Criminally Genius: “Killer Fish”

I saw this film twice on tv when I was a kid, and I loved it so much:

–not least because the lead bad guy, played by James Franciscus, is absolutely one of the coolest– and most cerebral– bad guys in movie history.  Even as a boy slight enough to be mocked by his cousins when a little boy my own size slips down to the beach to become fish food (“Oh look, here comes Lucius going to get killed!”), I could totally identify with this badass, slick, smart, cynical jewel thieving, piranha-stashing madman.  What a genius!

Honestly, I think this movie changed my life.  Paul Diller, criminal mastermind, is my idol.  Oh, to be Paul Diller!

You could say he’s a “virile invalid”.  He masterminds a jewel heist, spending the night of the explosive theft playing backgammon for money while his hot girlfriend, played by Karen Black, is part of the team swiping the jewels.  This backgammon game is intercut with the heist, so it’s like the concentrated powers of his criminal mastermind are simultaneously orchestrating the heist will amusing themselves with winning round after round of backgammon.  Asked by his losing partner where his girlfriend is tonight, he casually replies, “Oh, I’m sure she’s keeping herself amused.”  Ha!  Yes, by stealing millions in diamonds and emeralds for her genius boyfriend, like any good little girlfriend should!

Of course there are manifold complications in this caper:  hence the “Killer Fish”.  Paul coolly stocks the lake where the gems are dropped till the heat cools off with teams of pirannhas as a fail-safe should any of his team members decide to betray their agreement.  Confronted by Karen Black after a few less-than-trusting/trustworthy co-conspirators have already become fish bait, Paul coolly assures her, in the best tradition of moralistic villainy, that they got what they deserved.

Paul Diller with piranha PDVD_043

Truly, this dude is what David Lynch might call “so f**king suave!”


Alas, Paul Diller doesn’t come out the final winner in all this.  By the climax, the moralistic part of his villainy has gotten somewhat shrugged off as the death toll mounts and it seems to become apparent he never had much intention of sharing any of the gems with anyone afterall (though this may in part be situational).  But even at his morally lowest, just before his pets get the better of him, he engages in a climactic face-off which includes some of the coolest, and “truest”, dialogue in motion picture history.  True to form, he damn near got the best of everyone, and probably would have, had he not dawdled perhaps a moment too long, basking in the glow of his triumphant brilliance, so that the piranhas managed to gnaw through and deflate his life raft.

Killer Fish ends with an awesomely cool and tricky trick ending, which unfortunately also is a bit muddled (is this intentional? I can’t tell?).  If Paul was a treacherous snake, well, Lee Majors’ “good guy” didn’t exactly have the cleanest hands either.  I know I root for Alpha Widow Karen Black to have a little something stashed away.  “Fair enough?”  Most definitely– as long as it isn’t Marissa Berenson who got the other half!


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