First There Was a Good Guy Doll. Then, There Was a Turkey. Now, EVIL Comes In the Form of a “Killer Piñata” reviewed! (Darkside Releasing / Blu-ray)

A father purchases 3 piñatas for his young child’s birthday party the day before going on a weekend getaway.  His college age eldest child, Lindsay, stays behind to have a night of drinking with her best friends, one of them being her ex-boyfriend who hasn’t figured out that her romantic interests no longer lay with the entire male sex.   With the pink piñata done in at the party and the other Captain American-resembling one bashed to smithereens by Linday’s friend, the surviving donkey piñata, possessed with the bullied and vindictive soul of a piñata factory worker, is fueled by bloodthirsty vengeance and on a campaign of death as one-by-one Lori’s friends fall casualty at the paper macheted hooves of the candy-filled sinister piñata and it’s up to Lindsay and a hook for a hand, old Latina piñata shopkeeper to stop the carnage.

I, personally, never whacked a sweet-treated stuff piñata on a joyous, celebratory occasion in my 37 years of growing up (in retrospect, my childhood didn’t seem very fun) and after watching Stephen Tramontana’s farcical horror-comedy, “Killer Piñata,” the 2015 release, receiving an enhance 2021 Blu-ray director’s cut, has now instilled a crippling fear of the inanimate that secures the fact that I, and probably my kids and my kids’ kids, will never take a baseball to those cute little piñatas ever!  With a penchant for the worst-of-the-worst horror movies and being an acolyte of the Jordan Downey’s brazen killer holiday turkey masterpiece, “ThanksKilling,” Tramontana, along with his entrepreneurial cohorts who started out in the healthcare field and have turned into amateur B-horror filmmakers, helms his crowdfunded sophomore feature, but first donkey piñata bloodbath, and co-wrote alongside fellow screenwriters Nick Weeks and Megan Macmanus who spun a wild fantasy into cinematic reality.  The 8 day shoot around Chicago’s Logan Square employs Tramontana’s investment partners Jennifer Kunkel as producer and Paul Summers as cinematographer, editor, and score artist under their pun of a production banner, Angry Mule.

“Killer Piñata” casts Chicago regional actors who thought starring in a film about a murderous piñata would be a once in a lifetime opportunity as well as a challenge to broaden their craft by working with puppets and, boy, were they right!  Stage actress Eliza-Jane Morris stars as Lindsay, battling not only a party donkey figure but also her sexual preference ignorant ex-boyfriend, Scott (Billy Chengary).  Much as Lindsay in herself is a trope of what is known as the final girl in horror, the script is riddled with trope characters just to make it abundantly clear “Killer Piñata” means funny business. Scott is the clingy, insecure ex who can’t see between his legs why Lindsay is no longer interested. His pal, Chad (Nate Bryan), resides on the opposite side of the spectrum as the confidently shameless, hypersexualized, and vain best friend who is equally matched in being confidently shameless, hypersexualized, and not terribly vain with Lindsay’s bestie, Rosetta (Lindsay Ashcroft). Martin (Daniel Hawkes) rounds out the group of the ill-fated soirée as Rosetta’s much hated bothersome cousin who is perhaps the only character out of the five to feel any morsel of pity for as he’s incessantly bludgeoned by insults, especially by his own Rosetta, and doesn’t have a single clue what’s in store for him. The most seasoned talent on set played a fiesta Latina shopkeeper with a “I Know What You Did Last Summer” hook for a hand; “High on the Hog” and “Asylum of Fear’s” Joette Waters gives an over-the-top Dr. Loomis performance. Cast rounds out with a fair amount of bit roles from Elvis Garcia, Sheila Guerrero-Edmiston, Steven James Price, and Elias Acevedo who all indulge in the nonsense of a superficial inanimate villain horror.

A piñata running rampant in a suburb home with poisonous candy being expelled from it’s paper and cardboard rectum and able to mechanize corpses like in Gundam with a simple transfer of hoof-to-spine energy awards Tramontana and his thinking outside the box team a 9×9 baking dish full of creative brownie points. “Killer Piñata” can also be funny indicative to all by the nonsensical title and if you’re not stiff as a board in the humor department, you’ll find one scene to be unsettling shocking with a lingering piñata blowjob death that’s literally jaw-dropper and a teary eyeful. While the film is by no means an in earnest attempt at a serious plot, continuity mistakes, in scene goofs, minor equipment quality issues, and narrative pacing drag down Tramontana’s quaint pintsize slasher and even drags a little more apathetically with tired jokes, farting gags, and formulaic routines albeit some okay puns and a smirk inducing making weapons montage. Not until around the plot point of the third act is when the death scenes start to hit the fan, briefly hovering up to the “ThanksKilling” gore-and-gags level, splattering the blood splatter here and there while the first two acts barely register on the oh, damn Geiger counter in what’s an interior imbalance of how to set the tone of a killer piñata video diagram.

Only five years after the initial release of “Killer Piñata,” Darkside Releasing proudly releases an enhanced Blu-ray director’s cut of the film that saw an overhaul and rejuvenation on the color grading, a brand new sound mix, and a quicker pacing, which I still think could have been tweaked better.  Presented not rated in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with a runtime of 84 minutes (originally 87 minutes but trimmed in the new director’s cut for pacing), there is some early on banding in the opening shot’s blue sky over Chicago, but for an indie production on a budget less than 5k, or now maybe more with a facelift in the new release, the coloring has a brighter glow and is not as flat some of the original footage appeared. The anecdotal animation nicely becomes an intermission to the story and a change of pace in the par quality with simple, but well illustrated, sketch animated backstory.  I never knew the original score, but the Paul Summers pulsating electro-club rescore homages the works “Killer Piñata” is inspired by with an upbeat soundtrack mingled with a traditional minor key soundboard.  Special features includes a new audio commentary, a recollection of pre-, post-, and during production in “A Look Back at Killer Piñata,” a reason why we never saw a sequel follow up title “Whatever Happened to Killer Piñata 2?,” the making of featurette with a few key scenes, and bloopers & deleted scenes.  Stay put after the credits for a bonus scene that aims to piece together things for the potential sequel director Stephen Tramontana promises.  The future for “Killer Piñata” is not yet certain and I firmly believe, in what I consider to be the promising next steps for the murderous inorganic party-pooper, is that the genre needs and should receive a crossover of Turkie vs Piñata in a showdown of the possessed puppets or in an egregious alliance to take a good chunk of mankind’s population down a peg!

Take a Whack at the Killer Piñata Director’s Cut on Blu-ray!

 

Being Slobby Drunk Doesn’t Excuse EVIL Deeds. “Promising Young Woman” reviewed! (Focus Features / Digital Screener)

On a weekly basis, Cassandra hits the night clubs and drinks herself into a stupor.  A male “Good Samaritan” will come over to assess her well being only to be selfishly determinedly for her to return to his place for a nightcap.  When on the verge of passing out or too immersed in drunken lethargy, the man makes his move with uninvited, unwanted show of handsy affection.  That’s when Cassandra springs her trap.  Feigning inebriation, the clearheaded Cassandra rouses a sobering, befuddled moment of blank expression, misplaced justification, and anger when the man’s seemingly easy lay catches them in an unsolicited sexual violation.  Her traumatizing past has molded her to become very good at pretending to be vulnerable until hearing a familiar name of a man, long thought to be out of the country, sends Cassandra down an itemized path of vengeance that not only includes ruining the life of the source of her unorthodox, yet necessary, campaign but also clump in every facet associated in with his shining existence.

If you needed a slap across the face in order to reassert yourself from the painful numbness of incessant news stories of young women being the vilified victims of sexual assault then “Promising Young Woman” is a stinging hot whack of four fingers, a thumb, and an open palm of wake the hell up!  From Emerald Fennel in her debut written and directed full length feature film comes a blunt narrative of systemic injustice involving rape and the social delusions stemmed out of grades of maturity, lengths of time, and levels of alcoholic drinking.  Coming off fresh from her recent role on Netflix’s period biographical drama, “The Crown,” Fennel draws motivation for her black comedic thriller from the infamous Brock Turner case of sexual assault on Chanel Miller that turned into a conviction judgement with abhorrent caveat in his early release for good behavior that the white, educated, star athlete’s life shouldn’t be destroyed because he’s a promising young man [sic].  “Promising Young Woman” targets every broken system that is meant to protect violated women despite their socializing determined conscious or unconscious state of affairs and has some mega star powers producing the social commentary material in such with “Suicide Squad” and “Bombshell” star, Margot Robbie, under her co-founded LuckyChap Entertainment along with the film’s star, Carey Mulligan, as executive producer. FilmNation Entertainment’s Glen Basner and Ben Browning fully finance the first real award contender of a 2021 release.

“Promising Young Woman” has an all-star, diverse class of actors surrounding principle lead, “Drive’s” Carey Mulligan as the methodically standoffish Cassandra, caught in a web of denial, self-depreciation, and straight up ignorance of the hurt caused directly and indirectly to whichever means to satisfy their own different shades of gray conscious. Mulligan is terrific as a coarse character rare to be juxtaposed against a veneer of bubble-gum chic with a reserved demeanor outside her burning the midnight oil working hours and coming out like a ferocious grizzly bear when calling out club scouting douchebags on their objectionable behavior. When Cassandra crosses paths with Ryan, comedian and “Eighth Grade” writer and director, Bo Burnham, Mulligan’s range is tested to take that disinterested and glassy eyed crusader and turn to a state of daily conformist complacency, the very dangerous thing Cassandra seeks to rectify one man after another, that slips Cassandra out temporary from her anti-heroine role until her dolled up, doughy eyes snap toward the camera and into a kill mode that goes straight for the pervert’s throat. An inclusive cast speaks volumes on not only how “Promising Young Woman” incorporates different ethnic and genre backgrounds and ages, but also doesn’t throw man to completely under the bus as Satan’s puppet on Earth with performances from Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Back”), Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2”), Jennifer Coolidge (“American Pie”), Clancy Brown (“Starship Troopers”), Adam Brody (“Jennifer’s Body”), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Kick-Ass”), Alison Brie (“Scream 4”), Connie Britton (“American Horror Story”), and Molly Shannon (“Hotel Transylvania”).

“Promising Young Woman” wields a powerful theme to shed a brilliant light on everything that is fragmented with the way sexual assault accusations, trials, and punishments are handled.  The film also probes deep into the soul in how people who are not directly affected digest sexual assault but become accomplice in proximity in a range exhibited from complete, unnerving guilt to locking away the events in their mind in order to forget.  Fennel plausibly fashions a motif of passing judgement from assailant to victim while chiseling out the flawed logic in each deplorable excuse as to why a University Dean, a defense lawyer, and a good friend could cold-heartedly denounce, and frankly not lift one single finger threaded with moral fiber about, a young woman’s accusations.  The unpleasantry core of “Promising Young Woman’s” topical subject is nestled inside a sparklingly and colorful cladded showcase, housing an energetic and upbeat arrangement around a dark tone that, in a way, reflects the pretense goggles most see through to avoid any responsibility or conflict.   Empathy never seems to run it’s course as Fennel treads without fear on a mission to take back the blasted to smithereens dignity by deconstructing and exposing every unjust particle in this atypical rape-revenge thriller robust with heart paraded on by an ugly truth.

Remember when I said this film is a slap in the face wake up call? It’s more of a gut check, a conversation starter, and a watershed moment rolled up into one and now “Promising Young Woman” will land right into all the living room smart television sets in America with a Friday, January 15th VOD release from Focus Feature films. The rated R, 113 minute runtime release presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio will available for a 48-hour rental on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Vudu, Fandango, and Google Play, but if you don’t want to wait and want to brave a pandemic climate, select theaters have showings available. Benjamin Kracun’s camerawork, shot on an Arri Alexa, offers a lush and delicate milieu surrounding Cassandra who, with a Panavision lens, gleams in the scene and the soundtrack, comprised of early 2000’s pop inspired from Spice Girls, Paris Hilton, and even a strained violin rendition of a Britney Spears track, cues moments of levity before annihilating the live of the blank conscious. As far as special features go, there were no bonus materials or scenes included. “Promising Young Woman” revamps the way women approach vigilante justice with a candy coated shell and the maestro behind it all, Emerald Fennel, aims to redact or nullify the expression promising young man to no longer be a part of the conversation.

Pre-order “Promising Young Woman” on Blu-ray or DVD. Watch it on VOD come January 15th

Nothing Says EVIL Like a Woman Scorned! “Revenge” reviewed! (Second Sight / BR Screener)


Richard, a wealthy businessman, and Jen, his young, candy arm mistress, helicopter in onto Richard’s desert retreat house. While his wife and children are at home, Richard plans to spend his time away relishing a pleasurable weekend that involves relaxing by the outdoor firepit, swimming in the infinity pool, being sultry with Jen, and do a bit of hunting along the mountains, canyons, and riverbeds. When Richard’s associates, Stan and Dimitri, arrive a day early, a party filled night rapidly ensues, but events turn sour when Jen is brutally attacked the next day and Richard plans to snuff out the scandal before it unravels to ruin him. Unwilling to cooperate with a coverup, Jen is nearly murdered by her three attackers only to arise like the rebirth of the Phoenix, igniting a vengeful fire inside her as she uses everything she has at her disposal to finish what they started.

In a day and age when the slightest bit of a woman’s attention can explode into a vile reaction of testosterone warped misguidance and it’s the woman who is shamed as the accosted criminal being barked at aggressively by the unequivocal fearful and condemning voices of the male species, it’s movies like Coralie Fargeat’s action-packed “Revenge” that symbolizes woman’s resiliencies against men’s efforts in a show of violent force that’s “First Blood” without John Rambo, but rather with a scorned princess for retributive capital justice. “Revenge” is the French filmmaker’s first full-length penned and directed feature film that’s one gritty and bloody grindhouse vindictive sonovabitch, a pure punch to the throat, and a direct message to misogyny everywhere. Filmed in the Morocco desert during Winter, the small cast is swallowed by the vastly arid landscape of transfixing cruelty, a synonymous parallel to the feat the heroine Jen is drawn to task. It’s also a feat that Fargeat managed to salvage to finally release a rape-revenge thriller backed by a conglomerate of production firms and financiers to stand with a film from a first time director whose treatment offers up maltreatment of women, such as the rape, along with the savagery, the concept of revenge, and ridiculous amounts of blood. M.E.S. Productions, Monkey Pack Films, Charades, Logical Pictures, Nextas Factory and Umedia are just to name a few of the production companies to be supporting capital.

With a role embodying the symbolic brutalization of physical and mental rape, a role of complete loneliness in a fatal skirmish against their attackers, and in a role forsaken in the face of death only to be reborn from the ashes of their former self, Matilda Lutz’s fully charged capacity to tackle such a demanding performance is beyond praiseworthy, scrapping the timid traits from Jen’s ravaged glossy persona and replacing with a rigid exterior ready and willing to combat to the death. The Italian born Lutz has to go through a metamorphosis and refashion Jen to be able to differentiate from her more bubbly first half self as the easy kill or the disposable male plaything. In a twisted turn of events, Jen’s mortal adversaries have every advantage to douse out Jen’s existence: gear, guns, vehicles, clothes, water, fuel, numbers, etc. Yet, despite all the advantages, the desert, much like Jen, is unforgiving as it is bare. Richard (Kevin Janssens), Stan (Vincent Colombe), and Guillaume Bouchede (Dimitri) exude the utmost confidence their grip around Jen’s throat. Janssens’ fortifies as the rigorous cutthroat, a misogynistic philanderer, determined to save his own skin no matter the cost while Colombe’s Stan is a retracting coward with regretful impulses. Colombe’s brings the comedy to a grimly tale and positions Stan to be the teetering villain tarnished by his guilt of nearly killing Jen, but never apologizes to being the catalytic rapist that initiates the whole debacle. Bouchede supplements with his divestment to charm as the overweight, do-nothing witness to save Jen from Stan’s seizing urges. As Dimitri, Bouchede stalls his typical niceties to be the silent violator who can open up the flood gates of aggression when transgression warrants it.

“Revenge” has an ultra-violent and super-synth finish chapping with multiple motifs of a rebirth theme and supplies a hefty bloodletting of incorporeal measures. Knocking it out of the park in her first feature film, Fargeat’s cauterizes the unnerving serious tone with alleviated black comedy of the bloodiest kind. The roundabout endgame chase comes to mind, involving a frazzled Jen and a wounded, but indomitable Richard in a merry-go-round of a shotgun standoff is some of the best editing work of fast and ferocious content I’ve seen in some time while still able to vitalize a transparent sense of what’s occurring. However, not all the slick editing is flawless. Some minor inconsistencies in the editing are noticeable and while these moments of lapse are not detrimental or pivotal to the story, they reflect Fargeat’s challenges of making a hyper-stylized action-thriller in her freshman full-length feature. In a sense, everything Fargeat’s deploys positions “Revenge” into a surreal tonality, glamorized for those thirsty for blood gushing in a canyon-vast desert bristled with rape and payback where a mere four players in this ebb and flow game of killer combat chess can effortlessly locate each other, but one can always find their prey by following their blood trail, another motif that continues to pop up that speaks metaphors of their life blood is the very object gives them away in the end.

Giving the limited edition treatment that it deserves, Second Sight Films’s Blu-ray release of “Revenge” is a mouthwatering narcotic of raging cathexis and while the Blu-ray BD-R can’t be technically critiqued, the LE release offers HD 1080p transfer of the original, 2.39:1 aspect ratio and sports an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. While Fargeat might be inspired by Lynchian themes, the cinematography work by Robrecht Heyvaert also resembles “Pitch Black” director David Twohy’s films with making something small larger than life and a particular chase scene involving all four characters at the edge of a canyon stroke a familiar chord with Twohy’s “A Perfect Getaway.” There were Second Sight Films’ exclusive bonus features included on the disc, featuring new interviews with director Carolie Fargeat and star Matilda Lutz (entitled “Out for Blood”) an interview with Dimitri actor Guillaume Bouchede (entitled “The Coward”), a interview with Robrecht Heyvaert (entitled “Fairy Tale Violence”), a new interview with composer Robin Coudert and the synth sounds of “Revenge,” and a new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger, author and editor of Diabolique. The release is sheathed inside a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Adam Stothard as well as a poster and a new soft cover book with new writings by Mary Beth McAndrews and Elena Lazic Overall, “Revenge” received a monster packaged release ready for the taking on May 11th. “Revenge” destroys toxic masculinity and breathes a vindictive hope from the fiery embers of rebirth and destruction.