Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It Started As A Vacation

Here it is: the directorial debut of King of the World James Cameron, who earned the shot after a few years working for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures as a production designer, art director, visual effects technician, model maker, second unit director, and who knows what other odd jobs.

You would never know from watching 1981's PIRANHA PART TWO: THE SPAWNING that the director’s next film would be something as brilliant as THE TERMINATOR, though to be fair, executive producer Ovidio Assonitis fired Cameron during post-production and cobbled the film together himself. I just wish the pompous Cameron still had the sense of humor to write a movie about man-eating fish that fly over the beach, glom onto the necks of unsuspecting tourists, and chomp away.

Yep, that’s right—these piranha have wings and can fly, though they look like cheap rubber props on sticks being batted against the faces of the game actors (not that the effects in Joe Dante’s wonderful PIRANHA were a lot better).

A diving instructor (top-billed Tricia O’Neil, who later had a small part in TITANIC), her horny student (the obnoxious Steve Marachuk), and the local police chief (the great Lance Henriksen) investigate when one of O’Neil’s students is munched to death off the coast of a Caribbean resort. The winged fishies are, of course, the result of the U.S. government tampering in God’s domain. Do the officials of the beachside hotel evacuate in order to avoid a panic? Ho ho, that’s a laugh.

Assonitis probably cast Henriksen, who previously starred in the producer’s THE VISITOR. He’s terrific as the male lead and worked for Cameron twice more in THE TERMINATOR and ALIENS. One hallmark of a Cameron joint is a strong female lead, and it’s O’Neil as the police chief’s estranged wife who carries the ball in PIRANHA PART TWO. She worked primarily in television, where she didn’t often land roles as good as this one, even if it is in a middling Italian horror film. The stars are better than PIRANHA PART TWO deserves (well, not Marachuk, who’s a lox), but the boobs, blood, laughable special effects, and Henriksen leaping from a toy helicopter offer a few thrills.

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