Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Killer Fish (1979)

If you’re gonna steal a bunch of diamonds from your former employers, go big, thinks Paul Diller (James Franciscus), so while he’s having a nice game of backgammon as an alibi, a power plant and other stuff explodes as a distraction while his nurse-turned-lover Kate (Karen Black putting way more effort in than anyone else on screen) and a group of professional criminals lead by professional criminal and semi-professional ladies man Lasky (Lee Majors playing that character he’s always playing lest horrible things will happen on screen, one supposes) do the actual stealing.

Things go well enough, and the successful criminals sink their loot in a lake to let it wait there for sixty days until the heat dies down. Alas, not everyone – namely some of Lasky’s buddies - is too happy with the idea of waiting two whole months in a tourist town in Brazil (there’s obviously no accounting for taste). They learn all too soon that Diller has taken some precautions for this case, for he has infested the nicely dammed off lake with piranhas who proceed to eat the untrustworthy criminals. Despite this not hanging well with Lasky, he still finds time and space to romance visiting model Gabrielle (Margaux Hemingway, not able to act as usual) and say stuff like: “Historically, bisexuality is a lot older than any of my blocks” (seriously). Obviously, everyone involved is still trying to pull one over (though it’s clear Lasky and Kate would both have preferred to play fair) on each other, an activity that gets decidedly more dangerous once a storm destroys the dam and the surviving cast find themselves on a sinking boat on a piranha-infested lake.

As long-time readers among my imaginary audience might remember, I’m predisposed to like any old crap Italian director in every genre known to Man and some known only to Italian cinema Antonio Margheriti did, so it’ll come as little surprise to these chosen few that I did indeed like, as well as deeply enjoy, this somewhat misbegotten mixture of heist film, post-Jaws something-in-the-water horror, men’s adventure, and disaster movie that mixes so many genres it’s no wonder it can’t do any single one of them terribly well. Instead, the movie is a series of barely connected events, cool ideas, horrible ideas and the mandatory in about half of its sub-genres boring modelling scenes. Somehow, this film-like entity still manages to have something like a discernible plot – mostly because it is entirely made out of clichés, one might suspect.

On the other hand, the film’s cool ideas lead to some fine library footage explosions, later on some of that patented Margheriti model work for the dam destruction sequences, and many a scene of actors getting eaten by fish. That’s rather enough to keep me entertained at least, and while I’d never pretend Killer Fish is anything like a brilliant movie (or even among the best third of Margheriti’s films), its mix of absolutely archetypal genre clichés, but from a bunch of different genres just thrown together, is rather irresistible to someone like me fascinated by the way the content of 70s men’s adventure books made it into the movies (without said movies ever actually adapting them). There’s a somewhat grimy charm to the resulting film that’s certainly enhanced – the charm part, this is - by it being actually shot in Brazil, the generally lovely cast, and the curiously likeable quality most of Margheriti’s movies (even those in the sleazier genres) have for me.

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