This Roger Corman-produced cult favorite towers over its competition in the arena of Jaws imitators because it manages to deliver the goods that horror fans expect in effective style while also subtly spoofing the genre. The film benefits from a smart John Sayles script that is populated with appealing, believably quirky characters and overflows with quotable dialogue (the single best line arrives when an assistant tells his resort-owning boss "The piranhas are eating the guests, sir"). Director Joe Dante keeps the action moving at a rapid pace and knocks out a string of impressive set pieces in the process, including a nerve-jangling scene where a group of campers are attacked by the piranha and a suspenseful finale where the hero tries to open an underwater tank of poisonous waste to kill the piranhas before they get to him. Dante also works in plenty of subtle visual humor (for example, a beachgoer reading a copy of Moby Dick) and gets strong performances from his cast, including Bradford Dillman's stoic turn as reluctant hero Grogan and horror film icon Barbara Steele's icy performance as a quietly menacing scientist. All in all, Piranha is an intelligent blend of scares and wit that shows the genre-bending skills Joe Dante would soon develop to perfection on hits like The Howling and Gremlins.
by Donald Guarisco review