Matt Bush and Danielle Panabaker star in PIRANHA 3DD, a film directed by John Gulager. Picture courtesy Dimension Films. All rights reserved.
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Piranha 3DD (2012)
Also Known As: Piranha 3D: The Sequel
Opened: 06/01/2012 Limited
Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: R for for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use.
After the terror unleashed on Lake Victoria in PIRANHA 3D, the pre-historic school of blood thirsty piranhas are back. This time, no one is safe from the flesh eating fish as they sink their razor sharp teeth into the visitors of summer's best attraction, The Big Wet Water Park. Christopher Lloyd (BACK TO THE FUTURE) reprises his role as the eccentric piranha expert with survivor Paul Scheer (THE LEAGUE) and a partially devoured Ving Rhames (PULP FICTION) back for more fish frenzy. David Hasselhoff trades in the sandy beaches of "Baywatch" to be a celebrity lifeguard at the racy water park. Prepare for double the terror, double the action and double the D's in this sequel also starring Gary Busey (LETHAL WEAPON, Katrina Bowden (30 ROCK), Danielle Panabaker (THE CRAZIES), Matt Bush (ADVENTURELAND), Chris Zylka (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) and David Koechner (ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY).
Christopher Lloyd (BACK TO THE FUTURE) reprises his role as the eccentric piranha expert with survivor Paul Scheer (THE LEAGUE) and a partially devoured Ving Rhames (PULP FICTION) back for more fish frenzy. David Hasselhoff trades in the sandy beaches of "Baywatch" to be a celebrity lifeguard at the racy water park. Prepare for double the terror, double the action and double the fun in this sequel also starring Gary Busey (LETHAL WEAPON), Katrina Bowden (30 ROCK), Danielle Panabaker (THE CRAZIES), Matt Bush (ADVENTURELAND), Chris Zylka (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) and David Koechner (ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY).
About the Production
How do you follow up an insanely fun comic horror epic like PIRANHA 3D - with its ferocious flesheaters, the sexy, scantily-clad young victims, and the bizarre twists and turns? For Dimension Films, the answer was clear: double-down on the blood, the body count and the beautiful young things. Double-down on the twisted humor, demented plot developments and wild entertainment. Last but not least, ramp up the 3D experience by filming in native 3D with the latest technology.
In short, double the D's to make PIRANHA 3DD.
To create the film, Dimension turned to four filmmakers with a history of collaboration and a flair for blending bone-chilling scares with truly twisted humor: director John Gulager, who got his directing start at Dimension with FEAST; the writing team of Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, who concocted infernal thrills as the writers of four SAW titles; and Joel Soisson, who has produced, directed and written several films for Dimension. Remarks Matt Stein, who initiated PIRANHA 3DD as a Dimension executive and served as an executive producer, "These guys share a sensibility that was exactly right for PIRANHA 3DD. They can twist genre conventions but also give audiences what they want. And they never cross the line into spoof."
Gulager embraced the idea of a sequel that boldly announced its more-is-more intentions to create a fun, amusing ride for the audience. "The immediate appeal was that title -- it was so goofy cool," he smiles. "It instantly suggested a modern version of the drive-in horror/exploitation movies that I love from the 1970s. Those movies reveled in outrageous fun, carnage, sexy girls, gratuitous nudity and sick, sick humor. I wanted to give the audience that same excitement."
As with any sequel, PIRANHA 3DD had to pick up the baton from its predecessor while staking out its own territory. PIRANHA 3D was set at an Arizona lake town during Spring Break but where would the prehistoric omnivores venture next? The team began brainstorming. Recalls Melton, "We wanted to push the concept and think of the worst place that a piranha outbreak could happen. And it occurred to us: how about a crowded water park? You've got the kiddie pond, you've got the water slides, the lazy river... lots of fun different places for piranha mayhem."
They crafted a storyline about a family-owned water park that's about to open for the summer season in Cross Lake, Arizona. Mapping the piranhas' journey from freshwater lake to man-made water park opened up juicy character possibilities, not the least of which was the water park owner. As Dunstan puts it, "When I think about having a water park that resorts to draining lake water instead of going through the city, it just calls for a nice, well-rounded sleazeball. He's asking for trouble and the prehistoric flesh-chompers are there to give him exactly that."
Like PIRANHA 3D, PIRANHA 3DD incorporates classic elements of teen horror movies from the 70s and 80s: hot girls and guys focused on summer fun; a pretty, smart female protagonist who is the first to suspect trouble and tries to avert disaster; and copious carnage. The film also weaves in a love story, as the film's heroine is wooed by her handsome ex-boyfriend, oblivious to the fact that her nerdy male best friend is hopelessly in love with her.
With the framework in place, the writers were free to let their imagination run wild -- very, very wild. Says Soisson,"There were two goals. One, of course, was to create a compelling storyline with characters that you identify with and are rooting for. The other objective, which is very much a PIRANHA franchise calling card, is that you get as outrageous as you possibly can. And then go beyond that. Take it up to 11."
EVERYONE INTO THE WATER!
PIRANHA 3DD continues the series' casting tradition, unfolding along two tracks. "For character parts and cameo roles, we wanted the kind of iconic actors that the audience 'gets' in a moment," says producer/writer Soisson. "For the rest of the cast -- the kids who are the main focus -- we wanted good, solid actors, who were also easy on the eye, of course. But we really sought out people that weren't over-the-top. They could just as easily be leads in any of the newest teen TV shows or movies that are pure drama. And we really got lucky on both fronts."
One of the reliable pleasures of a sequel is the return of particular characters from the original film. Here, too, PIRANHA 3DD tweaks convention to deliver a surprise or two with its alumni group.
The first actor to return to sign on for the sequel was Christopher Lloyd, the BACK TO THE FUTURE icon who plays the role of the eccentric piranha expert Mr. Goodman. Lloyd's character was one of the few to have no direct contact with the marauding fish hordes, making it relatively simple to bring Mr. Goodman back for another round of expert advice.
Reprising other characters was more of a creative leap, given the high body count of PIRANHA 3D. But where there's a will, there's a way. Writer/producer Soisson describes a phone call he received one night from Dimension Films Chairman and founder Bob Weinstein. "Bob had come home to a voicemail from Ving Rhames. All the message said was, 'Bob, this is Ving "Piranha 3DD" Rhames. And guess what? I didn't die.' I said, 'Oh. So Ving didn't die? Okay, I can work with that. We can go there.'" With Rhames onboard, the filmmakers came up with the idea to team him up with Paul Scheer, who played hapless porn cameraman Andrew "Drew" Cunningham in PIRANHA 3D.
PIRANHA 3DD's supporting and cameo roles drew an eclectic, eccentric group. David Koechner (ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY) put his distinctive stamp on Maddy's stepfather, Chet, who doubles and triples every possible entendre when he unveils the Big Wet water park. In an early sequence that sets the tone for what is to follow, Gary Busey plays a grizzled farmer searching a lake for the corpse of a prize cow. Joining Busey for his ill-fated foray is Gulager's father, Clu, who cameos in all of his son's films and is himself a venerable horror figure from films such as RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Besides Lloyd's character, one other role was written with a specific actor in mind: David Hasselhoff. The screenwriters placed the "Baywatch" legend at the Big Wet water park on opening day, not knowing if he would actually be amenable to playing himself as an egotistical visiting celebrity in a movie called PIRANHA 3DD.
They were in luck. Not only was Haselhoff willing to send up his image, he was a fan of the first film. Confirms Hasselhoff, "I sat down with Piranha 3D, expecting to watch just a little bit -- and I watched the whole thing. I thought it was great: 90 minutes of pure escapism and laughs. And I could tell from the screenplay that this would be a terrific ride."
The movie's youthful contingent is headed up by Danielle Panabaker (THE CRAZIES) as Maddy, the level-headed graduate student whose visions of a happy summer working at the family water park are quickly dashed. "Maddy is thrust into this crazy situation, and she feels responsible for the safety of the people around her," says Gulager. "Danielle's a very strong actress, and she has a mother hen quality that was perfect for Maddy."
Matt Bush (ADVENTURELAND) plays Barry, Maddy's trusted friend, fellow water park worker and perennially overlooked love interest; Chris Zylka ("Flash Thompson" in the upcoming THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) plays Kyle, Maddy's handsome, smooth-taking ex-boyfriend. Katrina Bowden ("30 Rock") and Meagan Tandy ("Jane by Design") portray Maddy's best girlfriends, the virginal Shelby and the not-so-virginal Ashley, respectively. Rounding out the cast is Adrian Martinez as the obnoxious park employee Big Dave, who meets his match in a very tenacious piranha.
The filmmakers pulled out all the stops when it came to the stars of the show, the piranhas. Aiming to give audiences killers they could really sink their teeth into, they created their own school of piranha. Make-up effects designer Gary Tunnicliffe designed and built over 150 of the toothy terrors, in five different sizes: creepily translucent embryo piranhas; "fry" piranhas that were about 3 inches long and well-suited to hanging out in bodily orifices; infant piranhas, 12 inches of insatiable appetite; aggressive, unstoppable 2-foot teens; and finally a few adults, which topped out at an intimidating 4 feet. He amplified the fish's prehistoric qualities and gave them a lot more razor fins on their bodies, the better to slice with.
Says Soisson, "People are coming to the movie to see the piranha, and we thought it would be more realistic-looking and more fun if our actors were interacting with actual prosthetic mechanical fish. With CGI, it takes a lot of work to make it look like actors are physically interacting with an effect. We liked that we could slam these piranhas into people, and you can actually see them being attacked."
For complex swimming and swarming sequences, digital piranhas got their day in the sun. But one of the most challenging digital sequences had nothing to do with piranha, but rather with the legless Deputy Fallon played by Ving Rhames. Visual effects supervisor Roger Prudden had to work with multiple layers of green screen, digitally removing Rhames's real legs and replacing them with Deputy Fallon's very special, custom-made artificial limbs. Visual details that were blocked by Rhames in the actual shot -- clothing, boots -- had to be reintroduced digitally. Finally, everything in the sequence had to be matched up with the Rhames/Fallon's staggering walk.
Filming underwater in native 3D posed a unique set of challenges. Diving bells had to be built to house bells for the two sizable 3D cameras; armor padding and soundproofing added to the logistical load. The cinematography team encompassed a traditional team lead by director of photography Alexandre Lehmann, and several 3D technicians. Each shot required stereographer Max Penner to calibrate the optimum amount of space between the two camera lenses. "This was my first 3D movie and it was a really interesting, sometimes funny, learning experience," says Gulager. "With the big cameras and huge set-up, it felt like we were back in the early days of film. And Max was behind a curtain, like the wizard in the WIZARD OF OZ. His job is incredibly delicate, because if the placement of the cameras isn't right, as a viewer you're going to go cross-eyed and your head will feel like it's literally about to explode. Which would be a nice effect for the movie, but not something you want to do to a live audience."
PIRANHA 3DD shot for 30 days in Wilmington, North Carolina in the spring of 2011, with the mom-and-pop Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park standing in for Big Wet. Though the schedule was short, Gulager, the writers and the cast found plenty of room for improvisation and embellishment. Hasselhoff notes he was originally scheduled for a handful of scenes and a single day's work; he ended up staying four days, becoming one of the film's key characters in addition to co-writing two songs and performing over the closing credits. "John and the writers were completely open to improvisation and allowing us to do what we do as actors. Everyone in the cast was very creative and funny, and everyone plays it straight," he notes. His lifeguard perch gave him an impeccable view of the scene. "There were so many girls that were in such good shape it looked like 'Baywatch' on steroids. It was like living in a 3D moment every time you would go to the pool. And it was even more fun watching everyone in the pool get eaten by the fish."
Panabaker praises Gulager for expertly orchestrating the madness and mayhem. "I think John Gulager was born to make these kinds of movies. He has the perfect sensibility, and a very specific vision of how he wants everything to look," she remarks.
Writers Melton and Dunstan had been unable to visit the set in North Carolina, but they were able to get a glimpse of production when some extra scenes were shot in a California water park. Recalls Dunstan, "The last thing that Pat and I saw before we left was a bloody topless woman running out and catching a human head in her cleavage. And I thought, 'Okay, we're fine. We've made the movie we wanted to make.'"
Hasselhoff agrees. "The movie is a fun ride. Lots of blood, lots of laughs, nothing is sacred. You're going to go into the theater and watch the craziest, funniest, goriest horror movie ever. PIRANHA 3DD makes JAWS look like kindergarten."