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Piņata Survival Island:
Seriously, a Piņata
I've said it before but it bears repeating: Sometimes a movie's title is enough to make me fall in love. Hell, there's a lot of "Title-Fu" going on left and right. Back last Halloween, I pointed out that the film Troll 2 had no trolls in it and wasn't a sequel to the original Troll. But, even today it's a very common tactic for direct-to-video filmmakers to use phenomenally awesome titles for their phenomenally bad movies. When I first heard about Piņata Survival Island, my jaw dropped. This happens more than you would imagine...I like to think that all the really terrible films out there were made a very long time ago and that, since then, people have gotten smarter. That's not exactly true, but it does explain why I review a lot of films that are older than a large chunk of my readers (Hi kiddies! Whatever you do, don't look for the Nightmare Fuel section, you're too young.) Piņata Survival Island hit the discount DVD bin back in 2002 and only now are we feeling the aftershocks.
So, the big question should be "Is the title of this movie accurate?" The answer is...a holy mother of God yes. The movie is, quite literally, about a killer piņata. Before I go into details, let's think about his for a moment. We're about to talk about a movie where the monster is a festive party decoration that little kids beat with a stick, often while blindfolded. There are a handful of movies out there featuring monsters that provide a rather large stretch of the imagination to be threatening. I've seen killer sock movies and I've seen killer refrigerator films, but I've never seen a movie featuring a monster who has a reputation for being beaten to death by blind children. Well, there's a first for everything.
Let's deal with the back story and get this train wreck rolling.
Ah, is there anything crazy tribes of people won't do when they don't have access to the internet? The story here is a Central American tribe of...people, I guess...who are suffering from a famine. To rid themselves of the evil, they decide to perform a mass exorcism and have the local shaman give the town a tune-up. The local piņata-maker stops all his important party decoration work to design an evil, magic piņata to house all the evil that the shaman's sucked out of the locals. My first thought is, why the hell is there a designated piņata maker during time of famine, but hey, I don't understand ancient American cultures. I'm sure there's a highly religious significance to "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" that shamans of yesteryear would loved to have blogged about at length. Back on task: The evil of the villagers (it's vague, don't ask) is now trapped in the piņata (of doom) so they throw it into the ocean. Which is absolutely not littering, because native Americans throwing their discarded soul shards into the oceans is technically not against the law. Whenever the EPA starts recognizing demonic artifacts as being harmful to the environment, that'll finally change (Write to your local congressman for more information on Infernal Sanitation Legislation.) The evil piņata eventually washes up on an island that will soon be filled with sexy college students, smoking pot and totally not expecting to have their genitals torn out by a satanic party supply.
So here's the basic plot: A bunch of teenagers from the "local college" are going to an island to hunt for panties on an island that's been decorated with piņatas filled with tequila. It's a fraternity/sorority thing, obviously. Is it possible to have a fraternity in a movie and there not be gratuitous panty-grabbing and drinking? (The answer is No.) That's seriously the movie's premise though, all jokes aside. The cast of characters split up into teams and the team with the most panties (which have been thrown by the hundreds all over the island) wins the competition. The organizers also put piņatas filled with booze to keep the college kids hydrated properly during their intense game of panty snatch.
Amongst these young soon-to-be-victims are two you might know.
Star Trek fans might recognize Garret Wang (insert mandatory penis joke here) as one of the more useless oboe-playing characters from Star Trek: Voyager. And that's probably the only thing you know him from. I'll never forget his character's name only because I couldn't help but laugh every time I heard it: Harry Kim. I swear the show's writer must have had a bad break-up with a woman named Kimberly and wanted to let the world know she was extremely Yeti-like in the body hair department. Or maybe that's just me.
The "big" name in PSI is definitely Jamie Pressly. Better known for playing the super-pregnant cheating white trash hillbilly from the show "My Name is Earl." (She was also in the film "Karate Dog" but that's the topic of another article.) And you know what? She's pretty much playing the same character. For an extremely crappy movie, her acting shines like a trailer-park themed beacon of hope. Of course, that's only if you like her performance on Earl. If you're not into child-endangering bimbos with anger control problems, it just might not be your cup of tea.
Alright, enough cast trivia. Let's get on with the hot piņata action. And by that I mean the killings and not that creepy thing your Dad does with a rope and the inflatable sex doll whenever Mom's out of town.
If it's not broken, don't fix it. By this I mean that every horror director out there has to prove that drugs are bad by raining unholy and agonizing death to anyone who smokes marijuana. "Team Pothead" stops their incessant panty collecting to, naturally, wake up the evil piņata. They do this by cracking it...instead of being filled with candy, you'll remember, this one's filled with the evils of those random tribesfolk. Apparently, those natives were really, really freaking evil because this means that the piņata is now alive and, um, evil. Evil, evil, evil. Evil.
And there you have it. The evil piņata isn't so bad when you look at him here, but trust me when I say taking screenshots of him is utter deception. During my Friday the 13th article, I mentioned how in a lot of horror movies people are actually killed by editing. It's cheap on the FX budget. Let's recap: You get one shot of the monster swinging the weapon followed by a shot of a person screaming in pain. The two are never on screen at the same time and, well, yeah. Death by editing. So why am I talking about editing? Because I had to go through this movie frame-by-freaking-frame to actually give you a decent shot of the monster once it's animated. If you read the trivia behind the film, you'll read about how when they originally shot the film they used a "Little Person" (to be politically correct) in a rubber costume throughout the entire film, before "deciding" to go with fancy editing and digital effects. Do you know how much of the original "Dwarf in a costume" footage made in into the final film? Maybe about 12 seconds. So instead of a rubber dwarf monster, we're treated to a digital computer-generated dwarf monster with glowing eyes straight out of Adobe After-Effects. When I heard this film originally featured no computer effects....gah. This film is NOTHING but cheap and goofy computer effects. Without them? It really would be a completely different film. Seriously.
Oh and take the death-by-editing thing to heart. With only one exception (see below), every piņata murder is a smorgasbord of close-ups, random screaming, and shots of someone's screensaver shuffling random monster animations.
Of course the big win in PSI is the shot where the Piņata rips out a frat boy's genitalia with his bare hands and shows it to him. Of course, if you look at the screen capture above, you'll pretty much have to agree that the frat boy must have had every disfiguring sexually transmitted disease out there. Not that I....err....know what the insides of my scrotum should look like. I sort of assume that most guys don't have junk shaped like a smoker's lung, that's all.
The little guy filled with candy (evil) does have a few style points, though, in the tradition of thematically displaying your kills. The evil Piņata likes to hang up his victims literally like piņatas, while I'm more partial to dressing them up to look like my ex-girlfriends trying to win a Drag King competition (which is totally not gay, shut up). It's never revealed whether he stuffs them with candy before putting them up, but I feel it's safe to assume.
Are you ready for terror?
Terror in the form of piņata vision, that is. While the Predator had thermal vision, the evil Piņata has...orange triangle blur vision? If you watch this flick, get used to the above image. The directors (yes, it took more than one to pull off a killer Piņata film) apparently thought orange triangles were a great storytelling device to create tension, suspense, and orange-triangle based terror. The basic flaw in this being that it is almost impossible to see what we're supposed to be seeing via the piņata cam.
Remember how I said this film wouldn't be the same without digital effects? No? God damn it, that was only two paragraphs ago. Stop half-reading this while you wait for your porn to download and pay attention. The little person in a costume (who isn't actually in this film) transforms randomly into mutant piņata super-forms. You don't have to understand it, but what you do have to understand is that since the original monster has really stumpy legs, it would be laughable to think it could keep up with fleeing college students. And you know it just wouldn't do to make a killer piņata movie featuring teenagers collecting panties "laughable." Wouldn't do at all.
Say hello to the flying tadpole piņata and the World of Warcraft troll piņata. Both are pretty terrible digital effects that exist in editing limbo. Thanks to random "orange triangle vision," we're meant to assume these video game characters are closing in on our heroes, but....it's just a little sad. Oh and don't expect an explanation for why the evil piņata can change shape. Apparently, he can break himself and reform or...something. I don't know. It's a terrible movie and it's starting to hurt me trying to explain it in words beyond "Piņata Survival Island Bad. Jared Smash."
In the end, we have a final confrontation between the survivors (including Joy because trailer park moms are like cockroaches) and the editor. I mean the evil piņata. But you know what I'm saying. In the end they blow up the damn thing and everyone is happy. Well, the three survivors that is. The epilogue starts to roll, leaving us with a lingering question:
Where the HELL is this island?
Seriously, the fact that campus cops show up as the only officials during the film's wrap up boggles the mind. This island was off the coast of Mexico? South America? The characters obviously aren't going to school south of the border because during one point they reveal that no one speaks Spanish beyond "Taco Supreme". Is there a tropical island of death (and panties) just off the coast of Pennsylvania that we just don't know about? Do campus cops often not call the real police when it comes to carting off bodies? Or did all these kids go to Harvard and join the Illuminati (Bavarian-creme flavor) and that's why this is being covered up? I just don't know, and at this point I don't care. I just find it hilarious that the very end of this film is a shot of Campus police (a step up or down from Mall Security, I'm not sure) dealing with a multiple homicide.
God, if there was ever a movie I wanted to break open with a baseball bat, this would be it.
Seriously, that's not a piņata joke. Baseball bat + Violence = blessed vengeance for what I have survived. If it happens to bleed hard candy afterwards, I'll consider that a bonus.
So until next time, be careful the when your frat brother gives you a garbage bag and sends you out into the woods to find as many panties as you can carry. Lord knows I will.
"who never wants to have to find the ņ symbol on his keyboard ever again"
Edit: If you're re-reading this and noticing the lack of the word "Midget", know that I removed it after having a polite conversation with Ed Gale, the actor of the man in the plastic piņata costume. While I kind of dropped the ball on interviewing him when I had the chance, I did go ahead and edit my article to remove the word. Why? Well, Midget is a derogatory word....and while that's not something I care about, I have a policy when it comes to Little People. If them being cast in the role revolves around one extended short joke, then the damage is done and I feel it's alright to join in the very fun the movie is about. To put it another way: If a movie featured an who was hired just because of her giant gonzo boobs and she plays a character who's main gimmick/joke is that she has giant gonzo monster boobs, it's totally kosher to run with that. With Dwarfism....it's tricky. You don't want to be a jerk but at the same time if the director forced you to dress like a Leprechaun or one of Santa's Elves...well, it's a different matter. Point is in Piņata Survival Island Ed Gale took on the thankless role of being a killer piņata and he deserves all the respect that entails.
Um....as I type that I know that might sound wrong ("All HAIL the piņata man!) but really, guy wrote me an angry email but then stuck around for a nice chat. Cool guy, really. So, um...yeah. Go watch "O Brother Where Art Thou?", where he played The Little Man. Ed's actually been in a lot of my favorite movies, in small roles. Need to see if that Interview offer still stands. I'll do my best to keep the inappropriate jokes to a minimum. (Seriously it's so hard to say "I'll keep it short" it hurts. Damn you Pop Culture for teaching me that little people either a) don't have feelings or b) love an endless string of height-themed jokes. Because really, doesn't that happen ALL THE TIME when little people show up in shows & movies?
Copyright 2007 Jared von Hindman or maybe just Jared Hindman. It depends. Any images used that are not Jared's are used via Fair Use review purposes and belong to their respective owners....who are nice people that don't want to sue me.
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