Thursday, August 26, 2010

DVD Release: Piranha (1978) and Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

Just in time for the premier of Piranha 3D, Shout! Factory has release two more classic drive in classics from Roger Corman: Joe Dante's original Piranha and Humanoids from the Deep. And once again, these DVDs are worthy editions to any horror fan's collection.

Piranha comes boxed with a terrific Lenticular cover of a previously unseen poster and is full of great features. The film is presented in a new Anamorphic Widescreen version and the transfer looks great.

Unlike the dumb as a bag of rocks (but never the less enjoyable) remake, Piranha includes a wry sense of humor and a more fleshed out plot. Unlike the prehistoric monstrosities released into an enclosed lake, these fish were the results of a military experiment during the Vietnam war. The school is released into a river by accident and begin to make a beeline to the ocean, stopping to snack at a summer camp and a lake resort. Adding to the complications, these fish can live in either salt or fresh water, so if they make it to the ocean, nothing will prevent them from spreading across America.

As with many of Dante's films, Piranha has a dark sense of humor, letting the film acknowledge it is ripping off of Jaws and many other monster films. In fact, it's likely that was the only thing that prevented Universal Studios from slapping an injunction of the production (Jaws 2 was release the same year). After Steven Speilberg saw the film, he not only convinced Universal to drop any legal action, he also got Dante to direct Gremlins.

While the effects budget was limited, the attacks are quite brutal, even when compared to the remake. Part of the reason is all the bites are shot in close up, hiding that the fish were puppets on rods. And the fish were equipped with steel teeth, allowing them to gnaw into prosthetic arms, legs, fingers and torsos with surprising gusto. The result are shocking and surprisingly graphic.

And, instead of one prolonged siege, Dante and company pull off two different climaxes, starting at a summer camp inhabited with lots of grade school kids. One wonders if the MPAA would have grant a R-rating to the remake if director Alexandre Aja had included such a sequence.

The features include a Making Of featurette, with new interviews from Corman, Dante, Dick Miller, Belinda Balaski and others, as well as bloopers and outtakes, the trailer with commentary shown on Trailers from Hell, an extensive still gallery and scenes from the network TV version. The only disappointing feature was the commentary by Dante and producer Jon Davison. Quite a few moments of silence punctuated the commentary and Dante seems very disinterested at times. Still, this edition deserves to be a part of your DVD library.

Releasing Piranha with Humanoids from the Deep seems fitting, as I saw both as a double feature back in the early 80's. Somehow, I managed to convince some of my college friends to check them out and I doubt their opinion of me was ever the same.

If you see The Creature from the Black Lagoon as an manifestation of male lust, then it's surely the lighter side when compared to these fish monsters. The Creature is all underwater ballet, afraid (at first) to touch the object of his desire. Humanoids is a different beast, the male lust gone Neanderthal, raping women and brutally killing off any potential competitors.

The story takes place in a fishing town in California. Most of the fishermen welcome the inclusion of an industrialized cannery, while the Native Americans in the area (represented by one spokesperson throughout the film) object. What neither side in the debate realize is that the cannery has conducted some rather shady experiments, resulting in mutated man-fish that are compelled to mate with human women in order to evolve.

The plot makes even less sense as the movie continues. Yet the film moves at such a brisk pace, you don't have time to notice the gaping holes. The acting is as solid as you might expect (with Vic Morrow giving another great performance as a racist idiot), the effects by Rob Botin are solid and the movie packs enough blood and nudity to keep most horror fans interested.

The DVD extras are great, including Corman's response to the inclusion of the brutal rape sequences. According to Corman, he explained what he expected from director Barbara Peeters: the men get brutally killed, the women get raped by the fish monster. Apparently Peeters delivered on the demise of the male victims (s0 much that Corman had to edit the killings to get an R-rating), yet the scenes of the women being victimized were all shot in shadows or silhouette, prompting Corman to have the scenes reshot by the assistant director.

Most of this is known to horror fans, but Shout! Factory didn't include Peeter's response to the accusations (for reasons unknown to this blog site). And I feel the reason for such an omission should have been explained in the extensive extra features. While it's my only complaint, I feel it's a major one that needed to be addressed.

Still, the film holds up well, despite Morrow's hair style. It's a brisk, sleazy treat that will make a welcome edition to most horror fan's collections. If you liked Piranha 3D, you'll want to check this one out.

Both films are available through Shout! Factory's website,, and most Sunrise Video.

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