Horror Hysteria: “Piranha 3D”

"I'm sorry,  IMDB are still listing this on your filmography..."
“I’m sorry, IMDB are still listing this on your filmography…”

Alexandre Aja’s 2010 remake of the Joe Dante fishspoitation classic, “Piranha” is a wretched piece of crap.

“Piranha 3D” has but one concern –  the dismemberment of young, topless girls.  To say that this is crass and sickening  is almost too obvious, but the sheer, weapons-grade misogyny on display in Aja’s movie beggars belief.  I don’t know if I was more surprised by the film’s craven delight in finding ways to kill the female supporting cast or by the presence in it of actors like Elizabeth Shue and Christopher Lloyd.   I know times are tough, but you would like to think that Academy Award nominees could find a better use of their time than this rancid horror flick.

The film’s underlying ideas are as ugly as the technical side of it.  There’s scarcely a female role in the film which doesn’t call for the actress to go topless or to be bloodily devoured whilst topless – If you’re not a mother or pre-teen girl in the film, then you’re a drunk, bikini-clad spring break slut or potential slut who deserves to be killed because that’s just so edgy.  As a recruitment advert for feminist activism, “Piranha 3D” has few equals.

The previously alluded-to technical issues with the movie make it mostly unwatchable – as a 2D presentation, the film looks shoddy and absurdly cheap, with the 3D effects having no impact and the computer generated images looking like late 90s video game cut scenes.  The killer fish themselves are dreadful, utterly unconvincing things and the major shoreline massacre sequence only works  because the practical make-up work is  half-decent.

There’s no point in belabouring the point – this is an appalling, witless, pointless film.  Avoid it as you would do with a particularly virulent infection.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Dawn of the Dead” (2004)

Black Friday 2014
Black Friday 2014

2004 saw two contemporary zombie movies released which owed a great debt to George A. Romero’s pioneering trilogy of undead horrors.  This is the other one.

Whilst “Shaun of the Dead” won over audiences across the globe with it’s witty take on a zombie apocalypse in suburban London, Zack Snyder’s directorial debut “Dawn of the Dead” is now more a footnote to his career as an A-list director of “300”, “Watchmen”, “Sucker Punch”, “Man of Steel” and the 19 DC Comics adaptations he’s currently linked to.

Snyder’s movie sets out its stall from the get-go with nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) having a crap day at work before the world as she knows it ends.  After surviving an attack by her freshly zombiefied husband, Ana barely escapes an apocalyptic sub-division in her car before being run off the road and careening into a tree.  All this mayhem occurs before the titles kick in with a perfectly chosen Johnny Cash song  soundtracking  the end times.

Finding fellow survivors and temporary respite from the undead in a shopping mall, Ana’s group find themselves imprisoned when the Mall’s rent-a-cops start playing God and enforcing  compliance from behind a pistol.  The power struggle continues throughout the rest of the movie, with a makeshift society within the mall constantly threatened by infected newcomers and the surging horde outside.

Whereas Romero uses action in his movies, it clearly isn’t his focus.  Snyder, by contrast, is all in.  This is at least as much an edge-of-the-seat action movie as a horror film, with the scale of the set pieces elevated in accordance with the vastly increased, studio-backed budget of this version.

Snyder’s zombies are not the shuffling, tireless ghouls of Romero’s version but are sprinting, feral, and utterly lethal predators.  The tone of the film reminded me back in 2004 of James Cameron’s “Aliens”, and a decade has done little to change that view.

Whilst the film is undoubtedly a thrill ride, I do miss the underpinning sociological concerns of Romero’s film – where his zombies gravitated to the mall as it represented some kind of still extant collective memory from a time before the fall of mankind, Snyder’s zombies seem to treat the place as an all-you-can-kill buffet.

We might reasonably have expected a sequel to have followed by now, as this was quite the global hit, but Snyder’s skyrocketing career killed any chance of him returning to this material. A planned sequel was quietly shelved – perhaps sensibly, as studios wouldn’t touch an R-rated movie on this scale in these times of austere, micro-budgeted possession/paranormal PG-13 horror fare.

Snyder’s cast is more than solid, with the always excellent Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Jake Weber registering particularly in the leads – a pre-“Modern Family” Ty Burrell is also good value as an eminently slappable rich guy and Mekhi Phifer is particularly tragic as a petty criminal and expectant father.

A muscular, loud, brash blockbuster with many of Snyder’s stylistic touchstones – slo-mo violence, graphic sex and underpinning nihilism – present and correct, “Dawn of the Dead” isn’t particularly frightening but it is a gripping and expertly staged film.

It’s best described as a cover version of a classic horror movie, content to do it’s own thing.  Just be glad that Michael Bay didn’t get his mitts on it.