Killer Fish (1979) Starring Lee Majors, Karen Black, James Franciscus, Margaux Hemingway, Marisa Berenson, Roy Brocksmith, Anthony Steffen, Frank Pesce, Gary Collins, Dan Pastorini, Fabio Sabag, Jorge Cherques, Chico Arago.
Directed by Antonio Margheriti.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Rating: PG-13 (Violence)
“Those who mistrust can’t be trusted”
After pulling off a heist of Brazilian emerald mining company safe with extreme boldness and exceptional precision a team of foreign burglars retreat to their luxurious hotel having stashed the loot at the bottom of a cove which they think is a safe place. They have left no witnesses and can lounge around the lobby without fear of the local cops but their worries are far from over. They still attempt to look as though they are enjoying paradise even with the tension of their “business trip”.
Paul Diller (Franciscus), the mastermind of the robbery has taken steps to ensure that his criminal associates cannot simply go to the site of the stash and steal it out from under them all. Setting a date for when the heat will have died down he has imposed a four-month waiting period to collect the jewels and divide up the proceeds. He re-affirms this at their post-theft meeting in his VIP hotel suite.
Diller has let loose several hundred piranhas in the area of the cove. The population of the killer fish has increased exponentially in the time since. He hasn’t told any of the others about this added security move knowing that only the unethical ones will go to the access point and attempt to claim the stolen booty resulting in them discovering his brutal contingency measure.
Warren (Pesce) and Lloyd (Guardino) return early from an excursion to frolic with busty hookers, restless to collect their respective shares. Cocaine snorting Hans (Pastorini), the brawn of the outfit is also antsy. Together these less intellectually gifted and more urgently greedy members of the group attempt to retrieve the loot. They are each savagely eaten alive by the piranhas.
Diller and his girlfriend Kate (Black) manage to retrieve the treasure without Bob Lasky (Majors), their rugged colleague in what remains of the gang. But just then a tropical storm comes up sinking Diller and Kate’s boat. They take refuge on a yacht which is carrying a magazine photo shoot team. Wouldn’t you know it that lisping Gabrielle (Hemingway) the shoot’s model happens to be Lasky’s new girlfriend? Worse, Lasky happens to be on the boat.
Lasky is immediately suspicious of what is in Kate’s hefty make-up case and for good reason. She and Diller have presumably decided to keep the loot for themselves, unless one has also decided to double-cross the other. Who will come away with loot? The survivors perhaps but there might not be any survivors particularly as the by committee effort to rescue the boating party also hosts the struggle between the crooks to outwit each other.
The menace of the fish and the tropical storm suggests disaster film but the narrative takes this beyond disaster film into the realm of horror by introducing the fish. Yet it is neither and is in fact a heist film that has co-opted aspects of the other two genres.
You can feel a sense of empathy for some of the characters here without necessarily having pity for them in seeing the fish attack them. This is because some of them have done something highly illegal and assumed a tremendous burden of risk from the outset. Theirs is not a strategic investment or a stock manipulation but an act of outright armed theft which breaches international law.
The group, though they conducted themselves like investors, knew what they were doing was highly illegal and extremely dangerous but decided the potential reward was worth it. One can admire such boldness and even secretly hope they get away with it but also not feel too terribly bad if they don’t. The narrative gives us that engagement and simultaneous detachment from the characters.
Even the act of retrieving their ill-begotten gains is dangerous and afterwards it is not as though they can simply deposit the loot in a secret bank account in Belize or somewhere. Peddling the jewels will be a not insignificant addendum to their misdeeds that the production team elected not to bore the audience with.
This movie is a tremendous amount of fun from start to finish and is a personal favorite. I don’t care about the implausibilities. I love the premise and find it all darkly humorous. The action is just terrific throughout.
A lot of these b-movies in the 1970s used ex-football players. That is why you see Dan Pastorini here as Hans, an almost completley superfluous role.