"Terror. Horror. Death. Film at eleven." Open your Corman quickie with a Citizen Kane nod, why not—the camera passes by the "No Trespassing" sign on the wire fence to spot a pair of backpackers about to enjoy a midnight swim, a piscine slit-pupil fills the screen. Anxious Seventies tropes (avenging Nature, government paranoia) are the genetic strands deftly tangled, the top-secret experiment in the off-limits Texas laboratory is a breed of mutant chompers for Vietnam warfare (AKA Operation Razorteeth). From the mountain stream to the shoreside resort is the trajectory, the rookie investigator (Heather Menzies) and the boozy recluse (Bradford Dillman) are on the case. "What about the goddamn piranhas?" "They're eating the guests, sir." The Spielberg behemoth is seen as a glob of pixels on an arcade monitor though Joe Dante has different fish to fry, namely a miniature Irwin Allen jamboree with prankster-activist bite. Flickering montage and guerilla speed for the aquatic mayhem, a fond cinephile's eye for cameos and gags all the way down to the little Harryhausen tribute amid cages and test tubes. The old salt (Keenan Wynn) toasts the river pantheistically and gets his kneecaps munched for the trouble, the head camp counselor (Paul Bartel) bristles at skinny-dippers yet cradles the mauled child. Elsewhere, the scientist (Kevin McCarthy) recites the John Sayles j'accuse aboard Twain's log raft: "You wanna talk about killing, talk to your politicians." Moby Dick as beach reading and Laven's The Monster That Challenged the World on the police station telly (Arnold's The Creature From the Black Lagoon is another scaly source), pollution is the ultimate antidote ("It'll kill anything"). Darting through genre while nibbling at it, the gleeful Dante principle. Barbara Steele has the Bava grin at the close, a military cap sinks to the bottom in a puff of blood. With Dick Miller, Belinda Balaski, Melody Thomas, Bruce Gordon, and Barry Brown.
--- Fernando F. Croce