Piranha: Joe Dante

Anthology inaugurates an ongoing series called FROM THE PEN OF… to spotlight that brutally neglected figure most often forgotten in the filmmaking process, namely the screenwriter. Famously devalued by cinephiles more prone to celebrating auteurs and actors, screenwriters are rarely honored with the likes of critical studies or repertory retrospectives.

While a few classic Hollywood scribes continue to earn attention (Ben Hecht, Preston Sturges, Dalton Trumbo, etc.), most have never received their fair share of credit or acknowledgment. This is particularly true of screenwriters who emerged hot on the heels of the demise of the studio system in the 1960s. While audiences may associate the works they penned more closely with particular directors, a closer study reveals that the sensibility and ingenuity of particular screenwriters shines through in each of these films.

Joe Dante: PIRANHA

1978, 94 minutes, 35mm. Screenplay by John Sayles. With Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Dick Miller, and Barbara Steele. Print courtesy of the Joe Dante and Jon Davison Collection at the Academy Film Archive.

“A massive horde of genetically modified piranhas with a taste for human blood is unintentionally released into the waters of a summer resort named Lost River Lake. Do-gooder Maggie teams with Paul, the town drunk, to rid the lake of the razor-toothed menaces before it’s too late! This 1978 cult classic offers more than its fair share of blood, guts, and body parts. But don’t let the dismembered limbs fool you – this campy gorefest is also a smart, thinly-veiled critique of America’s military-industrial complex.”

 

Lewis Teague: ALLIGATOR

1980, 91 minutes, 35mm. Screenplay by John Sayles. With Robert Forster.

“A very funny meditation on the old ‘what happens when you flush the goldfish down the john?’ nightmare. It is also a formula film that simultaneously demonstrates the specific requirements of the formula while sending them up with good humor. Lewis Teague, the director, and John Sayles, who wrote the screenplay, know exactly what they’re doing. … Though ALLIGATOR is done straight, not as parody, it never for a minute loses its sense of humor.” –Vincent Canby, NEW YORK TIMES

 

 

Jimmy T. Murakami: BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS

1980, 104 minutes, 16mm. Screenplay by John Sayles. With Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, John Saxon, and George Peppard.

This Roger Corman-produced mash-up of STAR WARS and THE SEVEN SAMURAI finds seven intergalactic mercenaries teaming up to defend a peaceful planet from the evil tyrant Sador (Saxon). The film’s charming modesty belies the heavy duty talent behind the scenes, including James Cameron (who was responsible for the artdirection), composer James Horner (TITANIC), production assistant Gale Ann Hurd (producer of ALIENS), and of course, John Sayles, who contributed the witty, memorable screenplay.