprising since I
honestly haven't been to the movies in over two years now--tired sequels,
teeny-bopper paranormal romances, and comic book heroes in tights just don't do it
for me). I imagine the special effects are better and it's loaded with CGI and girls in
But to the book.
This one starts out fast with a couple foolish teenagers that go skinny-dipping in a
pool at a U.S. Army research facility. They're teenagers, right? They're stupid and
hormonal...even though I'm pretty sure that when I was a teenager I would never have
gotten my girlfriend to take a dip in a murky industrial pool at a creepy, deserted
research station. Regardless, in they go and they die a horrible death, eaten by
you-know-what. Enter Maggie, who tracks missing persons. Enlisting the help of a
drunk yahoo named Paul, they begin nosing around. Naturally, they go to the
research facility and there they discover the clothes and backpacks of the missing
kids. Paul decides they should drain the pool. As they drain it (it drains into the river),
some crazy bearded dude attacks them and Maggie cold-cocks him with Paul's
whiskey canteen. Out at the drained pool, they see bones caught in a grating.
Meanwhile, the crazy guy escapes in Paul's Jeep only to put it in the ditch a few
hundred feet later. They get him back to Paul's place on the river. He needs medical
attention. Paul's old friend Jack is there. Apparently he'd been fishing and made the
mistake of dipping his feet in the water...now he's dead and footless. They take the
crazy guy down river on a raft for help and Paul's dog gets pulled in the water and
eaten. Finally, the crazy guy tells them he's Dr. Hoak and the piranhas are mutants,
part of something called Project Razorteeth that was designed to destroy the river
systems of the North Vietnamese during the war. Hoak has been caring for his little
mutant darlings all this time and now Paul and Maggie have released them into the
river...and there's a kid's summer camp just down the way.
Basically, as would be suspected, if you saw the movie there's no surprises. But there
is plenty of gore and guts as the piranhas go on a wild feeding frenzy:
"Brilliant crimson swirled nauseatingly as the snapping, fighting monsters covered
Hoak like a vile living skin, their teeth ripping into his flesh as they stripped him to a
skeleton to slake their insatiable appetite."
Fun stuff. Not a good day for canoing at all:
"The vessel rocked wildly and started to tip, and Jim screamed again as his arm was
shredded by what felt like a million knives, as blood flowed thick and curdling in the
water and the churning reached frenzied proportions."
You get the picture: if you're in the water, you're nothing but chum. Maggie and Paul
desperately warn people but run into political corruption, police on the payroll, and
the evil Colonel Waxman (part of the original Project Razorteeth team) who's now an
evil corporate type. The piranhas attack the summer campers, a swimming resort, a
variety of dummies who didn't know when it was time to get out of the water. In the
end, it's up to our beleaguered pair, Maggie and Paul, to save the day by opening a
drainage line in the river that will release tons of pollutants to kill the fish. But to do it,
poor Paul will have to dive down deep to the valve and the piranhas are hungry...
Pros: I like this movie and I liked this book. The piranhas were very nasty and the
descriptions of their attacks pretty good overall. Maggie and Paul are likeable just as
Colonel Waxman is unlikable.
Cons: A little more Ghastly, Gruesome, and Gor-ifying action would have been nice. I
wanted more carnage, but that's just me.
Overall: A fun book for a novelization and better than most. The author stuck to the
script very rigidly, too bad he didn't go off on a few tangents of his own. A quick,
lightning-fast read, and an absolutely killer cover. Even if you don't want to read this,
if you like the movie the book will make a nice little addition to your collection.
I'm going to give this four Skulls out of Five for sheer fun.
Our next Guilty Pleasure:
"In the tradition of 'Night of the Crabs' "