The other day, my son saw the commercial for Piranha 3D and had exactly the reaction you’d expect from a 9-year-old boy: “I WANT TO SEE THAT!” And I had the response required from said boy’s 42-year-old father, namely, “Absolutely not. It’s completely inappropriate.” By which I of course meant, “I WANT TO SEE THAT!”
“Inappropriate” is one of those catch-all words we parents use when we mean, “This is something I’d rather put off discussing as long as possible.” But in the case of Piranha 3D — which, judging from the trailer, consists primarily of people in tiny bathing suits being eaten in extreme close-up by prehistoric fish — the word seems entirely, well, appropriate. It looks like a movie that is completely inappropriate for viewing by almost everybody.
So why is my gut reaction to run down to my local IMAX and plunk down 15 bucks? After all, I consider myself a student of the cinema. I’ve paid to watch foreign films — with subtitles, not the dubbed kind where someone steps on Tokyo. Once I even went to a library to watch De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, a movie in which not a single person was skeletonized in 3-D.
Maybe I should blame the cheesy horror films of my childhood — for instance, I remember spending one particular Saturday afternoon glued to Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), a movie in which William Shatner and nobody else you’ve ever heard of are eaten by tarantulas. The movie did not have a happy ending for anybody except Shatner, who released Star Trek: The Motion Picture two years later and immediately removed this from his resume.
It was terrible, and yet I still remember it 30 years later as if I had seen it yesterday, whereas plenty of other “better” movies I saw back then have completely deserted my memory. You know, movies like The Black Stallion (1979), which got four stars from Roger Ebert and I think may have featured a horse, and possibly Mickey Rooney. I guarantee that if either of those characters had been eaten by a spider or a prehistoric piranha, I would recall that movie much better today.
The way I see it, as long as they’re not too exploitative (apologies to Roger Corman), creature features provide some much-needed mindless scares, and at least have the courage of their convictions. For instance, Entertainment Weekly reports that the makers of Piranha 3D used a tanker truck to fill an Arizona lake with at least (at least!) 7,000 gallons of fake blood, which we can only presume is still being cleaned off the fake turtles and pelicans.
Granted, I’ll admit that when I do happen to watch one of these movies now, I can’t help but see them through the eyes of a jaded adult. You’re supposed to revel in the untimely demises of the principal characters at the hands (teeth, claws, appendages) of whatever creature the filmmakers have dreamed up, but that’s harder once you’ve left your callow youth — these days I can’t help but think of the poor state trooper who has to knock on some lady’s door and tell her that her husband was eaten by a fish.
But even if they’re better for the young, 9 is probably a little too young for many of these flicks. I can only imagine if I took my son to Piranha 3D he’d wind up like the kids of a friend of mine — she gave in and let them watch Jaws recently, and now not only won’t they go in the ocean, they won’t sleep in their own beds, out of fear of land sharks. Also, bringing a 9-year-old to Piranha 3D would probably trigger a DSS investigation, and rightly so.
But I’m willing to compromise. Maybe we can settle on something with a little less carnage, like Gremlins (the little pointy-eared creatures movie) or Tremors (the giant worm movie). Or even Kingdom of the Spiders — believe it or not, they have it on Netflix.
I wonder if Shatner knows about that?
Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”