The Black Sheep: Piranha 3DD (2012)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

PIRANHA 3DD (2012)

DIRECTED BY JOHN GULAGER

Well friends, please indulge me as I attempt the impossible task of defending – with a half heart and crooked face – the seemingly irredeemable John Gulager schlock-fest PIRANHA 3DD (WATCH IT HERE/OWN IT HERE). A herculean task, I know, but for all the smoldering hunks of poop flung at the film over the years, I actually think the movie gets a worse rap than it deserves. Okay maybe deserves isn’t the word, as no one with two eyes can call it a remotely fine film, but given its salacious X-rated title, three-week film shoot and one fifth the budget of its cheesy and overrated 2010 predecessor, I’d argue the film is more of a misunderstood parody more akin to a SCARY MOVIE entry than say a species related to Joe Dante’s original.

Now does that mean the movie is remotely good? Not at all. But is it more amusing than it’s been given credit for, particularly given the time and resources that went into it? I kinda have to say yes, it just might be. Now, it’s important to note I’ve never seen the film in the intended 3D format it was shot in, so I can’t honestly assess that technical aspect of the film in earnest, although it is easy, even without the 3D-shades, to spot where the tech is poorly applied. Still, for a lame-brained summertime horror B-movie, PIRANHA 3DD is a Black Sheep if ever there was one!

Let’s start with the pedigree, shall we? Anyone who saw John Gulager’s FEAST films – admittedly a much better time all around (the original, anyway) – ought to have known, at least in terms of its tasteless tone of gross-out humor and grisly horror – what to expect when he got the job to helm PIRANHA 3DD. The same goes for writers Marcus Dunston and Patrick Melton, who have made a cottage industry out of pushing the graphic envelope with the sole intent of making you howl in response to the horrific histrionics seen in their various FEAST, SAW, and THE COLLECTOR entries. These dudes revel in pure B-level dross, something I think general audiences failed to realize going in.

Of course, one of the first mistakes would be to compare the film to Alexandre Aja’s overblown 2010 version, which was a far more expensive studio film made for five times the amount of 3DD. Aja’s film cost $24 million and had the benefit of Greg Nicotero’s premiere KNB FX crew, while Gulager’s cost $5 million and was filmed in just 25 days. With most of the budget surely going to such stars as David Hasselhoff, Gary Busey, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, David Koechner, etc., Gulager was likely left with little money for FX so instead opted for practical puppet work in many cases. I note this because it’s always important to contextualize a movie's time and resources before judging the meritorious or meretricious results. In 3DD’s case, the results have landed the film on IMDB’s Bottom 100, ranking #79 with a 3.7 rating, placing itself next to THE FOG remake, MAC AND ME, FLINTSTONES VIVA ROCK VEGAS, and THE LOVE GURU. The film also boasts a pathetic 14% Rotten Tomatoes rating and 24/100 Metascore. That’s about as dismal as it gets!

Now here’s why that assessment is dead wrong. First is the female lead Danielle Panabaker, who is virtually impossible not to like. Despite the vapid plot-line of PIRANHA 3DD – which simply comprises of a gratuitously-nude Lake Victoria summer bash being overrun by toothy uncouth mutant piranha – Panaker as Maddy is the antithesis of the bikini-clad, phony sci-fi saline-breasted swimsuit models that populate the scenery. In fact, the appeal of PIRANHA 3DD has very little to do with the tastelessly juvenile and sophomoric nudity and female objectification. The amusement comes from the filmmakers knowing full well how stupid the material is, and rather than shading away from it, excessively leaning into and embracing it with the risible fervor of an Adult Swim cartoon. I said comparing the film to Aja’s was a mistake, but let’s keep it funky, Panabaker is a far better leading lady with much more acting talent than pin-up model Kelly Brooke or porn-star Riley Steele. Remind me where their careers are now?

When viewed as a cartoonish satirical comedy first and a chintzy underwater slaughter-fest second, the movie becomes much more forgivable. The title 3DD ought to have tipped one off to the silly nature of the film with Gulager clearly channeling his Jim “POPATOPOLIS” Wynarski’s soft-core shenanigans meant to earn laugh first and a scare second. In terms of what works in this vein, in my opinion, includes Christopher Lloyd’s one major scene, the piranha-boner-chomping scene, and my personal favorite, Ving Rhames on some “get me my legs” hilarity that induces a hearty chuckle every time I see it. I also dig the final water-park massacre in which a spate of dumb horny young denizens is gorily mandicated into a blood-red shoreline resembling the opening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Because there is so little story and plot to care about (other than Maddy’s safety), it almost becomes a case where you root for the fish to viciously masticate as many unlikably moronic and misogynistic young punks as inhumanly possibly.

Now, there’s no way in hell I can defend the inclusion of The Hoff in this flick, as he’s reduced to playing his own self-defeating punch-line as he recreates his Baywatch character in an obvious Wayans Brothers’ style lampoon. I do like the bit where he keeps warning the heedless “Ginger Little Moron” who ultimately gets his head lopped-off by a flying piranha in front of his mother’s face, but that’s about it. That’s pure Melton/Dunstan/Gulagar mordant humor right there. And the way Ving Rhames plays his part is truly comical. His weepy line readings and heroic final gesture of strapping on his gun-legs (created in one-night mind you) and going Cherry Darling ballistic on a pool full of “walking piranha” is played so honestly with such a straight face that it never fails to elicit the intended reaction: eye-rolling laughter.

Honestly, I’d argue the biggest problem with PIRANHA 3DD is the choppily unpleasant editing. Get this. The movie was edited by three different people, all quite inexperienced at the time and none of whom worked together before. 3DD was only Editor Martin Bernfeld’s second feature credit behind MOB TIES in 2010. Patrick Lussier’s brother, Devin, only edited DRIVE ANGRY prior to 3DD (his only two editing credits of his career). Only Kirk Morri (FEAST) had any real experience and history working with Gulager, although most of his editing credits belong to a raft of direct-to-video horror sequels. I truly believe with a better editor, PIRANHA 3DD would be a much more enjoyable overall experience. Too often the film is cut to a nauseating pell-mell pace that ultimately adds up to a 70-minute feature that feels far too slight to make a lasting impression. Like the overall production itself, the editing feels far too rushed.

Look, I can’t conscionably go so far as to call PIRANHA 3DD a good movie, but I can voice my opinion that it’s not as bad as led to believe. Hell, the movie only played in 75 theaters across America, earning roughly 97% of its $8 million worldwide grosses overseas, mostly in Malaysia. The movie was always bound for a direct-to-disc reception, or as akin to a cheap horror SyFy original. You can’t tell me any of those PIRANHACONDA, SHARKTOPUS, or SHARKNADO joints are any better than 3DD. Granted, the latter had twice the budget, but still. PIRANHA 3DD is bad, no doubt about it, but with the right mindset of prioritizing the farcical lampoonery over the tertiary terror, knowing who made the movie with the limited time and money, the track record of the writers, etc., yeah, PIRANHA 3DD is a Black Sheep of an ingloriously bad B-movie!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

5379 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.