Color, 1979, 100m.
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Starring Lee Majors, Karen Black, James Franciscus, Margeaux Hemingway, Marisa Berenson, Gary Collins, Frank Pesce, Charlie Guardino, Roy Brocksmith, Dan Pastorini
Scorpion (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Intergroove (Germany R2 PAL), Suevia (Spain R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1), Opening (France R2 PAL), CVC (Italy R2 PAL)
A lot of moviegoers were confused when they paid money to see Killer Fish, an apparent imitation of 1978's Piranha (itself an imitation of Jaws) with a sort-of-all-star cast including Lee Majors, hot off of TV's recently departed The Six Million Dollar Man and the nutso costume epic The Norseman. The fact that his own production company, Fawcett-Majors Productions, had a hand in getting this off the ground made it something of a pet project for him, and joining him was a very colorful cast of characters including Karen Black (at the start of a career downslide), Italian exploitation vet James Franciscus (who shot this back to back with Ruggero Deodato's The Concorde Affair), and late model Margeaux Hemingway, following up her, ahem, colorful debut in Lipstick. Adding to the impression of a cash-in horror film is the presence of director Antonio Margheriti (under his usual Anglicized screen name, Anthony M. Dawson), a veteran of numerous gothic horror films and spaghetti westerns who was about to embark on two of his best-loved trash films, Cannibal Apocalypse and The Last Hunter.
While the film does indeed contain several bloody piranha attack scenes, it also turned out to be a fairly involved heist film about a stash of stolen jewels in Brazil. The thieves, led by good-ish guy Lasky (Majors) and conflicted Kate (Black), stash the diamonds and emeralds in a waterproof case at the bottom of a lake, but the property owner and guy behind it all, Paul (Franciscus), decides to guard it by dumping some of his piranha tanks into the water. That turns out to have nasty consequences for others who stumble along such as model Gabrielle (Hemingway), her icy agent (Barry Lyndon's Berenson), and their well-fed photographer Ollie (Brocksmith), who might as well have a "piranha bait" sign stuck to his head. Kate finds out the hard way what Paul's been up to, Lasky and Gabrielle start a romance in between fish attacks, and virtually everyone winds up floating in the middle of the lake trying to retrieve the loot while the razor-toothed predators circle in for the kill.
Despite its reluctance to become an all-out horror film, Killer Fish does its best to keep the audience entertaining with heaps of macho behavior, glamorous women, some nasty tropical weather, explosions galore (including the opening caper at the emerald refinery), and a bouncy disco score by the great Guido and Maurizio De Angelis complete with a couple of catchy songs by Amii Stewart, best known for the dance floor classic "Knock on Wood." (It's borderline criminal the soundtrack has never been released.) Perhaps not surprisingly, this was also a production from British company ITC (who went full-on jewel heist later with Green Ice) and producer Carlo Ponti, who famously brought us Doctor Zhivago and Torso.
Despite its omnipresence on cable TV in the early '80s, Killer Fish has had a very sparse home video history with a short-lived VHS release from Key Video (a subsidiary of Fox) briefly haunted shelves before vanishing entirely from America for decades. A handful of DVDs popped up in Europe, sourced either from a very dated full frame master or a mediocre flat letterboxed version struck in the late '90s by ITV, but visually they're all easily bested by the HD upgrade from Scorpion available on DVD and Blu-ray. There wasn't much competition in the a/v department but the presentation looks quite impressive, actually more vibrant than the film appeared in theaters (thanks to some lackluster 35mm prints struck by AFD). For some reason it appears the interpositive used here is the PG-rated version in the U.S. with a slightly shorter version of Brocksmith's death scene, which may still be on film somewhere in the world. Barring the insertion of those extra seconds from a vastly inferior video source, this may be about as good as it can get for now. The original English mono track sounds just fine here, though of course disco fans can only wish for an isolated music track.
Extras include the theatrical trailer and a hilarious 53-minute conversation over Italian dinner between actor Frank Pesce (who's shocked that the film earned a Blu-ray release) and Maniac director Bill Lustig, who keeps things lively as they talk about the "pinnacle" of his career and how he got there. The wine flows almost as fast as the conversation as they cover everything from Joe Spinell to their collaborations together and the ins and outs of working on an international production. Pure gold.