It’s not totally clear exactly how much of low-budget Italian horror sequel ‘Piranha II: The Spawning’ (1981) James Cameron actually directed. He was originally hired as the special effects supervisor but soon got promoted to the top spot after the first director quit. He says he was then fired after some time between eight days and two and a half weeks of shooting and the producer shot the remainder of the feature, he was also unable to edit the film as he wanted. He’s stated that he doesn’t consider it his first film and it’s not listed on his official filmography on DVDs, but still, it exists, it’s out there, and it bears his name (rather prominently now). Hey, everybody’s got to start somewhere.
Showing no pretentions about being anything other than a cheap, sleazy horror movie, the opening sequence of ‘Piranha II’ involves a naked young couple attempting to fornicate underwater, who are soon interrupted, and promptly consumed by unseen killer fish.
From there though, via a surprisingly interesting 80s title sequence, we’re forced to endure a great deal of dull, badly written filler material, introducing various characters (police, tourists) as they look into the deaths.
The piranha themselves aren’t properly seen until much, much later in the film, and when they are, boy do they look rubbish. The fish are obviously cheap props and move much too slowly, but the camera lingers on them enough so we can see just how bad they are. Plus they are always accompanied by an annoying, clattering sound effect.
Oh also the Piranhas can fly now, so there’s that.
There could have been some potential for comedy as the swarm of flying killer fish attack sunbathing holidaymakers but the tone of Piranha II maintains an inappropriate level of seriousness throughout, one moment when a father mourns over his son’s corpse is particularly out of place.
Despite his distancing himself from it, ‘Piranha II’ does contain some Cameron hallmarks, it opens with flowing underwater shots of a shipwreck, features a prominent strong female character and has Lance Hendriksen in a key role, who would later become a Cameron regular.
Reading up on the backstory behind this film, you can see why Cameron took the job at the time, and why it turned out so messily, but it’s still a bit of an embarrassment in his career, and contains no real sign of the talent that would in 3 years release ‘The Terminator’, and later become one of the world’s most successful filmmakers.
‘The Lesser Seen’ is a feature in which I highlight a lower-profile film or two by a well-known director.