31 Days of Horror Cinema

31 Days of Horror: Killerfish

killer fish 1979 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Shame:
Overpriced B-movie impulse buy cluttering my watch pile.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1970’s
Crazy Animal Movie


The Advance Word: Fish that kill. They’re killer fish. And the 6 Million Dollar Man is going to stop them.

#8. Killerfish

lee majors killer fish

Have you ever wanted to watch a movie about “killer fish” that involves the most awkward sequences of staring off camera and almost zero instances of curmudgeonly fish let alone killer fish? Then, boy howdy, do I have the movie for you. I could write a review about this movie, but I think I’ll just let a few images speak for themselves. Lee Majors is no slouch, by the way. He runs around and speaks with great purpose. Either he was drunk or desperately trying to keep this movie on the rails with super powers of seriousness. Antonio Margheriti knows his way around B-movie genre conventions, but the director seems incapable of shepherding his actors in any specific direction. Direction lost in translation, perhaps.

Margaux Hemingway and Lee Majors warming up their awkwardness with a few eye-location exercises.

If I had to crown the ultimate champion of staring awkwardly, I would give that crown to Margaux Hemingway who has as many different awkward glances as the eskimos have words for snow. The only person to compete with Margaux was Karen Black, who vacillated between the “I’ll swallow your soul if you toss me any more side-eye” and the “I have to poop a chimney.” I commend Karen for her precision and intensity, but I’ll take quantity and variety in this contest.

karen black killer fish
Karen Black prepares to swallow someones soul.

Before I became obsessed with the ways the characters stared off camera (and honestly this activity consumed my attention to the last hour of the film), I noted that this backgammon board resembled piranha teeth. (I’d go back and get decent shots of these things, but goddamn I don’t want to spend any more time on this particular review than I have to.) But I thought that the toothy-looking board seemed like a really cool visual motif. Alas.

killer fish backgammon board
The toothy backgammon board represented an early glimmer of hope that I had chosen a competent horror film.

Killerfish spends so much time indulging in some explosion fetish that it forgets to show the titular fish. So when people start getting consumed by these unseen piranhas, the viewer never senses any gravitas to these deaths. The victims are either awful humans, incompetent humans or annoying humans. Roger Corman’s Piranha, while not a great example of building tension, comprehends the thrill of showing actual piranhas. Gnashing teeth, creepy swarming fishy noises. But then again, despite the title, the movie wasn’t even about the fish at all.

The film even acknowledges the lack of horror tropes through some self-reflexive dialogue. One of the more dramatic characters in the film says, while mired in the middle of a rainforest: “We need something dramatic. Maybe a little chiaroscuro.” Agreed on all counts. Acknowledging, however, that your film lacks excitement or craft doesn’t make it okay. Does it? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Final Thoughts:

Killerfish tries to build tension by not showing the budgetary limitations imposed upon their monsters. I say “apparently” because tension of any kind only manifests in minor keys and miniature blink-and-you-miss-em crescendos. We’re left with a movie that doesn’t build tension, a creature movie that doesn’t show its creatures, and a B-movie cast that inadvertently entertains as a result of the actors’ incompatibility and tactless gazing.

Killerfish‘s appeal lies not as a horror film, but as an action-adventure film with piranhas standing between double-crossing thieves and a priceless emerald cache. With a proper frame of reference, maybe Killerfish works as some variety of campy nostalgia. Casting better actors in the primary roles would have gone a long way towards legitimacy. I’m not suggesting the film required “good” actors — just better actors. And more examples of perturbed fish.

killerfish 31 days of horror
Eventually, yes, people get eaten.

Technical Notes:

Killerfish arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Scorpion DVD. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of unearthing these lost B-movie treasures, but I’m also conflicted because people with ample resources spend time and energy restoring and preserving films like this rather than something with, I dunno, a little more teeth. The movie looks great. (Yay!) But also, why? WHY DOES KILLER FISH LOOK LIKE A MILLION BUCKS?

Final Thoughts:

awkward glare michael bluth

30Hz Rating:


killerfish blu-ray 31 days of horrorBlu-ray Verdict:
 Definitely pick this up for your next Awkward Stare Drinking Game. Pace yourself. Godspeed. I’ve got a copy for you, actually.

Availability: Scorpion DVD’s release of Killerfish can be purchased at Amazon. 


Earlier 31 Days of Horror entries: #1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein



By jdp

Pittsburgh-based freelance writer, movie watcher and vinyl crate digger. I've interviewed Tom Hanks and James Bond and it was all downhill from there.

31 Days of Horror: Killerfish

by jdp time to read: 3 min