Ink & Pixel: Piranha 3D

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fan-base, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

Exercise comes in all forms. Whether you're pumping iron at the gym, running laps at a nearby high school track, or terrorizing uptight locals while playing Pokemon Go – there are ways for just about anyone to enjoy a good workout. As for me, when I'm not scouring the dunes of Smith Point's Beach or traversing the busy harbor town of Port Jefferson for pocket monsters, I enjoy swimming as my weapon of choice against lethargy and listlessness. However, I'm a bit picky about where I choose to submerge myself and practice my dog paddling. You'd think that for someone who literally lives on the beach that I'd be hitting the ocean waters every day. Nope! If I can't see below and into the waters I'm swimming in, you best find yourself a new workout partner.

And while we're at it, let's talk for a moment about a place where you should never train for the 4x100m medley relay – the Amazon River! That death trap is populated by all manner of aquatic life that would love nothing more than to chew through your most private of parts! And we're not talking about some adorable FINDING NEMO type stuff, either. In the Amazon, you'll discover deadly creatures such as vampire fish (Payara), Black Caiman alligators, and schools of black and red belly piranha! Funnily enough, these beasts and others like them will be more than happy to help you take the weight off – one pound of flesh at a time!

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Ink & Pixel – the column where after a paragraph or two of totally relevant banter, I take you on a tour through the origins and effects of film's past. This week, we're going to check out PIRANHA 3D! Directed by Alexandre Aja, and written by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg, this 3D Horror Comedy serves as a loose remake of Joe Dante's 1978 original film of the same name. However, even though both motion pictures feature toothy, flesh-eating fish, only Aja's version starred the talents of Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Shue, and the legendary Christopher Lloyd. Add Jerry O' Connell, Steven R. McQueen, Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook, Adam Scott, and porn actress Riley Steele to the chum bucket, and you've got yourself one hell of a feeding frenzy!

PIRANHA 3D begins when a small earthquake splits the earth at the bottom of Lake Victoria, releasing a school of vicious flesh-eating piranhas. Before long, the schoal of razor-toothed fish begin dining on the “local cuisine” – no doubt as an appetizer for the main course of spring breakers that are set to arrive come morning. Disturbed after finding the mutilated body of fisherman Matt Boyd (Dreyfuss), the the authorities briefly consider closing the lake – but do you have any idea how much money those drunk and horny millennials cough up when they come to town? I mean really, it's just one body, right? And besides, nobody ever liked old Boyd anyway!

Would you care to wager a guess as to what happened next? Go ahead, think about it. I'll give you a moment. * cues up the Jeopardy theme music * Times up! If you said that both the partying hedonists and the local fuzz would be forced to join forces in an effort to turn every last piranha into sushi, give yourself a gold star! The question now is, will the efforts of a badass police woman, her built-like-a-brick-shithouse deputy, a bookish worry wart, a peculiar marine biologist, and a select few of the town's youth be enough? Probably, but you can bet that a whole lot of people are going to die creatively and horribly before the day is won … and even then.

It's common knowledge that, when working on most horror films, the effects crews are likely to have plenty of fake blood on-hand to be used at a moments notice. In the case of PIRANHA 3D, Matt Kutcher, the film's Special Effects Supervisor, estimated that his team used roughly 7,500 gallons of the stuff on a daily basis! In fact, so much of the crimson liquid was used that it turned portions of Lake Havasu (where portions of the film were shot) completely red for hours on end. Leading up to the film's release, hotel owners around the Havasu area began receiving nervous phone calls from guests – with several of them voicing concerns about whether or not piranha were actively swimming in the area.

According to a publication from The LA Times, Cal Sheehy, the general manager of the London Bridge Resort, recalled this phone conversation from a fearful patron. “One woman was bringing up to me that the movie was coming out, and she asked – as serious as serious can be – ‘Oh, but are there still piranha in the lake?’ At first, I kind of took it as a joke. But then I let her know that that’s the computer-generated part of the movie. And she was very relieved, saying, ‘Oh, I’m so glad to hear that.’ ” Even the city's publicist, Jeff Blumenfeld, was feeling a bit of apprehension at the effects the film could have for the famed vacation grounds. At first, Blumenfeld was quoted as saying, “We’re gritting our teeth — we’re just hoping that the reaction is a good one for the city,”. Later, Blumenfeld admitted to the production being a positive experience as it brought $18 million in revenue to the location while simultaneously thrilling the locals after many of them were cast as extras in the film.

By far the goriest scene in PIRANHA 3D is the moment in which the carnivorous fish reach the shoreline and unleash hell on a crowd of unsuspecting spring breakers. Of the 500 actors and extras cast for this terrifying attack, 200 of them were outfitted with wounds that ranged from bleeding bites to severed limbs and exposed innards. Now, because of the watery nature of the scene, it was imperative that the effects crew be standing by to reapply any gore that was compromised while actors were left waiting for their mark and soaking in the Havasu waterbed. Added to the mayhem were plenty of chewed limbs and full-body models made from latex and foam rubber materials. Strategically placed, the fake bodies allowed for the scene to include several victims who'd been devoured down to the bone without the use of CGI technology or extensive prosthetic and makeup effects.

Between you and me, one of my favorite effects in the movie involves a scene in which Jerry O'Connell's porn producer character, Derrick Jones, has all of his lower extremities eaten by the hungry piranha. Call it poetic justice or a cruel irony if you must, but that shit was funny! To film the scene in which Derrick lay dying on the deck of his own rented boat, the effects crew first cut a hole in the ship, which then permitted Jerry to act from a standing position. Next, the ravaged prosthetic portion of his body was connected to his hips by way of a special harness. With his ravaged lower half placed accordingly, Jerry was free to act out what is surely a high point in his character's salacious lifestyle choices. For me, I take comfort in the knowledge that Mr. O'Connell didn't decide to method act his way through this thing.

In a time that was chock full of crappy cinematic re-treads, PIRANHA 3D was well received by both audiences and critics alike. Currently, the film holds a 73% Fresh rating on the entertaining yet evil review site Rotten Tomatoes. In regard to earnings, the film managed to swim away with a worldwide total of $83,188,165 in box office returns. Now while that might not seem like a whole lot when compared to some of today's summer blockbusters, it's important to keep in mind that the movie was made using a budget of just $24 million! Certainly the over-the-top fish fest performed well enough to warrant a sequel released in June of 2012 entitled PIRANHA 3DD. Unfortunately, the water park-themed piranha panic failed to generate the acclaim or earnings of its predecessor. Thus, the PIRANHA franchise returned to the murky depths from whence it came.

And now … for the personal opinion portion of the article! I trust that you're familiar with the concept that, sometimes, a movie can be so bad that it's actually good? That's kind of how I feel about PIRANHA 3D. If you're looking for a refined cinematic experience here, you're tossing your anchor into the wrong waters, my friend. In all honesty, I'd found this movie to be an eye-rolling delight. Despite its pension for laughable visual effects and gratuitous T & A, I find it difficult to hate on a film that so clearly embraces the 80s “Creature Feature” roots from which it is trying to emulate.

There's an honesty and sincerity in how unabashedly over-the-top this movie truly is, and I admire that. And c'mon, you can't sit there and tell me that you didn't have a good time with some of those sweet kills! There was that guy who took a speed boat to the face, the girl whose scalp was ripped off after getting her hair caught in a boat motor blade, and we got to see Jerry O'Connell get his dick bitten off by a prehistoric mutant fish! Seriously, how was he even alive for so long after that? Heh, all in all I'd say PIRANHA 3D gets the job done, and I'm actually looking forward to checking out PIRANHA 3DD when I have the chance – if only to introduce more cinematic absurdity into my life. Catch you next time!


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.