Because Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is as close to a holy text as I come to having (it is, simply, the standard against which I judge all entertainment), I don’t invoke its name lightly in reference to other works. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D is a direct descendant of Russ Meyer’s “exploitation-horror-camp-musical,” but it shares a similar genre-straddling sensibility and, more importantly, it adroitly balances its disparate elements. What's most reminiscent, though, is not that the horror/sex/comedy/suspense/sci-fi elements work well in tandem with each other -- it's that the whole ridiculous tale of prehistoric carnivorous fish being awakened only to prey on the spring breaking hedonists on Lake Victoria (including soft porn operation headed by Jerry O'Connell's Joe Francis-esque sleazy character) is played with a straight face. (Elisabeth Shue’s character tases fish at one point, since she’s a sheriff and you know how sheriffs love their Tasers!) Meyer famously assured his actors that they were in a serious drama, even after they protested playing such an outrageous script with nary a wink. Here, the pirahanas are the only ones who give indication that they’re in on the joke, mugging directly into the camera as they, for example, chomp on a disembodied human penis, spit it out, and then devour it again.The girls are fucking hot (do not be surprised if Kelly Brook ends up a superstar as she is clearly a goddes; meanwhile, Elisabeth Shue, bastian of role-selection that she is, has never looked better), the suspense is fucking real (one of the final scenes involves shimmying across a rope that hangs just a few feet above hungry piranhas) and the carnage is fucking disgusting (my three favorite site gags included a girl’s entire face being pulled off as the result of her hair being caught in a boat motor’s, a piranha eating through another’s face from the back so that for a second it looks like she has a pair of fangs and still another’s post-attack body falling apart in the hands of two guys carrying both sides of her body out of the water). Horror-obsessive Aja already showed off his deft skill at referencing in Haute Tension and he does even better here. He casts Richard Dreyfuss as the guy responsible for awakening the piranhas in the opening scene (he’s basically reprising a role, since Jaws , in which he starred, technically awakened its rip-offs including the original Piranha). Christopher Lloyd pops up in a mad-scientist role, his knowledge base traveling further back in time than Dr. Emmett Brown ever had to. There’s a scene, in which a girl trapped in the kitchen of a boat is forced to fend off frisky piranhas with kitchenware (a la Gremlins, directed by Joe Dante, the director of the original Piranha). Maybe the most pointed laugh occurs during the main piranha attack on the partying idiots, who in an attempt to get out of the infested water, climb up on a floating stage, which ends up toppling from a horizontal to completely vertical position, spilling them back into the water Titanic-style. Even the flying-piranha gag of the first film is bestowed an upgraded significance – gravity-defying absurdity gets promoted here.
The 3D element is as over-the-top as the plot and effects – the medium is messiness. This is as close to you’ll come to enjoying someone throwing up in your face and spraying a keg of beer at you. There is an operatic, extended, full-frontal, girl-on-girl underwater scene before the piranhas hit that is as much a tribute to the female form as it is to the pornography that exploits it. See, Piranha 3D isn’t just trash unto itself, but it's that celebrates, nay worships, trashiness. Hallelujah.