Pinata: Survival Island (2002)

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


4 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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