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!

 

The Pangs of an EVIL Movie in “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” reviewed!


Shane desperately desires to be a part in the making of a low-budget horror movie. Failure after failure of submitting to production studios who opt out rather than option his scripts and the discouraging financial hits with each festival entry, Shane and his girlfriend Chloe decide to venture into producing, writing, and shooting a film themselves. With the script still a work in progress, the promising title alone scores a film crew from his friends and roommates, generate a small fortune of crowdfunded cash, a leading scream queen from the skanky residue poles of a strip club, and a set location provided by a local video store clerk and schlocky indie horror filmmaker named Machete Mike. As the young film crew bumbles through raising more money and the headaches of production woes without a completed script, a demented clan of hardcore snuff and cannibalistic filmmakers seek a hostile takeover of their ambitious endeavor that’ll produce authentic screams and real blood, the very basic foundations of a good horror movie.

You have to admit it. “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” is an appetizing, exploitation glazed carrot of a title, a salivating lure that’s hard to ignore for any enthusiast for licentious material. Brazilian born director, Paulo Biscaia Filho, helms the Big House PIctures and Vigor Mortis Apresentam production of an ostensibly horror-comedy that leisurely alters into a slasher-survival-esque structure courted with all the admirations of torture porn with a pinch of homage toward the iconic Sawyer family without a Texas size chainsaw wielding maniac wearing a flesh mask. Blueprinted as a meta-horror with twists and turns galore, “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains,” by name alone, doesn’t take itself seriously as an inebriated version of the genre it represents and layers to weave a non-linear, outlier story into the heart of the plot, sewn together by the co-producer Gannaway and went in and out of production in 20 or so days to finally hit festival markets a year later in 2018.

While Shane might feel like the focus of the story, Amber and Chloe undercut his presence and steal his thunder as the naïvely ambitious filmmaker with their final girl fight and vengeance. Amber’s the stripper whose yearning for her spot in the limelight no matter how small and she’s portrayed by prominent Manga voice actress Elizabeth Maxwell (“Dragon Ball Super”) and Maxwell is paired with “Last Girl Standing’s” Kelsey Pribilski in Chloe, initially as a mortal enemy toward Amber when the issue arises of the most common, basic, and core division between women – men. Yet, Amber and Chloe dominate the principal antagonists whose subtle quarrels frame an mulishness and aversion relationship build a stronger support for one another when they come toe-to-toe with utter sadism that threatens what collectively matters most to them. Maxwell and Pribilski demonstrate the conventional markings of the popular final girl trope, acting as a single unit, while Ezekiel Swinford bares the helpless victim and ignorant filmmaker, Shane, to be in the crosshairs of death and for the two corners of his semi-triangular love affair to be his saviors. Swinford acts the giddy fool well enough to warrant his character’s witless person in distress calling. Machete Mike lastly, but not at the least, rounds out the core four personas from Don Daro. The “Sex Terrorists on Wheels” actor has little-to-no kindness in his face, marking him intriguing and guileful as the video store clerk whose more than what meets the eye. Ariana Guerra (“Hollow Scream”), Lindsey Lemke, Gary Kent (“Bonehill Road”), Ammie Masterson, Larry Jack Dotson (“Humans vs Zombies”), Kaci Beeler, Michael Moford, Woody Wilson Hall, Ken Edwards, and professional bassist musician in the band Drag, Dominique Davalos “Howard the Duck”), co-star.

“Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” resembles a movie inside a movie that tries to pull a fast one over the audiences with an open for interpretation of the true nature of events and leaving those once thrilled at firsts sight of the title moviegoers kind of stun like a mouse batted over the head right before being fed to the famished pit viper. Filho and Gannaway’s film does swallow you whole, down it’s gullet, and dropping you right into the stomach acids that begins to dissolve the disillusion of what was imagined from the get-go. Nothing wrong with some slight of hand, but the overall result meanders on the promise of being hyper meta; an attempt to disrupt the conventional and tummy tuck in the tropes from being too loose and obviously exposed. The attempt is well intentioned, but that’s where the summiting the mountain ceases, at attempted, with a great, low-budget desired, premise aimed to upheave the genre and the audience’s expectations, whirl them all into a massive maelstrom, and spit out a “I fooled you!” expose. One aspect that made the grade were the Creeper Labs FX’s Andy Arrasmith and artist Shelly Denning’s special effects work that held a modest candor of blood and severity when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Heads being lopped off, eviscerated stomachs with guts oozing out, and just enough chainsawing and machete work to go around to properly finish the beautifying of “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” appropriately.

Rack’em and hack’em those chaste cheerleaders with a Blu-ray copy of “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” distributed as the 10th spine from the wild cinema aficionados of Darkside Releasing and MVDVisual. The Blu-ray is presented unrated and in 1080p on a BD-25 with a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The estimated $70,000 crowdfunded budget has a rather aesthetic and sleek digitally recorded imagery, perky with natural lighting and dark tint where appropriate, and is an overall pleasant outcome on a moderately robust budget for indie horror out of Austin, Texas. The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track maintained a balancing act between dialogue and score where the two fought for priority. Dialogue should always have right of way unless intended not, but for the sake of “Virgin’s” story, there’s doubt that drowning out the dialogue momentarily was purposeful. Bonus material includes Brazilian promotional videos, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Bloorhouse Tour with Gary Gannaway being the tour guide himself, a Machete Mike introduction version of the film, and a 16 page booklet that includes stills, original sell sheet cover art, and the birth of the project penned by Gannaway. “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” is meta-sexy, meta-slasher, and meta-fun, but wanders into meta territory a little too long for comfort while still positioning a piecemeal survival horror with fine talent and high kill count.

“Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” available on Blu-ray!