Hollywood, it has been said, is out of ideas. Cultural theorists point to the increase in Hollywood remakes in the last decade, indicating a new kind of colonialism where ideas are appropriated from countries with smaller cinema industries and refurbished as American stories. That is one way Hollywood is keeping an enervated pulse while theatregoing declines faster than BP stocks, but there is another method that has been practiced since silver dust first sparkled on celluloid.
Hollywood eats its own young. This cinema-cannibalism occurs when the big studios wait until enough time has passed and the magic demographic can be tapped for a remake of an older Hollywood film. The demographic has to be made up of enough oldies that remember the original film and return to the theatre out of nostalgia, loyalty, and/or curiosity, combined with the young’ens who have never heard of the original but have succumbed to turbo marketing or whose internet is down for the weekend. This was the case with 2010’s The Karate Kid and this is the case with the 2010 remake Piranha 3D.
Now I knew the new Piranha was going to be bad, oh yes, no surprises there. But I admit that I thought, optimistically and naively, the film might achieve one of two things: It could be so over-the-top bad that its self-reflexivity mixed with witty dialogue would make it good; or it could be an earnest attempt to pay homage to the 1978 original, the cheesy horror film written by the brilliantly talented filmmaker John Sayles (check out Lone Star for the best example of his work), complete with feathered hair and bell-bottom pants.
Unfortunately and predictably, Piranha 3D achieved neither. Instead Hollywood has produced one of the most misogynistic and sexist films in recent memory. The script, written by the juvenile and boorish team of Peter Goldfinger (who penned the slasher film Sorority Row) and Josh Stolberg (who penned Sorority Row with pal Goldfinger and was the story editor for Playboy: Who Wants to be a Playboy Centrefold?) features inane dialogue that is more painful to listen to than a James Cameron script, but takes it another level lower. That’s an understatement – let’s say several layers lower. Little girls who opine about how nice big titties are is bad enough, but the violence mixed with the hatred towards women is the most disturbing in this awful redux-horror.
Killer fish have invaded a lake during Spring Break and not missing a chance to give boys boners while objectifying women, the film is chock-a-block full of gratuitous shots of college women shaking their breasts and butts at the camera, getting hosed down in wet t-shirt contests, and stripping in front of ravenous drooly and strapping young college men with reckless abandon.
Showing little to no imagination or proclivity for inspired re-creation or artistic critique, the filmmakers have essentially ripped off the sophomore soft porn visuals of the Girls Gone Wild franchise, only the franchise portrayed in the film is called Wild Wild Girls (an homage to be sure, one that provides the narrative device for the display of sexualized women by the boat-load). A main character is even a stand-in for Joe Francis, the sleazy entrepreneur behind the GGW empire, named Derrick Jones (played by actor Jerry O’Connell, who, along with Elisabeth Shue, apparently can’t even get work selling dog food or hemorrhoid cream on Japanese television). Not missing a chance at cross-platform promotion, the film even has a Wild Wild Girls website fans can visit, complete with a link to the website for porno star Riley Steele, whose body is featured as a whack-off temple in Piranha 3D but who, other than some underwater shrieks as she is cynically pushed into a ravenous school of killer fish by Jones, is not allowed one utterance in the script.
So college women in bikinis, along with chiseled college men, are being attacked by rapacious Piranhas during a dancing-on-boats lake party – here is where we see team Goldfinger & Stolberg’s hatred of women shine through: In two scenes men are being eaten alive in the water by the fish and are being pulled out of the lake by women struggling to lift them. What do these strapping college boys say as the women, breasts a-heaving, attempt to save them? “Pull me up you whore!” and “C’mon you stupid bitch!” This kind of writing awkwardly sticks out from the narrative and screams misogyny so fervently that it actually takes away from the already miserable experience of watching this genre-slop.
In another scene (poor res frame grab below) a woman stands on a boat in shock as her bikini is first cut off from her body by a deadly errant cable, exposing her large breasts for a good few seconds, then her torso separates in two with blood a-gushing, right between the breasts diagonally, with her top half of her now abject body falling into the water, affording the audience a nice last underwater close-up of a disembodied, but hey, still sexy breast. This is unabashed, disgusting graphic violence against women mixed with sex – a visual gorgy penned by men who produce media that not only objectifies women, but who show no respect, nary a morsel, for women.
One other scene has a bikini-clad (or perhaps bare-breasted, it’s all blurring into one gratuitous pallet of T&G – Tits and Gore) big-busted woman who gets unluckily tangled in the stalled propeller of a boat, operated by another strapping college boy. Despite seeing her long hair twisted up in the propeller as she floats on her back horrified, he nonetheless still starts up the motor and we are treated to a lurid sequence of her hair twisting into a corkscrew followed by her skin graphically ripped from her face, in let’s not forget, close proximity to her large breasts undulating in the blood-tinged water.
There are more scenes of the T&G variety throughout this d-movie, but you get the picture. I mention these scenes not in some state of moral panic over violence on the screen, or sex for that matter, but to draw attention to what I see as a mainstream and accessible, at least to the group of young teenaged boys in the audience with me, movie that celebrates misogyny. Sure the original film had its share of bikinis and blood, but the level of brutal, savage and cynical violence and sexism in the new Piranha film puts its 1978 muse and many slasher films look like March of the Penguins.
Hollywood is funding fewer films every year and opting instead for the bigger blockbuster “tent pole” films like Avatar, films the corporate dream machine hopes will keep the big studios and the overpaid top ten percent alive and drinking afternoon martinis served by Mexican help way into the future. But films like Piranha 3D show such a willingness to celebrate violence against women, a misogyny that, under the scrutiny of a 2010 public, should outrage to the point of rejection, 3D gimmickry and all (if box office sales are any indication, as of September 13, 2010, the film had barely broke even in revenues, yet plans are underway for a sequel).
Piranha 3D producer Mark Canton has attacked James Cameron for his “mean-spirited and flawed analysis” in response to Cameron’s public comments quipping that the killer fish film is exactly what filmmakers “should not be doing in 3-D.” Canton also accused Cameron of having a small vision of the industry. Ahem. Mean-spirited and lacking vision: that perfectly sums of Piranha 3D – the most uninventive and misogynistic horror/gore genre film to be squeezed out of Hollywood’s sewage system since the earliest bloody projection splattered into popular culture.
It’s unfortunate this stuff gets made – movies that normalize sexualized violence against women. It’s unfortunate Hollywood studios (in this case, Dimension Films, owned by the “independent” Weinstein Company, but prior to 2005 owned by Walt Disney) pay hack writers and morally myopic directors to make them. And it’s disheartening fans of so-called genre films go pay money to see films like Piranha 3D (although there were only eleven people on a Sunday night in the theatre when I went). It’s also pretty disappointing that the cinema blogosphere is teeming with discussion about this film, but not much in the way of criticism. The closest I’ve seen on several sites is something like this: “And anyway, it’s not that sexist because there’s a shot of a severed dick in the water.” Or that the town sheriff is a woman. Feminists be damned.
But alas, the silver lining is that this type of trashy, degrading, misogynist flotsam might just be another indicator that Hollywood is drowning in its own blood – on top of running out of stories (and talent to retell them), Hollywood is also making movies that just scream to be downloaded illegally by the fans and avoided at all costs by the rest of us who can’t stomach the hate-filled T&G.
Unfortunately, as an oldie who didn’t do his research first, I got sucked in to paying for this mindless gorgy. At least I didn’t see it in 3D.