1981’s sequel in-name-only Piranha II: The Spawning from director James Cameron is a goofy piece of Italian schlock that finally arrives on Blu-ray in a complete cut with a surprisingly good 2K scan. The film won’t win over audiences who question the logic of flying piranha but will entertain anyone looking for a cheesy horror movie. Special features are limited but will please those looking to learn more about the film James Cameron refuses to acknowledge. Grab some refreshments, a few friends, and enjoy Lance Henriksen crashing a toy helicopter. For Fans Only.
“Do you dive on the first date?”
Rife with drama on and off set, Piranha II: The Spawning (here with the title card Piranha II: Flying Killers) has such a sordid history that at times it eclipses the film itself. The Blu-ray comes packaged from Shout! Factory in a clear wrap with a “Directed by James Cameron” sticker on it. Ironically, once you remove the outer wrap the celebrated director’s credit is removed from the film’s front artwork. For a film with incredible underwater photography, memorable characters, and some gloriously bloody kills, Piranha II should be held in higher regard than a forgotten sequel from the man who brought us The Terminator.
Anne Kimbough (Tricia O’Neil) is a marine biologist stuck working at a Caribbean resort called Elysium as a divemaster running scuba tours. Her ex-husband Steve (Lance Henriksen) patrols as a local cop acting tough and looking cool. Their son Chris (Ricky Paull Goldin) is a mop-topped teenager out for girls and odd jobs. After a few divers turn up dead near an Army shipwreck, attention turns to Anne when one of her students ends up in pieces, too. Steve leads the investigation but keeps Anne on a long leash. Even though they’re not together, the two still have some chemistry that keeps things interesting. Hunky bro Tyler (Steve Marachuk) has the hots for Anne and tags along as she breaks into the morgue to photograph the diver’s corpse. After they leave a winged piranha leaps out of the corpse and tears into a nurse’s throat. Soon Steve and Anne confront the head of the resort to shut down the water activities and the annual fish fry which draws guests into the water during, you guessed it, spawning season. Resort manager Raoul laughs at their hairbrained stories of flying fish eating the locals. That night the torches are lit and the guests are drunk and giddy with excitement only to find they aren’t the only ones hungry.
I’ll admit the premise is ridiculous, right? However, according to the director it’s “the finest flying piranha movie ever made.” Who can argue with that statement! From the start, Piranha II sets an unmissable tone of “Italian rip off” as two naked divers have soft focus sex in a shipwreck loaded with hungry piranha. Though necessary for the plot to advance, ultimately Piranha II spends more time establishing too many side characters and their sexual proclivities and not enough time on the pressing issue of flying piranhas eating people. The whole film feels in conflict with itself. Half of the movie is an Italian sex comedy with hijinks and exaggerated characters bouncing around the resort. The other half of the movie is an intense creature feature with high stakes. Thankfully, Tricia O’Neil is a solid lead keeping this thing together with Lance Henriksen chewing scenery while sporting some stellar aviator shades.
Audiences serious about watching this film will no doubt already have a preconceived notion about the quality of visual effects. While there are some moments of questionable intent, Piranha II delivers the goods with fantastic creature work and enough goopy dangling flesh to please horror fans. Unsurprisingly, given the director involved, the film excels during the underwater dive scenes. Bright with vivid colors and life-like detail these scenes, even those inside the dark shipwreck, are simply fantastic to watch as their realism adds such a level of engagement with the film it's a shame the rest of the feature doesn’t match it. Thankfully there are enough fun elements keeping your attention otherwise.
Piranha II: The Spawning is my favorite kind of movie: a fun exploitation rip-off with a few interesting characters, some cheesy special effects, and at its heart some clever ideas that only sounded good on paper. Mix in some genuinely good photography, add a few laughs, simmer, and you’ve got yourself a well-done cult film.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Piranha II: The Spawning makes its HD debut thanks to Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory label. Pressed onto a BD50 disc this Region 1 Blu-ray is housed in a standard keepcase with reversible artwork. The disc loads to a static Main Menu screen with typical navigation options.
Presented in 1080p with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio this new 2K scan of the original film elements looks surprisingly good. If memory serves me right this is the first widescreen release of this film in Region 1 plus a fully uncut version to boot. This transfer from Shout! is full of vivid color and depth with deep black levels and fine film grain. Skin tones are even and lifelike. The presentation appears clean with no specks or dust apparent. Where I think Piranha II suffers a bit is during the more racy or gory elements of the film. A distinct, though minimal, drop in clarity and color reproduction occurs during these sequences. Even with my minor gripes Shout! Factory has put together the best presentation of this film on home video.
Piranha II swims ashore with only a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono audio mix. Dialogue is clear and clean with no evidence of hiss or distortion. The interesting scoring themes by Stelvio Cipriani (billed as Steve Powder) fills out the mono track nicely without seeming limited. Effects are balanced within the texture allowing for an appealing sound mix. It won’t blow you out of the water but for a schlocky Italian horror film it fits nicely. English subtitles available.
The bonus features for Piranha II: The Spawning may not impress obsessive fans but the interviews are interesting and well worth checking out.
Piranha II: The Spawning is a fun horror movie you shouldn’t take too seriously. As a fan of schlocky stuff, I had a blast with this movie from top to bottom. Given the delays, I was overjoyed to see this HD release see the light of day. The Blu-ray looks really good overall, but too many inconsistent visual elements muddying the waters for a knockout presentation. Audio sounds adequate, with the DTS mono track reproducing the original track nicely. Cult fanatics will decry the lack of extensive special features, but should be pleased with Shout! Factory’s release of this hidden gem. For Fans Only.