An all-star B-movie cast heads to Brazil to wrest a fortune in jewels out of the jaws of KILLER FISH on Scorpion Releasing's DVD and Blu-ray.
While former mine executive Paul Diller (James Franciscus, CAT O'NINE TAILS) – forced out of his position because of health problems – enjoys a high-stakes game with the owner of the local resort hotel, his girlfriend Kate (Karen Black, THE PYX) and professional thief Lasky (THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN's Lee Majors), skilled diver Hans (Dan Pastorini, TRICK OR TREATS), and loudmouth "Guido" brothers Lloyd (Charles Guardino, RAGING BULL) and Warren (Frank Pesce, PARADISE ALLEY) are executing his plan to divest the mine of its backup collateral of precious stones. They store the jewels in a strongbox and toss it into a dam, agreeing to wait sixty days until the heat dies down before retrieving it and splitting up the loot. Lloyd and Warren, however, get antsy and go to retrieve the jewels under the guise of heading down to Rio. Warren watches in horror as Lloyd dives in and is killed by what he believes to be a large snake. He warns Lasky who has been plotting with them to double-cross Paul and Kate who have also warned him of their suspicions about the brothers; but Lasky is distracted by an American fashion magazine shoot crew made up of imperious Ann (Marisa Berenson, BARRY LYNDON), her pilot Sam (Gary Collins, HANGAR 18), rotund photographer Ollie (Roy Brocksmith, WHO'S THAT GIRL), and beautiful model Gabrielle (Margaux Hemingway, LIPSTICK) has arrived at the hotel. When Warren and Hans disappear from the hotel, Kate and Lasky follow them to the dam only to both witness them also being killed by what lurks in the waters. Kate soon realizes that Paul has decided to safeguard the loot by filling the dam with man-eating piranha which he will then neutralize when the sixty days are over. Suspecting Lasky will double-cross them when he figures out what Paul has done, Paul and Kate retrieve the jewels (the latter nearly becoming fish food herself but they lose their boat in the coming storm. Meanwhile, guide Max (Antony Steffen, THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE) has taken the fashion shoot on a boat ride in search of picturesque backdrops. Paul and Kate hitch a ride on the boat and discover Lasky waiting for them there. As the tropical storm gets worse, Max steers the boat into relative safety until a hurricane burst the dam and causes the boat to run aground. As the boat takes on water, they discover that the lake is full of piranha, and even the mere two hundred yard between the boat and the shore may prove uncrossable unless they all work together.
A "work for hire" flick from Anthony M. Dawson aka Antonio Margheriti (CASTLE OF BLOOD), KILLER FISH sports a better-than-average cast (some of which like Berenson and Collins have little to do) who are game for its absurdities and try to make more of their roles than they are really given (Black's mocking responses to what Hemingway perceives as romantic rivalry and fey Brocksmith's caricature comic asides). Despite the conviction of the cast and filmmakers, they cannot really wring a lot of suspense out of the sinking ship scenario even with multiple double-crossings, explosions, and piranha attacks; nevertheless, the breezy heist flick remains entertaining for fans of the director and Italian exploitation in general. The film is proficiently shot by Alberto Spagnoli (BEYOND THE DOOR II) although Margheriti's regular cinematographer Riccardo Pallotini (VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG) shot the special effects sequences. Margheriti and Pallotini have been shooting their own effects since the early days, and the effects – which look more primitive here than in their space operas – must really be considered on a shot-by-shot basis with some miniatures holding up extremely well and others eliciting titters to outright guffaws (the piranha attack sequences are no more or less proficient than those of Joe Dante's PIRANHA or its "sequel"). The score by Guido and Maurizio de Angelis (A BLADE IN THE DARK) mainly consists of instrumental variations on the Amii Stewart disco theme song "The Winner Takes All". Although the film credits Carlo Ponti, ITC's Sir Lew Grade, and Filmar do Brasil at the head of the title sequence, a credit for Majors' Fawcett-Majors production company is buried among the later title cards. A credit for the possibly pseudonymous screenwriter Michael Rogers seems to have been a last minute change – possibly to make the film seem more American – since the credit lettering is different from the rest of the titles.
Released theatrically by Associated Film Distribution (whose logo opens this presentation) and on video cassette by Fox on their Key Video line in 1986, KILLER FISH was also somewhat of a late night TV staple (premiering on NBC in 1981). The film hit DVD overseas first in Italy and Spain, but those were fullscreen transfers. Scorpion's progressive, anamorphic DVD (a Blu-ray is also available) marks the film's widescreen digital debut, and the 1.78:1 transfer is sharp and colorful. Underexposed scenes range from grainy to extremely noisy, but this has more to do with Margheriti's quick shooting since well-exposed shots (most of the film's second half) look gorgeous. The enhanced resolution also makes the many miniatures easier to assess. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is in great condition with dialogue, explosions, and the disco-tinged score having good presence.
Besides the film's theatrical trailer (1:51), the disc's only extra is an extended interview with actor Frank Pesce (53:18) interviewed by Blue Underground's William Lustig. Their friendship extends back to the seventies in New York via actor Joe Spinell; and Pesce has appeared in nearly every Lustig film from MANIAC onwards. They discuss his early film career, getting fired as stand-ins for Robert De Niro in THE TAXI DRIVER, Frank Sinatra in THE FIRST DEADLY SIN, and Roy Scheider in MARATHON MAN (having previously stood in for him on SORCERER) in Los Angeles because he was not a member of the Screen Actors Guild and not the Screen Extras Guild (who fined Paramount five thousand dollars a day while he was working). He recalls having the same skepticism about Sylvester Stallone and ROCKY as others did while it was being made, and how he got a brief part in the film through Spinell (Pesce would appear in two of the three endings shot for the film). Through the relationship he struck up with a talent agent's secretary, he found himself packaged as part of the American talent (along with Majors, Franciscus, and Black) for a film shot in Brasil that would turn out to be KILLER FISH. He clashed with Margheriti since the director spoke little English and could not tell him what he wanted out of a dialogue shot that required multiple takes, but he got along with Majors and Franciscus. He recalls the difficulty of shooting his death scene (and mocks a friend's praise of Italian special effects technicians). Lustig, who has a long history with Pesce and not only has lived some of these stories with him but has also probably heard others told here many times, is somewhat abrasive in the way he steers the discussion but that seems to be their natural rapport. He reveals that he worked with Margheriti on THE SQUEEZE which was shot just before KILLER FISH and that the refinery explosion at the start is recycled from the former film. (Eric Cotenas)
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