Short Ends and Leader

It's All About the "3 B's": 'Piranha 3D' (Blu-ray)

The results shriek glorified guilty pleasure, but the truth is that Aja once again proves that no one understands the aesthetic of ample arterial spray better than the foreign horror geek.

Piranha 3D

Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Steven R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss
Extras: 7
Rated: R
Year: 2010
US date: 2011-01-11 (General release)
UK date: 2011-10-11 (General release)

Drive-In film critic Joe Bob Briggs once labeled them "The Three B's", the inexorable elements needed for any good piece of cinematic schlock. For those not in the grade-Z movie know, the items in question are "beasts, blood, and breasts", a cavalcade of craven film facets that turn an otherwise routine piece of genre trash into a high flying horror/humor treat. As part of the '80 direct to video dynamic, it saved many a sinking motion picture ship, from comedy to creepshow. Today, PC prudes and the always overly-vigilant MPAA have guaranteed that few if any efforts meet such stringent road show dynamics.

Perhaps this explains the head over heels reaction to Alexandre Aja's brilliant, over the top killer fish farce Piranha 3D (Now on Blu-ray from Sony Entertainment). Embraced by audiences and critics alike, it took everything the miscreant man vs. nature title could promise and gave it a zippy, Girls Gone Wild spin. The results shriek glorified guilty pleasure, but the truth is that Aja once again proves that no one understands the aesthetic of ample arterial spray better than the foreign horror geek.

When unexpected seismic activity causes a fissure in the bed of Arizona's Lake Victoria, it's initially relegated to a minor disturbance. After all, it's Spring Break, and 20,000 college age party animals have just piled into Sheriff Julie Forester's (Elisabeth Shue) jurisdiction. While she and Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) are trying to keep the amped up drunks in line, her son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) gets hired by Wild Wild Girls entrepreneur Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell) to help guide his boat full of bikini babes around. As fate would have it, the sunny sleaze merchant even gets the boy's high school crush Kelly (Jessica Szohr) to come along for the fun.

What everyone fails to understand, however, is that the earthquake has released a massive school of hungry, man-eating, prehistoric piranha into the waters - and they've only got one thing on their mind...FOOD!. While a team of scientists try to determine what happened and Sheriff Forester uncovers the truth, the wet t-shirt contests and debauchery go on above the surface. Just below, however, a sharp-toothed death awaits anyone fool enough to mock these monstrous fish.

There is never a moment when Piranha 3D doesn't know exactly what it is doing. From the abundant female nudity to the equally plentiful gore, it's got the fright film fan zeitgeist right in its Web head sites. This is the kind of movie that gets Messageboard Nation all nerd-ed out. Heck, it even starts with a gum-flapping cameo that will have true cinephiles giggling like 1975 school girls. This may also be the first time in the artform's history that a remake of a rip-off actually goes back to deliberately channel the original title that spawned the copycat. In other words, Aja and his team of screenwriters are so enamored of what Steven Spielberg did with Jaws that the shout-outs are obvious, and the knotty nods more than a little meta.

But this doesn't mean the movie is all homage and reference. Aja is a devotee to old school shivers, and as he has shown in such brilliant work as Haute Tension, the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and Mirrors, he can turn on the grueling terror with lightning speed. This is especially true of the terrific set-piece attack at the Eli Roth hosted 'moist wardrobe' competition. As bad rap music plays in the background and supposedly educated post-adolescents prove their pointless hedonism, Aja tweaks the suspense. We know the piranha are going to go postal on these beer kegging fools, we just don't know when. Then the first bite occurs, and the masterful F/X work of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger kicks in - and if you like a surf filled with shredded flesh, the duo more than delivers.

In fact, this is a film where the kills are much more entertaining and engaging than the characters or their concerns. McQueen's unrequited Jake is a certified wimp, and his fantasy gal can't hold a hard lemonade to the gals O'Connell is pimping. Similarly, Shue's policewoman is just a narrative catalyst, a plot piece that moves the story from the discovery of a dead body to the escorting of the research team. No one would be surprised if her maiden name was Brody. By the time she hits the waves to save her family, we nod if full formulaic appreciation. No, it's the side supports that make Piranha 3D work. From Roth's icky, innuendo filled carnival barking as our contest host to Christopher Lloyd's arrival as an grumpy old fish expert, everything outside the center makes the movie more enjoyable.

For his part, Aja continues to impress. You can tell he is having fun (after all, who stages an inhumanly long underwater lesbian ballet just so he can film two hot naked honeys cavorting in slo-mo), but he is also experimenting, using the tools of his trade (and some stellar post-production 3D conversion) to spark a reevaluation of exploitation. It's something he makes abundantly clear on the accompanying commentary track. The reason Piranha 3D stands out so, especially among those under the age of 30, is because of its backward glancing tendencies. As a student of the genre, Aja remembers when producers and directors outdid themselves in the desire to be the sickest, most salacious entry at the passion pit. With the death of such venues and the eventual conversion from tape to disc, a whole subcategory of mindless amusement has been lost.

Luckily, Piranha 3D is around to rediscover and recapture it. Sure, it's lewd and crude, loaded with inappropriate behavior and female objectification - and if you don't like vicious, if still slapstick, ultra-violence, you should definitely steer clear. But in a medium where most of the fun has been systematically leeched out of it product, it's invigorating to see something so desperate to inject it back in. Piranha 3D may not be rocket science, but it's definitely a cure for what ails the patient fright fan. As a matter of fact, it so joyfully junky that it concocts a new collection of buzzwords all its own: The Three S's" - "splattery, shameless...and sensational".


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.