Monday, October 20, 2008
Killer Fish (1978) review
KILLER FISH 1978 aka AGGUATO SUL FONDO aka DEADLY TREASURE OF THE PIRANHA
Lee Majors (Lasky), James Franciscus (Paul Diller), Karen Black (Kate), Margaux Hemingway (Gabrielle), Marisa Berenson (Anne), Gary Collins (Tom), Anthony Steffen (Max), Dan Pastorini (Hans), Roy Brocksmith (Ollie)
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Successfully stealing a cache of emeralds from a mining facility after blowing it up, a group of jewel thieves place the emeralds into a water-proof container and dump it at the bottom of a lake to be retrieved at a later date once the heat from the robbery dies down. Agreeing to meet up in 60 days to recover the gems, certain members of the group decide to snag the bounty for themselves. It is soon discovered that someone has dumped a cluster of piranha into the lake which have purportedly multiplied in the thousands. A hurricane hits the nearby Brazilian tourist resort destroying the dam and releasing the flesh eating fish into the waters surrounding the resort. The remaining jewel thieves as well as a group of photographers on a fashion shoot are stranded aboard a sinking boat surrounded by the piranhas and their increasing hunger for human flesh.
Margheriti directs this very entertaining action/horror hybrid with a great deal of panache in relevance to moving the film from one set piece to the next. The film begins with an explosive 10 minute opening sequence with the thieves entering the mining facility, stealing the emeralds and destroying the place and not necessarily in that order. The film is a co-production between Carlo Ponti and a company jointly owned by star Lee Majors and his then wife, Farrah Fawcett. An incredible cast is also assembled here which lends the production a lot of credibility. It's not a classic, but the sight of such name performers being menaced by piranhas is an intriguing one. The story doesn't sound like much but there's a plethora of ideas and situations wound around the simple heist premise which also weaves a sub plot dealing with a fashion shoot into the mix.
Margheriti would seem to be having a field day what with all the extravagant miniature work on display. These include the opening fiery factory destruction, a plane crash and a spectacular dam bursting. These effects come off much better than some of the piranha scenes. The first couple of attacks from the piranha's have no suspense or build up whatsoever; the people simply enter the water and begin splashing about in agony. However, the sequence of the remaining participants trapped aboard the sinking ship surrounded by the killer fish near the end is deftly handled.
Margheriti was famous for creating some striking special effects shots. Having an affinity for science fiction, he helmed the outer space adventures SPACEMEN (1960) and BATTLE OF THE WORLDS (1961) before moving on to his more well known horror efforts like CASTLE OF BLOOD (1963; originally to be directed by Sergio Corbucci), THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) and THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBURG (1965) among them. He would later return to sci fi with WILD, WILD PLANET (1965) and WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966).
His sci fi outings were fairly accomplished, if rudimentary by foreign standards, but this kind of cinema hadn't been attempted in Italy before. His ability at creating fine model work is evident throughout his career and his craftsmanship in model work shines in Leone's DUCK, YOU SUCKER (1971). Budgetary limitations do not inhibit Margheriti's expertise in his KILLER FISH (1978), either. What could have been a dry, routine potboiler is turned into a rather lively horror adventure yarn with a small smattering of gore for those who are looking for it.
The incredible cast adds a good deal of production value to the already lush and gorgeous Brazilian locations. Oddly, the filmmakers didn't take advantage of the beautiful locales but during the credits there are a few clips of various Brazilian settings. The score from Guido and Maurizio de Angelis is okay and has a creepingly bizarre theme for the pirahna sequences. There's also a disco song entitled "The Winner Takes All" that plays during the opening and closing credits. Possibly the most curious and funniest bit of info, especially to fans of Italian Crime movies, is in the end credits; a man named Maurizio Merli is listed as the Boom Man!
Lee Majors enjoyed great success on television in such popular long running American tv shows as THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and THE FALL GUY. Karen Black also has a long and illustrious career both on television and movie screens featuring in such big movies as EASY RIDER (1969) and AIRPORT 1975 (1974). One of her most famous roles was her triple threat performance in the Dan Curtis TV horror anthology picture TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975).
James Franciscus also shared a number of TV and cinema credits including the classic THE VALLEY OF GWANJI (1969), BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970), THE CAT O'NINE TAILS (1971), WHEN TIME RAN OUT (1980) and Castellari's THE LAST SHARK (1980). Italian actor, Anthony Steffen (Antonio de Teffe) plays a supporting role as a ship Captain. Steffen earned a degree of fame during the 60's in nearly 30 European Western films. Some of his better oaters are KILLER KID (1967), TRAIN FOR DURANGO (1968), A MAN CALLED APOCALYPSE JOE (1971) and W DJANGO! (1971). Steffen also had starring roles in other genres including the well known European horror film, THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971) and the thriller, THE KILLERS ARE OUR GUESTS (1974).
Margaux Hemingway was a beautiful model who ended up acting in films. An awkward lisp was one factor that kept her from being taken seriously by critics and she was later relegated to doing soft core porn movies till her controversial death/suicide in 1996. Both fashion model/actress Marisa Berenson and Gary Collins are instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with American television in the 1980's.
I first saw this film on television around 1982 under the title THE DEADLY TREASURE OF THE PIRANHA and didn't think much of it back then. Seeing it now, I have a better appreciation for the film in addition to its unusual, but stellar casting and often energetic direction by maestro Margheriti. It's not a great movie by any means, but it's a nice 95 minute diversion populated by a cast that most likely took the job for the trip to Brazil. With generous portions of action spectacle seasoned with abundant, (but not always successful) piranha attack sequences, KILLER FISH (1978) should satiate the palate of any nature-gone-amok film fan.
This review is representative of the Italian DVD which contains both English and Italian audio options.
DVD availability: Pulp Video (R2)