Original release date 1972
Directed by Bill Gibson
Written by Richard Finder
William Smith as Caribe
Peter Brown as Jim Pendrake
Ahna Capri as Terry Greene
Tom Simcox as Art Greene
John Villegas as Juan
Julie Tecca as Girl
Ernie Francis as Diamond Miner
Miguel Berzares as Miguel
Andres Delgado as Bartender
This curious little movie, also known by the alternate title Caribe, bears no relationship or similarity to three subsequent Piranha horror movies, Roger Corman's 1978 original directed by Joe Dante, the 1981 sequel directed by James Cameron or Corman's 1995 remake starring William Katt.
The piranha in this movie is William Smith's character, an infamous hunter who hunts "everything." As he explains, he hunts through instinct bred into the human species from the dawn of man. Taking up at least a third of the screen time in Piranha are scenes which have the mood of a travelogue or a wildlife special, tours of a diamond mining site and a native village and shots of native animals. According to our vintage movie magazine collector, Peter Brown was on his honeymoon with wife number three (Yvette) at the time this movie was filmed.
Broadly, the plot has Terry Greene and her brother Art come to Venezuela on a photography grant. They hire Jim Pendrake as a guide for a motorcyle trip through the country. It's established early that Terry has a hatred for guns. She tries to stop Jim from bringing one on the trip and is angry at his defiance even when he uses it to save her from a rattlesnake.
At a rural bar, the trio meet Caribe. The subtle dynamics of that meeting set the stage for what follows. Caribe's body language tells it all as the testosterone meter starts to rise. Caribe looks at Terry as though appraising her and Jim as though sizing him up as potential competition. There is some hint of possible romance between Jim and Terry but only enough to give a sense of two men possibly wanting the same woman. Jim is aware of Caribe's reputation and greets him with muted hostility.
After a few drinks, Jim challenges Caribe to a motorcycle race, which Caribe wins despite being an inexperienced biker. We didn't miss the irony of Peter Brown's character challenging Bill Smith's character to a race in light of Peter's inexperience on a bike and Bill's many biker movies. According to Peter and Bill, Peter took a pretty spectacular spill while this race was being filmed. Unfortunately, it didn't end up in the film.
When the trio accepts Caribe's invitation to have dinner and spend the night at his place, things take a definite turn for the worse. Caribe rapes Terry and puts a knife through Art's gut. Jim tries to escape with Terry, but she's captured and he's left for dead in a burning building.
Caribe bests Jim in a fight. As he is about to inflict the coup de grace with his machete, Terry appears with his rifle. They exchange looks as she shoots him dead. The ending brings back Caribe's statement that he tastes the soul of every animal he kills.
When Caribe has the final fight with Jim, he is inexplicably wearing a sling on his arm. One would naturally assume there were scenes cut out of the movie which would have explained it. But no. William Smith, who displayed skill with knives in a number of his roles dating back to "Laredo," apparently has not mastered the art of opening very small cans with a very big knife. A craving for Vienna sausage coupled with the absence of a Swiss army knife, with its handy can opener, led to a deep gash in his left forearm when the knife he was using slipped.
The sling made for a disappointing fight scene, the only one we know of between Peter and Bill. They were partners on Laredo. As enemies in Chrome and Hot Leather, Bill's fight was with Tony Young's stunt double while Peter took out about a dozen of the others. Of course, scrappy and feisty as Peter has always been, we wouldn't bet anything valuable on his being able to do serious damage to William Smith, who is bigger, stronger and well-acquainted with martial arts. And within the context of Piranha, Caribe is clearly the tougher character. But with the sling on Bill's arm (and with a fresh, still painful gash) the fight looked unusually awkward. They basically had to choreograph it with Peter's character doing those dumb things that make getting stomped inevitable. E.g. when Caribe pushes Jim off the bridge walkway, Jim slowly and deliberately hauls himself up right into Caribe's waiting boot instead of going around to meet him standing face to face.
Hey, Where Did That Sling Come From?
At the time this happened, they were well away from medical care. Bill told us that Tom Simcox probably saved his life by applying pressure to his arm during the boat ride to the doctor. The emergency treatment Peter offered was a bottle of whiskey. If you look closely at the night scenes which precede the morning fight scene, you can see that Bill's left arm is not being used at all.
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