Usually when I post up an entry like this into this blog, I like to give a small history of how I came into contact with a particular film for the first time and give a history of the first time I picked up a VHS copy of said film and go from there. For some reason, I can't ever remember seeing this on VHS anywhere in the many places I frequented to gawk at endless videocassette boxes resting on shelf after shelf. I don't remember seeing this anywhere in theaters nor anywhere on cable television.
I learned of this film in my later teenage years and read about it here and there and when I read that it was nothing more than a B-version of Jaws, I immediately dismissed it and that was the end of that. I had already seen that film and frankly, it didn't do anything for me so why was I going to spend time watching something that was blatantly ripping it off?
When I began my quest to become a great horror-collector and future horror-blogger, I began sticking my nose in books and reading website after website to learn more about these films that fascinated me during my youth. My parents raised me very strict, so it was impossible for me at that age to have been the fanatic that I'd always wanted to be. So I told myself then that when I was old enough, I would go back to my horror roots and immerse myself in the splatter goodies that I'd come to familiarize myself with as a kid.
I received the news that Shout! Factory was going to put this out as a part of their Roger Corman Classics banner and immediately, I started my reading. I wasn't too interested at first look, honestly, but once I read that the lovely Barbara Steele was in it (who was fantastic in The Silent Scream, one of my favorites), I couldn't resist. I'm not one to hone directly to B-films though I can appreciate the mere camp and production values these kind of films can offer, but the more I read, the more I was interested in the story of how the character fish, being part of a government military experiment, are accidentally set free by an agent sent to look for two missing hikers. The fish threaten not only a local summer camp, but a water park located at the end of the same river. So when the DVD was released, I went out and purchased it. Let me say right now that I was really impressed with the packaging: Lenticular outer 3-D sleeve, reversible cover boasting both the style A and style B of the poster art. So I pop it into the DVD player and watch.
The film, unfortunately, takes a while to get started, which thankfully is the film's only flaw. SF's transfer is great, with minimal grain and fuzz and for a movie so obscure, it was given a great treatment. The first forty-five minutes are drawn out to tell the story of how the fish originated in the swimming pool at the military facility and were released. We get some good character development and some great f/x. But once the last reel comes in, all hell breaks loose both at the summer camp and at Lost River Lake. The film ends rather ominously and it's a great finale to a surprisingly great story. I shouldn't have dismissed so quickly as a rip-off of that other 70's fish film. This film can actually stand on its own, boasting a character all its own. The great gore f/x weren't so over the top so you actually could believe this could happen to you. The acting wasn't as bad as I was expecting it to be, which was a great relief (I mean c'mon! Paul Bartel is in this film! And so is Melody Scott! You know, Nikki from The Young and the Restless??) All in all it's a great piece of horror history that you need to have in your collection.
Now let me go just a little further on SF's release. Wow, what a great jobs. In all the mass of horror DVD's that are in my collection, I have never actually sat through all the special features included in one disc. This one was a first. Everything between a new behind-the-scenes featurette (with great interviews with Joe Dante and Mr. Corman himself), scenes that were included in the television broadcast version (which were actually quite good), bloopers and outtakes and a great gallery of still photos and poster art. This one was lovingly done. I'm sure that whomever put this DVD for Shout! Factory had to have really loved this film. You can tell that it was a labour of love and honestly, it scores major points for Shout! Factory. They are about to release B-film greats such as Humanoids from the Deep, Up From the Depths and the complete Slumber Party Massacre collection this fall. You can bet that I'm going to buying each of them. I do own its sequel Piranha II: The Spawning on VHS but held off in seeing this until I could screen its predecessor. If only more companies gave classic films this kind of treatment. Yowza!