Piranha II: The Spawning

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Piranha II: The Spawning
(Piranha II: Flying Killers)
North American theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Cameron
Screenplay byH.A. Milton
Based onCharacters
by John Sayles
Richard Robinson
Produced by
  • Chako van Leuwen
  • Jeff Schechtman
CinematographyRoberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli
Edited byRoberto Silvi
Music bySteve Powder
  • Brouwersgracht Investments
  • Chako Film Company
Distributed by
Release dates
  • August 14, 1982 (1982-08-14) (Italy[1][2])
  • November 5, 1982 (1982-11-05) (US)
Running time
94 minutes
CountriesUnited States
Box office$389,106 (non-USA) €411,480 (Spain) (20 December 2002)

Piranha II: The Spawning (released internationally as Piranha II: Flying Killers) is a 1982 American independent horror film directed by James Cameron in his feature directorial debut. It is written by Charles H. Eglee (under the pseudonym H.A. Milton) and stars Tricia O'Neil and Lance Henriksen, who would later star in Cameron's The Terminator and Aliens. Part of the Piranha film series, it is the sequel to the film Piranha (1978) directed by Joe Dante.

Cameron, previously a special effects artist for Roger Corman, was hired as director after executive producer Ovidio G. Assonitis fired his predecessor. The production was fraught with difficulties arising from Assonitis' exerting an unusual amount of creative control, hiring an Italian crew that didn't speak English and preventing Cameron from viewing any footage during the editing process. The exact degree of creative control Cameron had has been disputed by multiple sources, with some claims arising that Assonitis fired Cameron after two weeks and directed the film on his own while others maintain that Cameron was present for the entirety of principal photography.

After the film's release, Cameron largely disowned the film for many years,[3] but has since acknowledged it as his directorial debut.[4]


A Caribbean coastal resort, Hotel Elysium, is menaced by a series of vicious marine animal attacks originating from a nearby sunken shipwreck. Diving instructor Anne Kimbrough's student is one of the victims, but her estranged police officer husband Steve refuses to let her see the corpse. Soon after, two women and a man are killed by piranha which has developed the ability to fly.

Concerned, Anne finds that she is being frequently bothered by tourist Tyler Sherman, and decides to take him with her to the morgue to get a look at the body. A nurse comes in and kicks them out, unaware that a piranha was hiding in the body. It kills the nurse and escapes through a window.

In her hurry, Anne left her credit card behind at the scene. Anne and Tyler have a one-night stand. In the morning she begins to study the pictures of the corpse, and is horrified by what she discovers. Steve arrives, throwing the card at her, angry that she went to the morgue and that she has a man in her bed. She tries to warn him of what she has discovered, but he ignores her.

Anne then tries to cancel the diving sessions, leading to her getting fired by her manager. Attempting to capture one as proof of the incoming threat, she is intercepted by Tyler, who informs her that he is a biochemist and member of a team which has developed the ultimate weapon: a specimen of genetically modified piranha, capable of flying. He explains that his team lost a cylinder full of these fish in the water earlier.

Gabby provides the proof Anne needs to Steve, showing him that they are a serious danger, as they are now eating each other. At a meeting, Anne tries her best to reason with the manager, to no avail. Steve provides a piranha wing as evidence. Steve tells her that she cannot trust Tyler, because the army says he is crazy.

Later, a piranha attacks Gabby's son and kills him, leaving Gabby to vow revenge. Anne tries to dissuade him, but fails. Having ignored Anne's advice, the manager, Raoul, hosts a nighttime fish party to capture grunion. Unfortunately for the residents, the piranha join the hunt. Anne gets a man named Aaron to patrol the beach but he is lured to the sea where the piranha kill him. During the fishing party promoted by the resort, the piranhas fly out of the water and attack the guests. Anne leads the survivors into the hotel, where they shut the doors and windows. Gabby tries to attack the flying piranha, but they easily overwhelm and kill him.

In the morning, the piranha leave as they do not like the light. Tyler and Anne decide to undertake Gabby's plan, and blow up the ship to kill the predators. Meanwhile, Anne and Steve's son Chris has been hired, against their wishes, by a local ship 'Captain' Dumont and his daughter Allison. They sail away and strand themselves on an island. They get lost at sea and try to set sail again, heading straight toward the wreck.

When Chris and Allison are stranded in a raft above the shipwreck, Anne and Tyler arrive in a motorboat and dive down to the wreck to plant the timer charges that Gabby left behind. With only 10 minutes to get out of the wreck before the bomb explodes, Anne and Tyler are trapped in one of the sunken ships rooms by the murderous piranha who all return to the wreck. Steve, piloting a police helicopter, ditches the chopper and swims to Anne and Tyler's motorboat where Chris and Allison are. Steve powers up the boat and takes off. Down in the wreck, Tyler gets stuck and is eaten by the piranhas. Anne escapes out of a porthole, then grabs the anchor, allowing herself to be pulled away by the motorboat on the surface. The bomb detonates, destroying the sunken ship and all the piranha with it. With all the piranhas dead, Anne swims to the surface and is picked up by Steve, Chris, and Allison in their boat.


  • Tricia O'Neil as Anne Kimbrough
  • Lance Henriksen as Steve Kimbrough
  • Steve Marachuk as Tyler Sherman
  • Ted Richert as Raoul
  • Ricky G. Paull as Chris Kimbrough
  • Leslie Graves as Allison Dumont
  • Albert Sanders as Leo Bell
  • Tracy Berg as Beverly
  • Phil Colby as Ralph Benotti
  • Hildy Maganasun as Myrna Benotti
  • Carole Davis as Jai
  • Connie Lynn Hadden as Loretta
  • Anne Pollack as Mrs. Wilson
  • Arnie Ross as Mal
  • Lee Krug as Ronny
  • Sally Ricca as Cindy
  • Phil Mullins as Phil
  • Kidd Brewer Jr. as Lou
  • Jan Eisner Mannon as Lisa
  • Ancil Gloudon as Gabby
  • Paul Drummond as Frank
  • Stevie Cox as Frank Jr.



After the release and financial success of Joe Dante's Piranha, producers Jeff Schechtman and Chako van Leuwen immediately began work on a sequel film. Roger Corman, the head of New World Pictures which had produced and released the first film, did not share either person's interest, instead focusing on his own "underwater horror" film Humanoids from the Deep. Schechtman and van Leuwen purchased the sequel rights from Corman, first setting up an independent production company before developing a script with writers Charles H. Eglee and Channing Gibson, based on a treatment by New World producer Martin B. Cohen.

Because Dante was already attached to direct The Howling for New World, the producers approached Dante's former colleague Miller Drake as prospective director. Drake had worked alongside Dante in New World's trailer department and had essayed the role of "First Mutant" in Dante's directorial debut, Hollywood Boulevard – before becoming Corman's de facto head of post-production. With a tentative director in place, the producers' sought financing and eventually struck a deal with Ovidio G. Assonitis, a Greco-Italian filmmaker who had produced and directed several successful low-budget "cash-in" films aimed at the American import market. Drake set to work developing a script with Eglee, who would later collaborate with James Cameron on the TV show Dark Angel. Drake's intention was that Piranha II should hinge upon Kevin McCarthy's scientist from Piranha, even though he had seemingly perished in the first movie.

"I pitched this idea of bringing Kevin McCarthy back, all chewed up and mutilated from the previous movie," says Drake. "He was on an abandoned oil rig and he was developing these flying piranhas out there to get revenge, or whatever. I think we were going to bring Barbara Steele back and have him kill her by smashing her head through a fish tank."

Plans changed as neither McCarthy nor Steele were available, and the script was eventually re-written as a standalone story without returning characters. James Cameron, another New World alumnus, was hired as the special effects director. Some time before principal photography started, Miller Drake was fired by Assonitis and Cameron was promoted to director. Piranha II would be his feature directorial debut.


The primary location for the film was the Mallards Beach-Hyatt Hotel (later renamed to Moon Palace Jamaica resort), in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, which served as the film's fictional Club Elysium resort.[5] Most of the underwater scenes were filmed off Grand Cayman. Interior scenes were filmed on a sound stage in Rome.[6]

Due to budget limitations the crew was composed essentially of Italians, none of whom spoke English. Some however did have prior experience on horror/fantasy movies so they were, to some extent, able to satisfy Cameron's requirements.[citation needed] Among the crew was veteran horror cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli (whose name is misspelled "Roberto D'Ettore Piazzoli" in the opening credits). The special effects were designed and supervised by Giannetto De Rossi, who had previously worked on Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 and The Beyond.

After the first week of shooting, the set harmony was disturbed by some discussions about the work between the director and the producers (Assonitis, asked to verify the day-to-day activities, arguing with most of Cameron's choices), so while Cameron was only responsible for the shooting, most of the decisions were under Assonitis' authority.[citation needed]

As in the first film, which was one of many horror films inspired by the success of Steven Spielberg's film Jaws (1975), piranhas act as the antagonist monsters harming human life, and have developed the ability to fly, which they did not have in the first film. On the Terminator 2: Judgment Day commentary track, Cameron jokingly defended the film, tongue firmly in cheek, as "the finest flying killer fish horror/comedy ever made". He would later employ some of the same mechanisms used to make the piranhas fly in the facehugger animatronics for Aliens.[citation needed]


"I was replaced after two-and-a-half weeks by the Italian producer. He just fired me and took over, which is what he wanted to do when he hired me. It wasn't until much later that I even figured out what had happened. It was like, 'Oh, man, I thought I was doing a good job.' But when I saw what they were cutting together, it was horrible. And then the producer wouldn't take my name off the picture because [contractually] they couldn't deliver it with an Italian name. So they left me on, no matter what I did. I had no legal power to influence him from Pomona, California, where I was sleeping on a friend's couch. I didn't even know an attorney. In actual fact, I did some directing on the film, but I don't feel it was my first movie."
— James Cameron on "directing" Piranha II: The Spawning.[3]

According to Dreaming Aloud, a biography of Cameron by Christopher Heard, Cameron was not allowed to see his footage and was not involved in editing. He broke into the editing room in Rome and cut his own version while the film's producers were at Cannes, but was caught and Assonitis recut it again.

In a 2008 interview on The Hour, Cameron jokingly denied breaking into the editing room, then recounted the story as a "hypothetical scenario", and told host George Stroumboulopoulos how he "would've broken into the office" if he actually did it.[7]

Cameron was able to make a deal with a distributor, who agreed to buy his footage and allow him to re-score and re-cut the picture-basically restructure it to what was originally intended-before release, so his alternative vision eventually came out on home video in some regions, which made a profit for the distributor.[8]


Critical response[edit]

Some critics called the film "abject",[9] others opined that "the piranhas...look as though they had been remaindered from a joke shop" and that they resembled "haddock with dentures".[10] According to Tim Healey in The World's Worst Movies (1986) the film is "a strong contender...for anyone's list of all-time horror turkeys".[10] The film holds a 6% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 17 reviews.[11] It was a box-office bomb.[12][13] On Metacritic, the film has a 15/100 based on 5 reviews, meaning "overwhelming dislike".[14]

James Cameron refers to The Terminator as his first feature-length film, despite the fact that it was made in 1984, two years after Piranha II: The Spawning.[3] However, Cameron acknowledged the film in a 60 Minutes segment with interviewer Morley Safer in 2010, referring to Piranha II as "the best flying piranha film ever made".[4]


  1. ^ "Visto censura 78048" (PDF) (in Italian). www.italiataglia.it. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 4, 2018. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  2. ^ "Cinema - Prime visioni Albenga". La Stampa (in Italian). Vol. 170. 1982. p. 18.
  3. ^ a b c James Cameron Interview at Terminator Files. terminatorfiles.com
  4. ^ a b 60 Minutes, 27 June 2010.
  5. ^ Hughes, Howard (2011). Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult. I.B. Tauris. p. 279. ISBN 978-0857730442. Retrieved 2018-12-16.
  6. ^ Dr. John L. Flynn's essay on Piranha II. towson.edu
  7. ^ "James Cameron on The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos". YouTube. October 8, 2008. Archived from the original on 2021-12-19.
  8. ^ The Bloody Best of Fangoria vol. 4
  9. ^ Tim Healey (1986) The World's Worst Movies. London, Octopus Books: 6
  10. ^ a b Tim Healey (1986) The World's Worst Movies. London, Octopus Books: 7
  11. ^ "Piranha 2: The Spawning". Rotten Tomatoes
  12. ^ "Fishy Business: The behind-the-scenes story of the 'Piranha' movies (Part II)". EW.com. 2010-08-18. Retrieved 2017-07-05.
  13. ^ "Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981) - Box office / business". IMDb. Retrieved 2017-07-05.
  14. ^ "Piranha Part Two: The Spawning Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 19 March 2022.

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