Color, 1981, 94 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by James Cameron
Starring Tricia O'Neil, Steve Marachuk, Lance Henriksen, Ricky G. Paul, Ted Richert, Leslie Graves, Carole Davis
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Sony (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

One oPiranha II: The Spawningf the more notorious Piranha II: The Spawningsequels in horror history, this loose successor to Joe Dante's 1978 smash hit for Roger Corman, Piranha (one of the best and wittiest Jaws rip-offs), earned its place in the history books as the first directorial credit for James Cameron. Another Corman alumnus who had proven his ability to create strong visuals on a poverty row budget with his production design work on Galaxy of Terror, Cameron was brought in by producer Ovidio G. Assonitis (the king of shameless movie cash-ins thanks to films like Tentacles and Beyond the Door) to replace yet another Corman-ite, Miller Drake, who would go on to be a visual effects editor on several later Cameron films; however, the rocky production with a mostly Italian crew did not go smoothly, and Assonitis himself stepped in to finish shooting and editing. (The exact extent of both men's involvement seems to vary depending on whom you ask.) Bearing zero narrative connection to Dante's film but amusingly enjoyable in its own right, the film is a little junk food treat if you're in the right mood thanks to its one brilliant idea: flying, flesh-eating piranhas.

On an idyllic Caribbean island, bloody terror is lurking in the ocean around them when diving students start getting chewed up by razor-toothed fish in the area. The swanky Hotel Elysium is the main commercial Piranha II: The Spawningenterprise on the island, with its diving instructor, Anne (O'Neil), hitting it off with one of the new arrivals, Tyler (Marachuk). The local police chief, Steve (Cameron regular Henriksen), Piranha II: The Spawninghappens to be Anne's soon-to-be-divorced husband and ignites tension among attempts to get to the bottom of the ocean attacks, which ultimately connect to Tyler's secret profession and pose a threat to everyone in the area. While the hotel management naturally refuses to take any precautions that might endanger any profits, there's a mutated terror beneath the waves ready to strike.

The first hour or so of Piranha II is outrageously padded with various characters wandering around and chattering about different topics, interspersed with occasional, vaguely shot underwater attacks. Fortunately it all pays off in the final stretch with a fantastic mass attack sequence that really has to be seen to be believed. It's the kind of film you basically sit back and enjoy as mindless fun with lots of sunny Jamaican scenery, cheap thrills, and amusing stock characters including the noble and all-too-knowing Gabby (Ancil Gloudon) and stammering dentist Leo (Albert Sanders). On top of that you get a perky, catchy, very Italian score by regular Assonitis composer Stelvio Cipriani, who goes in a different direction than his earlier work on Tentacles.

Released in theaters between 1981 and 1983, Piranha II: The Spawning exists in multiple versions on home video including an Embassy release running 84m37s (referred to by some as a director's cut, though such a thing apparently doesn't exist). Longer versions of varying lengths throughout Europe and Japan include a topless sequence with the two nautical thieves as well as other bits of exposition Piranha II: The Spawningand violence. Piranha II: The SpawningThe longest edition in existence appeared on DVD in 2002 from Sony in a so-so fullscreen transfer, clocking in at 94m33s and bare bones apart from bonus trailers for Anaconda, Creature Features, and The Forsaken.

That same extended edition (under the title Piranha II: Flying Killers) can be found on the 2018 "Collector's Edition" Blu-ray from Scream Factory, featuring a tremendously improved HD transfer that restores the original framing (much more info on the sides and a bit less extrangeous sapce on the top and bottom) and significantly boosts the quality of both detail and black levels. It's a much more enjoyable viewing experience that any past video version by a long shot, and the DTS-HD MA English mono audio also sounds very good with that Cipriani score benefiting the most. Optional English subtitles are also provided. In addition to a fuzzy theatrical trailer, the disc includes two new interviews with actor Ricky Paull Goldin (15m55s), credited as "Ricky G. Paul" on the film, and special effects artist Brian Wade (14m9s). Goldin, who was sixteen at the time and played O'Neil and Henriksen's son, remembers the film very with lots of stories about shooting in Jamaica, feeling embarrassed shooting a scene involving topless nudity, and being very concerned about the welfare of the puckering fish in his first scene. Wade also seems amused by his participation in the film including his pride at being involved in Cameron's first film and the process of bringing the flying piranhas to life from conceptual drawings through sculpting and execution.

Scream Factory (Blu-ray)

Piranha II: The Spawning The Piranha II: The Spawning The Piranha II: The Spawning The Piranha II: The Spawning The Piranha II: The Spawning

Sony (DVD)

The Piranha II: The Spawning The Piranha II: The Spawning The Piranha II: The Spawning The Piranha II: The Spawning The Piranha II: The Spawning

Reviewed on July 4, 2018.