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Piranha II: The Spawning

In cinema, even kings of the world have to start somewhere; though he directed a short film in 1978, Titanic's James Cameron began his career in Hollywood working as an art director and other assorted gigs on low budget films until he got his first directorial assignment in 1981 on the sequel to Joe Dante's 1978 film Piranha, entitled (creatively enough) Piranha II: The Spawning. How involved Cameron was on the production is questionable, as IMDb.com reports that producer Ovido G. Assonitis took over after a week of filming — which could (reasonably) have been half of the shoot. But it's easy to believe that J.C. was the primary director, as many of his distinguishing features are here: The story concerns a female who takes charge, and it takes place on and in water. Also Lance Henrikisen (a Cameron regular) has a large role in the piece. Otherwise, the movie is something of a formulaic Jaws knockoff without the humor or scares that scenarist John Sayles provided the first Piranha. Anne Kimbrough (Tricia O'Neil) is a recently divorced scuba instructor working for a fancy hotel, who stumbles upon the corpse of one of her students while out teaching. The police are tough on her, but that's mostly because the sheriff (Henriksen) is her ex-husband Steve. It turns out that one of Anne's diving students has a secret; though Tyler (Steve Marachuk) has been hitting on her all the time, his main reason for being at the resort is to check and make sure that the strain of biologically engineered piranha he designed were all killed from the last film. It turns out they weren't (natch), and they can now fly, which leads to a nurse and two bimbos getting attacked (by what looks like — at times — hand puppets), to which Anne realizes that there are deadly piranha about, but the manager of the hotel doesn't believe her and decides to go through with a sea ritual that leads many of the hotel's guests to the slaughter. Someone has to stop these fish and it's up to Tyler and Anne to do it. Piranha II feels like an Italian horror film — the supporting players dialogue sounds like it's been dubbed, and the comedy doesn't translate. In fact, everything in the film fits into the mold of cheap Jaws knockoffs: The scares are fairly well telegraphed, the characters come across as dumb, and the gratuitous nudity and gore expected of the genre are delivered. After this, Cameron directed The Terminator and secured his reputation as one of the great American action directors — but that subsequent talent is nowhere to be seen here. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Piranha II is a bit of a disappointment; though the picture quality is good, the film is presented in full frame with only the opening and closing credits in widescreen. Since the movie mostly appeals to Cameron completists, the lack of a widescreen version is simply a mistake. The soundtrack is in DD 2.0 mono, while extras consist of bonus trailers. Keep-case.
—DSH



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