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Fox snaps up ‘Piranha’

Remake of '78 spoof hooked heavy bidders

NEW YORK — Fox Family Films bested several bidders in a feeding frenzy for remake rights to “Piranha,” the 1978 film scripted by John Sayles and directed by Joe Dante.

The remake will be scripted by Tim Metcalfe and Adam Simon, who just turned in their script for “Instinct,” a drama about killer ants. Fox Family snapped up the rights in a package deal worth high six figures against nearly $2 million for the title, the writers and the producers, said sources. The film will be produced by Chako Van Leeuwen and Bo Zenga.

The original Roger Corman production was engineered as a spoof/ripoff of “Jaws,” about what happens when a mad doctor releases a stock of man-eating fish into the local rivers. Despite its tongue-in-cheek plot that delivered as many chuckles as laughs, “Piranha” proved a trophy fish at the box office.

Made for just $800,000, the film had an opening weekend gross of $6 million and wound up grossing $30 million domestic. It spawned a sequel most notable for being the directing debut of James Cameron, though the “Titanic” helmer had disputes and left part way through filming, but couldn’t pull his name off it.

The rights were owned by Japan-based Leeuwen, who paired with Zenga. They brought in the scribe team of Metcalfe and Simon, who seem ideally suited to venture into those bloody waters. Not only did they just complete a comparable pestilence pic assignment for Mandalay in “Instinct,” but Simon wrote and directed “Brain Dead” for Corman, the cult film that starred Bill Paxton and Bill Pullman. Metcalfe’s past credits include “Kalifornia.”

The idea of mounting a larger-budget version created a piranha-like frenzy among bidders that included Miramax, TriStar, Village Roadshow and Fox Family. The rights holders finally took a hook dangled by Fox Family executive vice president Jon Jashni.

“Piranha” was sold on the basis of a pitch that promised a marriage of “Jaws” and “Scream,” indicating there will be the chance to feature nubile young bathers culled from the currently hot crop of young actors doing “Scream”-spawned horror fare.

Larry Kennar of Writers & Artists repped the rights and the scribes, and Zenga’s point person on the deal was attorney Mary Sullivan.

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