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Pinata: Survival Island (2002)

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Starring Nicholas Brendan, Jaime Pressly, and a killer Pinata

Directed by David & Scott Hillenbrand


Imagine if Ed Wood wrote a monster movie and Albert Pyun directed it. If such a movie were ever to be made, it would probably be of the same cinematic quality as Pinata: Survival Island. Channeling those infamous schlockmeisters are the brothers Hildebrand, David & Scott. Their previous entry into the monster movie genre was the damn near unwatchable King Cobra. You might recall King Cobra as the first of the direct-to-video Anaconda knock-offs starring Pat Morita and a humongous half-cobra/half-rattlesnake. I’m amazed these two ever got to make another movie again, but then we do live in an age where Uwe Boll can get $60 million to make an epic fantasy film based on a video game where Burt Reynolds plays a medieval king. Still, I’m glad they did because many comedies aren’t as funny as Pinata: Survival Island.

The magic that is Pinata: Survival Island opens with a five-minute prologue detailing the history of the titular piñata. Centuries ago in Central America, a once-prosperous village was suddenly and inexplicably plagued by pestilence and famine. Believing this was all due to the sins of the villagers, the local shaman performed a ceremony to rid the land of the evil in the peasants’ hearts. He created two symbolic piñatas – one represented good fortune and the other was to be used as a waste receptacle for their sins. The shaman symbolically transfers the sins into the piñata and casts it off into the ocean. While floating away, lightning strikes it, which the narrator voiceover claims sealed the evil inside the piñata forever until some horny, drunken teenagers unleash it. On the plus side, prosperity did return to the village.

I have no clue why this statue, and that is what it really is, is constantly referred to as a piñata. It isn’t, but everyone in the movie calls it a piñata. The piñata looks like a four foot statue of what I could best describe as a satanic Porky Pig dressed like a native warrior. I can only assume that calling the movie Statue: Survival Island just didn’t have a nice ring to it. Even calling it a totem would make more sense.

It’s up to Cinco de Mayo 2001. Ten Woodson University college students are on a tiny island off the California coast for the annual All-Greek Cinco de Mayo Scavenger Hunt. The scavenger hunt is played on this small, uninhabited island owned by the college that is fifteen miles off the shore of the campus. I’ve never heard of a college that owns a small island but then this is a movie about killer piñata so I really shouldn’t even waste time wondering about such things. Each of the college’s five fraternities and five sororities select one member from their house to represent them in the competition. The ten of them will be paired off into randomly selected boy/girl tandems and handcuffed together. Scattered throughout the island are over 2,500 pairs of male and female undergarments to be collected. The winning duo will get $20,000 to donate to their fraternity/sorority, so they’re all about to get killed…For charity!

There are also traditional piñatas filled with liquor bottles all over because it wouldn’t be a college event without copious amounts of alcohol. There is a lesson to be learned from this film, believe it or not. It’s an important lesson that all college students should take to heart especially as we approach spring break. All the death and dismemberment begins when two stoned idiots unleash evil from a piñata they were trying to bust open because they thought it was loaded with booze. Look what happens because of their substance abuse. Yeah, I’m reaching. Just go with me on this one.

So that piñata that doesn’t look anything like a piñata but everyone calls a piñata and claim looks like a piñata has seemingly been drifting aimless in a lagoon on this island for centuries just waiting for some drunken goobers to unleash its evil. Sure enough, they do, and the piñata monster comes to life. You read that last part. The piñata itself comes to life. The evil doesn’t come from inside it, it itself is the monster and let me tell you, in this movie evil comes in the silliest form imaginable. From there it’s your typical four-foot, pig-faced, psychopathic piñata monster running amok on an island brutally killing college students and they have to destroy it to save themselves kind of film.

It should be noted that there is virtually nothing in the way of character development in this movie. It should also be noted that’s there is virtually nothing in the way of plot either. More thought clearly went into coming up with the rules for the scavenger hunt than in the actual script itself.

And no, Jaime Pressly doesn’t even get naked. Nobody does. And that’s a shame because this movie could have really benefited from some gratuitous nudity.

Even by goofy monster standards, the midget monstrosity that is the piñata monster is just too ridiculous to be taken seriously and if you ever listen to the Hildebrand Brothers audio commentary track for the film they wanted to make a straightforward monster movie. Unfortunately, everyone else in the cast was under the impression it would be a horror spoof and by the time they found out otherwise it was too late to get out of making the film. Word of advice: don’t mention this movie when talking to Jaime Pressly because she’s reportedly a little sensitive about its existence. Although, given her film resume, this film is hardly the worst one on it.

The piñata monster was designed by the Chiodo Brothers, the same effects guys who made the all-time cult classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space. That would definitely explain the goofiness. Their version of the monster is mostly done with a guy in a suit punctuated by some computer effects. The Chiodo Brothers do relatively decent job but it doesn’t change the fact that the piñata monster is nothing short of ludicrous, both conceptually and in execution.

A moment ago I did say their version. You see, sometime in post-production, the filmmakers realized that the monster just wasn’t scary enough. Or not at all, to be more exact! Thanks to magic of crummy computer effect, the piñata monster can also transform into two entirely different looking monsters for no particular reason whatsoever. The second version is a taller creature that bears a passing resemblance to the demon from the video game Diablo. This second version of the monster is 100% CGI, all atrocious. The third version is a flying form that could best be described as looking like a demonic, Cro-Magnon, volcanic version of Pac-Man but with arms and tail. The CGI for this third version ranges from passable to Playstation. Not since Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster has there been a movie monster that constantly transformed from one form to another for no particular rhyme or reason.

To even attempt to fully explain the stupidity that ensues in Pinata: Survival Island’s full 95 minute running time in so many words is almost an impossible task. Since there’s just so much, let’s hit a few things at random.

Upon taking one hint off a joint, one co-ed starts acting like a giggling version of Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry to the point that she actually falls on the ground trying to make snow angels in the dirt. One has to wonder if perhaps the Hildebrand’s were high when making this whole project. Later on, this same girl will also have a flashback montage of everything we’d seen up to that point, and this montage occurs only 36-minutes into the movie. You don’t do a flashback montage only a half-hour into the picture.

After suggesting everything from swimming back to shore for help and using messages in a bottle to send a distress call, the co-eds group up to go exploring with hopes of finding any of the their missing friends still alive – and they decide to do this completely unarmed. Good grief, even the monster started out with only a stick as a weapon. Could they not find a big stick to take with them?

At one point, the remaining survivors are running for their lives. They momentarily stop for a breather, Nic Brendan drops everything he’s holding, reaches up to this tree limb just above his head, and begins swinging like a monkey. Why? Just one of life’s great mysteries.

The monster is constantly chasing people but rarely ever catches anyone. As a matter of fact, towards the film’s finale, the monster is pursuing them and the next thing you know they’re back at camp making weapons and preparing for the final showdown. It’s like a Cub Scout version of the Predator montage where Arnold was preparing for the final showdown. But the real question is; did the monster take a lunch break or something and decide to come back for them later? The monster does a whole lot of procrastinating in this movie.

Then there’s the scene where the monster kills the token black guy by, of all things, HANGING HIM FROM A TREE! I’m not kidding about that.

Some characters are hiding behind a tree while the monster looks for them only a few feet away. Next thing you know, its nighttime and everyone, including the monster, is still in the exact same spot.

How about the scene where Nicholas Brendan saves Jaime Pressly from the monster by swinging from a rope and dropkicking the monster? Oh, did I mention that he’s swinging all of two-feet off the ground?

And during the finale, when Brendan is being attacked by the monster that’s trying to beat him to death with its caveman club, he manages to stay alive because he has the full power of a frying pan at his disposal. He uses it as a shield to block the monster’s onslaught, and just like a Highlander sword fight, sparks go flying. Can a rock hitting a metal frying pan cause sparks?

These few things I’ve mentioned above are just a few of the many ludicrous moments in Pinata: Survival Island. Believe me, I could go on all day.

Pinata: Survival Island has begun airing on American Movie Classics from time to time under the alternate title Demon Island. That means that whatever you may think of the film, Pinata: Survival Island is now officially an American movie classic. Still, the question remains as to whether or not Pinata: Survival Island is a classic example of cinematic dreck with no redeeming values whatsoever or a new unintentional laugh riot classic. It probably depends on your state of mind at the time you watch it, or if you have some friends together for some homespun “Mystery Science Theater 3000” style riffing. It definitely requires two ratings, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one applies.


1/2 out of 5

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4 out of 5

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Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!

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Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole

Directed by Greydon Clark

Distributed by VCI


The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.

The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.

The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.

“Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.

A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.

Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.

Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.

A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
  • Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
  • Photo gallery
  • Satan's Cheerleaders
  • Special Features
1.3

Summary

Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.

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A Demon Within Review – Familiar Possession Beats To A Dreary Tune

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Starring Charlene Amoia, Clint Hummel, Patricia Ashley, Michael Ehlers

Directed by Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau


Possession flicks don’t often hold a long shelf life in the horror community, with Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s A Demon Within suggesting why. Hands emerging from the darkness, exorcisms, anxious priests – you’ll see it all again as you’ve seen it before. Early scenes glimmer a polish unlike equal indie products, but that’s just the devil playing tricks on you. Once the film’s main satanic takeover begins, cursing teens and stony glares become the been-here-before norm. Low-budget filmmaking isn’t an immediate detractor like some high-society snobs may believe, yet it’s surely no excuse either. Today’s review being an example of both mindsets.

Charlene Amoia stars as Julia Larsen, a divorcee who moves into Crestwick, Illinois looking for a clean start with daughter Charlotte (Patricia Ashley). Their dusty toucher-upper is a quaint, aged farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, complete with electrical issues and weird noises at night. Nothing to worry about, right? Julia’s focus is better directed towards town doctor Jeremy Miller (Clint Hummel), who she immediately hits it off with (after almost hitting *him* with a car). She’s eating stir-fry at his place one night, all things going well, and that’s when it happens – Charlotte is possessed by an evil force who enacts its sinister plan. Charlotte may physically be present, but only as a vessel for “Nefas.”

Without hesitation, A Demon Within lays predictable groundwork as small-town haunters have for decades. Charlotte’s new home is already infested with a spiritual squatter, Jeremy bottles (and drinks down) a blemished past that’s exposed too late, there’s plenty of characters sneakin’ up on one another – never with much “oomph.” Charlotte’s teeny-bopper voice drops to truck-driver deep at the height of possession, but it’s a distracting sound design that alone strikes little fear. Serious scares are attempted, be it a pitch-black basement slashing or Charlotte’s hide-and-seek pounce, just never delivered. An inconsequential failure to unite tone and atmosphere.

Performances are…well…rigid, to say the least. Amoia and Ashley strike a surprisingly likable chemistry as living humans, but once Ashley goes demonic, chemistry bottoms out. The way A Demon Within positions Charlotte when possessed is utterly dull and undefined; Ashley playing an unenthusiastic harbinger of death. It’s bad enough that Hummel’s tortured doctor masters the emotional range of Mona Lisa and the town’s pastor is hardly a scene stealer – but to have a demon be so vanilla (without a side of nuts, no less)? Getting past the limited lighting and Charlotte’s manly demon voice is hard enough, let alone her mostly relenting threats.

Making matters worse, the film’s third act is hardly a religious salvation that flows with ease. I had more fun watching Julia stammer over pizza and beers with Jeremy than their final fight against ghastly hellspawns. The truths of Jeremy’s past leak out in flashback form, only to reveal his stubborn inability to comprehend one’s own possession encounter in the very house Julia bought (useful information, eh?). The local priest shows up in the nick of time, a few cutaway jolts attempt cheap thrills, and some holy water mucks up an old painting – but again, minimal notability. Er…not even minimal? Shaky last-minute framing makes it hard to even notice the touch-ups to Charlotte’s face that signify her unholy imprisonment, even worse than blackened CGI mists.

A Demon Within tries, fumbles, and tries some more, but it’s best treated as a reminder of better exorcism stories that exist elsewhere. Even something like The Vatican Tapes is an improvement over this possessive redundancy, hokier than the honky-tonk love song that plays atop a pizza-chain flirt scene. There’s something to be said about getting out and creating original horror, but herein lies the problem – this ain’t *that* original. With harsher scares and tension, such a fate could be ignored. As-is? It’s hard to see past anything more than a January release placeholder.

  • A Demon Within
2.0

Summary

A Demon Within is a seen-it-before possession thriller that brings nothing new to the conversation. Not the worst, but also not a “hidden secret.”

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Desolation Review – The Joy of Being Rescued and All the Surprises That Come With It

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Starring Raymond J. Barry, Brock Kelly, Dominik Garcia-Lorido

Directed by David Moscow


It’s those random, once-in-a-lifetime encounters that only a select few get the chance to experience: when we as regular participants in this wonderful thing known as The Rat Race, stumble across a soul that we’ve only witnessed on the big screen. I’m talking about a celebrity encounter, and while some of the masses will chalk the experience up as nothing more than a passing moment, others hold it to a much larger interior scale…then you REALLY get to know the person, and that’s when things get interesting.

Director David Moscow’s thriller, Desolation follows shy hotel employee Katie (Lorido) and her “fortuitous” brush with Hollywood pretty-boy Jay (Kelly) during one of his stops – the two hit it off, and together they begin a sort of whirlwind-romance that takes her away from her job and drops her in the heart of Los Angeles at the apartment building he resides in. You can clearly see that she has been a woman who’s suffered some emotional trauma in her past, and this golden boy just happens to gallop in on his steed and sweep her off of her feet, essentially rescuing her from a life of mundane activity. She gets the full-blown treatment: a revamped wardrobe, plenty of lovin’, and generally the life she’s wanted for some time.

Things return to a bit of normalcy when Jay has to return to work, leaving Katie to spread out at his place, but something clearly isn’t kosher with this joint. With its odd inhabitants (a very creepy priest played by Raymond J. Barry), even more bizarre occurrences, and when one scared young woman cannot even rely on the protection from the local police, it all adds up to a series of red flags that would have even the strongest of psyches crying for their mothers. What Moscow does with this movie is give it just enough swerves so that it keeps your skull churning, but doesn’t overdo its potential to conclusively surprise you, and that’s what makes the film an entertaining watch.

While Lorido more than holds her ground with her portrayal of a woman who has been hurt in the past, and is attempting to place her faith in a new relationship, it’s Barry that comes out on top here. His performance as Father Bill is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t exactly chill you to the bone, but he’s definitely not a man of the cloth that you’d want to be stuck behind closed doors with – generally unsettling. As I mentioned earlier, the plot twists are well-placed, and keep things fresh just when you think you’ve got your junior private investigator badge all shined up. Desolation is well-worth a look, and really has kicked off 2018 in a promising fashion – let’s see what the other 11 months will feed us beasts.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Got your eye on that shining movie star or starlet? Better make sure it’s what you really want in life – you know what they say about curiosity.

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