Horredy: John Gulager on Piranha 3DD

The director of the new sequel talks fake horror science, his dream film projects and the many scenes he wishes they hadn't put in the trailer.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


During the lunch break at the Piranha 3DD press junket, director John Gulager hung out in the holding suite and started talking about Bunuel with the press waiting for their interviews. The “Project Greenlight” winner is best known for the Feast films. He directs the sequel to Piranha 3D in which the piranha invade a water park. David Hasselhoff stars as himself, hired by the sleazy manager to sit in the lifeguard chair. Talking with Gulager, he couldn’t help but spoil a little bit, but it’s all in the trailer anyway.  He also spoiled Feast in case you’re still waiting to rent that.


CraveOnline: How did you end up taking on the sequel to Piranha 3D?

John Gulager: Okay, so I started about five years ago. I won a contest called “Project Greenlight” and the prize was to direct a movie for Dimension. At that time it was Miramax/Dimension, and it was a movie called Feast. It was also with Marcus [Dunston] and Patrick [Melton] who wrote Piranha 3DD. So they split up, the Weinsteins and Disney and they took us with them. That’s how I ended up with Dimension. Then finally Bob [Weinstein] called up and went, “Piranha, you wanna do it?” So here I am doing this and I’ve actually seen Piranha 3D. I thought it was pretty good. I liked it a lot. Took [my wife] Diane [Goldner] to see it, saw it a couple of times but had no idea that this was going to happen.


Are you in house at The Weinstein Company?

Well, you know, I guess. So far it’s all I’ve done. It’s not necessarily on purpose I guess, or maybe it is. I don't know. Maybe I’m just lazy.


Did you have any reservations about doing a sequel to someone else’s film?

No, not this one because it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done so far. Filmmakers are always trying to get some crazy thing off the ground that they can never do. So this came along and it was good timing for me.


When you got the project, did you think, “How do we top the d*ck bite?”

[Laughs] We give a nod to it. I don't know if we top it but we certainly give a nod to that scene in the first one.


If we’re talking about the scene that’s in the trailer, with Katrina Bowden and her boyfriend, I think you topped it.

Well, you never know. This movie’s pregnant with piranha! There’s your quote.


Did you want to go a little more fantastical? Obviously that scene is not scientifically sound.

Yeah, the science in this movie is pretty off. But I think like any good B-movie, we just go with our own science and say that it’s fact. So there’s a lot of science that I guess if you really nailed it down, it would not be exactly like this, but in the tradition of Squirm or all those kind of movies when you see the things going under people’s skin, that wouldn’t happen either but it looks cool.


Not like Piranha 3D or the originals were scientifically sound.

[Laughs] The thing that is interesting is that the whole idea about the water park drilling into the underwater lake, that part is actually true.


True as in based on a real case?

True as in the water park where we shot drilled down into an underwater lake and that’s where they get all their water.


Is that legal?

Well, the city sued them and the water park won. So that was one of the reasons why we had to be careful with the water when we were there, because they’d come test it constantly, the city does. Isn’t that interesting? They actually had a little pump in the back and the owner was explaining all this to us. So we made that part of the storyline.


Was anything over the line for Hoff?

The thing with David [Hasselhoff] is that I think people have tried to get him to do stuff that’s pretty questionable and everything. He’s pretty wary of that. I thought we were, in our own way, pretty respectful but I did need him to have a drink and I did need certain things to happen. A lot of times if I asked twice then he’d do it. We didn’t ask him to do anything really stupid. I think he’s always sort of either kind of smart about his situation in the movie character-wise as himself. I think there was nothing really, really bad so I think that was fine. I think he went along with it.


Aren’t you making fun of the people who would exploit him more than himself?

I think so and then we just didn’t want to go to that other place anyways. I wanted him to be more of a regular character in the movie, not just the stunt casting.


What about “Little ginger moron?”

Oh, you mean saying it? Oh yeah. I don't think it made much sense to him. It’s quite a mouthful when you say it but we were just talking about that little kid, little David.


What is your sense of the showmanship required in doing a Piranha type horror movie?

I mean, obviously you have to have a little spectacle and fun and boobs and everything like that. I think ours kind of skewed more towards story comedy I guess, horredy, than the first one. Still the actors tried to play it straight even within the comedic roles because I think that’s what makes it funnier or weirder or however you want to think of it.


Sort of in the William Castle tradition.

I guess, I don't know. It’s in 3D. You need something to be a little over the top I guess. Otherwise you just stay home and watch network TV.


With the 3D did you want to push things out of the screen more or less than the last film?

Okay, so last time was converted 3D and this time we shot in real 3D. I don't know if it totally makes a bit difference but we did it anyways. With the converted 3D you can have stuff go anywhere you want. With the real 3D you’re dealing with physical objects. I think we felt we needed some things to break the screen and to go out into the audience a bit. Otherwise we wouldn’t quite be doing our job. I think because of the cheesiness of a Piranha movie in general, you kind of think you’re going to get that and I think if we didn’t deliver that part of that, people would be going, “What? They didn’t get it.” So we tried to do some of that.


So anything that comes out is an effect added later?

Yeah, sometimes they are. Sometimes there’s a beer can. When he hit the beer cans, I don't think it had the one there that actually comes at the screen. There’s a pole at the end that just part of it was there, and then they added the extension because it was never going to work. We did one version with the pole and one without, but I think the one that ended up in the film was a fake pole. They use a real pole to gauge it I guess.


You’ve done four horror movies but I know from talking to you earlier you’re well versed in French New Wave cinema. Is that part of your background?

Yeah. Growing up, Beauty and the Beast, Cocteau, Bunuel, Fellini, Bergman, those were all my favorites because I’m a little bit older than Marcus and Patrick. I come from this other period of L.A. when it was all these revival houses. You couldn’t just watch stuff on DVD or even videotape at that time. You had to literally go theater to theater. There was a time here in L.A. that you had the Nuart, the Fox Venice, the Encore theater, the New Beverly, the La Reina. They all would show a different movie every night, a different double bill and a lot of them were classic world cinema films and stuff, or even John Waters, Pink Flamingos, things like that, David Lynch, Eraserhead at midnight. You had to work to see great movies back then. Now you’re just inundated with films. I don't know what the next generation’s gonna be like as far as cinema, if they’re just going to be like, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that.” Or if they’re going to be quite as excited about it as I am. I love all those. I aspire to make a horror film that’s not a comedy eventually, that’s scary. I want to make a western. That’s kind of out of fashion.


Didn’t Feast start out as a more traditional horror movie?

No, it got smaller as films will do because of the budgets. When Feast started out, it was about a $40 million movie. There was no way we were going to be able to do that. It had Mad Max car chases, it had trucks going through the bar. It had all kinds of flying monsters, so it became 10 people boarding themselves up in a bar and that was it. But it was fun and I think possibly it became more self-referential as it got cut down. Then stuff like instead of having the slut get killed, and worse having her kid there while she’s having sex, she lives and becomes the hero. That kind of stuff we liked doing and the kid got killed, when we kind of set him up as the kid that’s going to obviously survive at the end. So we tried to sort of break some conventions in that movie and I think we tried to do a few in this movie too, the same kind of self-referential thing, without it being totally like Scream where you’re saying it’s self-referential. Maybe we have too many in-jokes in our minds that no one ever knows about, but that’s how things get written.


Do you wish they hadn’t put Ving Rhames in the trailer?

Well, there’s a lot of things that I wish weren’t in the trailer but I actually like the trailer so that’s the problem. This is what they say to me. They go, “Gulager, if no one comes to see the movie it won’t matter anyways.” This is what they told me on Feast when they put the hero getting killed in the trailer at the end. Yeah, you shouldn’t know that Ving was going to be in it. You should just know when they open up that little gate. You shouldn’t know really that Hasselhoff is going to be in it as a character. You should just think he’s going to get a cameo kill or something, but I think it’s all become too well known.


I think Hasselhoff’s okay. Just knowing he’s a full character doesn’t give away the story.

But still I think when everybody first heard that he was going to be in it, they just assumed he would just do what he had done in several films playing himself and he just came in and went, “What?” Boom, dead, or something like that. But there you go.


What are you doing next?

Nothing. I’m trying to get those movies that are hard to get on. I have one called The Good Doctor, it’s a noir film. Then I have a crazy western I’d like to do. So I’ve been just trying to get those going. It’s going to be kind of stuff. In a way I’m like maybe I can just go out in the desert and rent a warehouse and build some sets and just shoot a movie over a year. There’s a movie called Kwaidan. It was a ghost story, Japanese and the director Kobayashi basically got an airplane hangar and built sets himself over a year and then shot the movie once they were built. In the back of my mind that’s kind of a romantic notion.


If The Weinsteins say they have another horror movie and they want you to do it, would you be up for it?

Yes, and then I’d buy a camera for my film. On Feast II and III I bought an editing system so slowly but surely I’m building up to give them some competition.