Thursday, March 5, 2020

Piranha II: The Spawning

The Out to Sea Blogathon is an event devoted to films set on the ocean or any body of water, hosted by Moon in Gemini. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

Piranha II: The Spawning (AKA Piranha II: Flying Killers)
YouTube viewing

James Cameron loves being on or under water. When he made The Abyss, he filled up an abandoned nuclear power plant with 7.5 million gallons of water just so he could control the environment in which he would shoot—which, by the way, required new equipment designed by his production crew. On Titanic, he got his studio, Fox, to give him $2 million just to travel to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and record footage of the actual ship. Much of the forthcoming Avatar 2 will require shooting motion capture scenes underwater, and the goal is a look of total realism.

Actors in James Cameron films set on or under water... well, some of them are just plain lucky to have survived. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had a nervous breakdown on the Abyss set due to the stress of working such long hours, and Ed Harris allegedly punched Cameron because the director supposedly kept filming when Harris was on the verge of drowning. Kate Winslet told the Los Angeles Times that after principal photography on Titanic had ended, she “looked like a battered wife.”

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Cameron, the first human to explore the Mariana Trench alone, has made water a big theme in his filmmaking. He has made two 3D documentaries underwater: one, Ghosts of the Abyss, incorporated his footage of the real Titanic and delved into the ship’s history; the other, Aliens of the Deep, was a collaboration with NASA in which he filmed previously-unknown life forms within the Mid-Ocean Ridge.

Long before all of this, however, Cameron cut his directing teeth by making a B-grade horror movie, also using underwater footage, about killer mutant fish.

Cameron, like a number of top filmmakers and actors, got his “bachelor’s degree” in film from working under Roger Corman—first making miniature models, then working as a production assistant, art director and production designer and FX man. Among his early credits include Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Escape From New York.

At first, Cameron was the special effects man on P2 before stepping into the director’s chair at the request of Italian executive producer Ovidio G. Assonitis, who wasn’t satisfied with the previous director. Cameron also did a rewrite of the screenplay under a pseudonym. Assonitis considered him little more than a hired hand; Cameron was not only uninvolved in the editing process, he didn’t even get to see the footage while he shot the film. At one point Cameron was himself fired as director by Assonitis, who did his own rewrite of the screenplay, but had to return because of contract reasons. Cameron was able to make a cut of the film on his own, but Assonitis re-cut it, and his version was the one that was released to theaters. Though his name is on P2, Cameron has all but disowned it.

P2 was shot in Rome and Jamaica, and most of the underwater scenes were shot in Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands, in the Caribbean. Like Jaws, the way-better film P2 tries (and fails) to emulate, there are lots of POV shots of the critters as they’re about to attack, but when we do see the flying fish, the special effects are decent for 1981. The actual species of fish used are grunions, commonly found along the California coastline.

The movie is crap, but elements of the Cameron influence can be found, even here. Tricia O’Neil’s character isn’t too far removed from the Ellen Ripley/Sarah Connor mold, and I thought her relationship with Lance Henriksen was reminiscent of that between Harris and MEM in The Abyss. The injections of humor in the script, though, are corny and don’t feel at all like something Cameron would write (for instance, the cougar who pursues male lead Steve Marachuk at the resort).

According to IMDB, Cameron came down with a fever in post-production, and one night he had a dream “about a metallic torso emerging from an explosion, and dragging itself over the floor with kitchen knives.” This initial image would lead to the creation, three years later, of The Terminator... but that is another story.

Other movies involving bodies of water (a partial list):
The Shape of Water
The African Queen
Captain Phillips
It Came From Beneath the Sea
Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid/Splash
Life of Pi


  1. A level, B, or Z-grade, every movie has its own story about how it got made, and what a story for this one.

    Under water stuff has always creeped me out. When I was a kid and wouldn't go to bed at the proper time my dad would mention that "Sea Hunt" was about to start and I'd run out of the room.

  2. As a kid, I adored swimming. Couldn’t get enough of it. Seeing it on TV was never a big deal; I watched that Roy Scheider submarine show SEAQUEST but I wasn’t a kid by then. Then when I was in my late 20s, I almost drowned at a beach and ever since I’ve been a bit more trepidatious around water.

  3. I guess Cameron's obsession with filming on and under the water makes him a true auteur! I have never seen this film but now I am intrigued. Thank you so much for taking part in the blogathon!

  4. I think he qualifies as an auteur; he may not have a particular visual flair like Kubrick, but thematically, his films are consistent, and water is certainly a big theme of his.


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