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!

 

Online Bullies Deserve All the EVIL in the World! “The Columnist” reviewed! (Vertigo Releasing / Digital Screener)

Columnist Femke Boot is a damn good writer backed by her publication. Yet, Femke feel unsatisfied and unsettled by the extremely harsh social media comments aimed to not only torpedo her career in the column section but also discredited and publicly shamed by twisting events in her past. The barrage of nasty comments, determined to bully her into oblivion, plug up Femke’s creativity, causing severe writer’s block on an upcoming book her editor continues to pressure her on. When she discovers that her next door neighbor has disparaged her online as well, the struggling writer snaps, taking revenge on her neighbor and an army of internet trolls by pursuing their true identities, tracking them down, and takes her revenge, plus takes a little more for an indulging gratification.

Relevant. Chimeric. A social war on words that can be fatally influential from anonymous patrons of the world wide web is Ivo van Aart’s black comedy of retribution entitled “The Columnist.” Also known originally titled as “De Kuthoer,” roughly translated as “The Pussy Whore,” a way better and in your face title in my opinion, the Netherland tongue-and-cheek-and-severed-finger comedy-thriller is the third feature, first beyond the 60-minute mark, clocking in at 86 minutes, for Aart from a screenplay penned by Daan Windhorst. Aart and Windhorst last paired up for a Dutch miniseries, “Suspicious Minds,” and Aart’s debut film, “Quantum Zero,” two years prior. Their concrete foundation of collaboration sets up an engrossing insight on masked mindsets of internet bullying that backfires but not in the typical way and also indorses a freedom of speech theme caught in a vicious circle of death. Sabine Brian and Ronald Versteeg serve as producers under the Benijay capital investment group’s NL Films.

Katja Herbers (HBO’s “Westworld”) gives a stress-inducing performance as the tormented-to-insanity columnist.  Absorbing, like a sponge, of all the scornful negativity, Herbers leaves little room for writer Femke Boots to expand and breathe as a normal person who can filter out the harsh criticism as the “Loft” actress can tune into a louded, distracted mindset of delusion and have an underscored inkling twinkle in her eyes as her character muddles around in life normalcy of being a good mother to her free-speech advocating daughter Anna (Claire Porro) and be in a radically unlikely relationship with a gothically-cladded, fellow writer, Steven Dood aka Steven Death (Bram van der Kelen).  Journalist are trained to accept the harshest criticism as long as they can back up their stories with facts and references, but for a columnist, who makes a living off opinions, the same can not be said and it’s in that gray area where “The Columnist” likes to dwell that someone’s subjective living is under attack and the enemy is the entire world who thrives off being antagonistic just for the hell of it.  Herbers plays right into that soul sucking anger, directing all her energy into those who mask themselves in anonymity as they bombard her character with comments of ill-intent.  The frustration mounts, especially when Femke attempts to file police reports about the death threats, but is shrugged off by an unsympathetic uniform, and the pressure blows her top off in a silent switch into swift vengeance of a variety misogynistic trolls.  Genio de Groot, Rein Hofman, Seno Sever, and Achraf Koutet round out “The Columnist’s” cast.

Though not written, shot, or produced by women, “The Columnist” follows in suit with a string of strong pro-feminism films, coursing with the same blood of the feminist revolution in cinema that has empowered women to exhibit their artistry, such works include Brea Grant’s dual female-lead, black comedy about an opioid addicted nurse’s mafia entanglement in “12 Hour Shift,” Jill Gevargizian’s gothic trip into hairstyles and isolating madness of “The Stylist,” and Emerald Fennell’s 5-Academy Award nominated revenge-thriller about the social system’s gender double-standards in “Promising Young Woman.”  “The Columnist” topicality revolves around a woman writer being bashed, sometimes just for kicks of callous community fun, by a plethora of trolling men who hide behind self-attributing epithets and nicknames.  With only her their commenting handles, Google, and her wit,  Femke tracks them down comment-by-comment for confrontation with her weapon of choice, usually a state forestry bag full of gardening tools, and this is where the good writing and directing comes into the fold by establishing a complete smorgasbord of different male personalities to circulate with Femke’s rage against the unwarranted slanderous and malicious of their own doing. Where “The Columnist” also gets you thinking is the freedom of speech movement that Femke’s daughter, Anna, so tenaciously hammers into her stern high school’s administrative hierarchy, helmed by a, you guessed it, a male principal. While Anna’s story is relatively tongue-and-cheek in comparison to Femke’s more serial killer storyline, there’s a whole lot of irony happening between the two paralleling, mother and daughter narratives with Anna battling the school system singlehandedly to allow her words to ring true and free from principal oppression and repression while Femke, on the other side of coin, is permanently silencing the cataclysmic of social media hate mail in an act with a killer, survivalist instinct. “The Columnist’ is speechlessly brilliant under a candy-coated, caustic-comedy cover.

Opt into “The Columnist’s” op-ed with your own periling opinion as the film circulates around UK and Ireland theaters, and on various digital platforms, courtesy of Vertigo Releasing. Martijn Cousijn is credits as the cinematographer for the film whose mostly bright and buoyant scheme is peppered just enough with darker, minimalist lighting, askew in most case, to capture Femke’s sinister half of this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde duality with pessimism at the door being the altering elixir. Cousijn doesn’t play too much with the lighting, keeping true to a soft and bright air that doesn’t drop “The Columnist” acutely into a dismal perspective tale of a killer. My only disappointment with the film lies with the gore effects when it’s time to dispatch some rude keyboard-knuckleheads from the comforts of their own safe haven. Much of Femke’s desires to keepsake parts of her tormentors is nothing more than a slight of editing to achieve and that kind pelts holes in the freedom of speech aspect that’s perhaps one-third of the story. “The Columnist” is by no means made for young teens, but Femke Boots deserved to reign hellfire in a fiery display of well unexploitable violence. Having just released March 12th in the UK, there are obviously no bonus material, but there are also no before or after credit bonus scenes to keep you anxiously waiting to the end. Writers will undoubtedly hail Ivo van Aart’s “The Columnist” as a win against stony critics with the film’s profuse display for social change against cyberbullying and the reaffirmation of free speech or else there will be blood.

Roe v. Wade? More like Dee Wallace v. Evil Cletus! “Red Christmas” review!


On Christmas day, Diane, a widowed mother, has her dysfunctional children and their families over to celebrate the festive holiday at the remote family home set in the countryside Outback. When a black cloaked stranger with a face wrapped in white cloth strips arrives at her doorstep, Diane’s good heart and generosity invites the peculiar man inside in order to not celebrate Christmas alone, but when the religiously zealot stranger reveals a letter and begins to read from it out loud, the mother of four is shocked and angered by the content and violently has him thrown out of the house, threatening him to never return. As night falls and all is calm considering the families offbeat relationship, the stranger lurks outside, waiting to seek deadly vengeance upon a family that houses dark secrets; secrets written on the pages of the stranger’s letter that connect him to Diane and her four children and he’ll stop at nothing to unearth the truth, to get the answers he desires, from Diane, even if that means slaughtering them all to pieces to get it!

“Red Christmas” is the Craig Anderson written and directed holiday classic that spills a lot of blood and sucks out completely the christmas spirit. Under the cloak of a prevalent hot and debatable topic, the social commentary aspect of “Red Christmas” blends an unapologetic slasher with turbulent subject matter that can strike chords with just about everybody, especially parents with special needs children. However, Anderson owns a black horror comedy wrought hard in exhibiting a family with unintentional aspirations to be the worst family in the world with eclectic characters ranging from religious fanatics, to closeted perverts, to pot smoking stoners, and putting them all in one house seems to bring the worst out in all of them on a day where sharing is caring and to pit them against a deadly stranger that forces them to build a malfunctioning opposing defense that works as well as a football bat.

“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Cujo” star Dee Wallace headlines as the mother of three, Diane, and the recently awarded lifetime achievement winning actress’s exuberant strong will and determination of being a badass, kickass mother remarkably unearths Wallace’s natural killer instinct to be an on-screen protective den mother of her children played by Australian actresses Sarah Bishop as the acolyte daughter to Janis McGavin as a inconsiderate pregnant stoner. The relatively unknown Deelia Meriel played the third sister as a free-spirited artist with a dark personality. The fourth child is a key player to the plot so one of the most important roles to the story was awarded to Gerard O’Dwyer, a humanitarian actor who brings encouragement and awareness about Down Syndrome, and the actor uses “Red Christmas” as an appropriate platform to continue his ongoing fight against societal stereotypes while showing off his talent for the theatrics. “Rogue’s” Geoff Mortell and David Collins are hilarious when undertaking their respective roles of a likable laid back uncle with a penchant for the pot and a curiosity sheathed Catholic pastor unsure how to find faith in a faithless house. Rounding out the bunch is Bjorn Stewart, Anthony Jensen, Robert Anderson, and an masked Sam Campbell as the cloaked villain Cletus.

When noting the technical portions of “Red Christmas,” the practical special effects, under the Craigfx team helmed by Craig Anderson and Doug Bayne, implemented to create a mixed bag of horrible deaths is one particular aspect worth mentioning. Just enough to tease the tip of the gore hounds’ testicles while not being submersed in the super-soaked overkill that indie slashers take route now-a-days. Instead, AFI award winner Craig Anderson kept his moments of axing off characters very clean, superbly neat, and visually attractive, honing in on the maniacal killer aspirations in order to create kills worthy of more established Renaissance slasher icons and when the killing begins, Anderson makes certain heighten the tension by importing a vary of vibrantly hued filters that light up scenes like retro-colored Christmas light bulbs. When considering the character development, Cletus, visually, is jarring, like seeing the Grim Reaper in the flesh (or is it bones?), but the character’s written erratically enigmatic in a sense that most of Cletus’ brief backstory is quickly explained through flashbacks in the opening credits, leaving not enough to explain the amount of how deranged and how creepy a bloke like him is and while “Red Christmas” puts Cletus’ motivations right upfront, right on the Christmas Turkey, a subsequent question mark still lies hanging over our noggins about the full and complete story of Cletus and his ill-advised demeanor.

Artsploitation Films proudly presents Craig Anderson’s “Red Christmas” that’s currently playing in select theaters near and far and soon to be on home video come October 17th! For now, a DVD-R screener was provided for this particular review and so I am unable to comment on the audio and video quality. There were also no extras available on the screener. “Red Christmas” harnesses inspiration from other cult Christmas classics, horror and comedy alike, while tackling head-on today’s tough fiery topics like women’s rights, abortion, Down Syndrome, and how people deal with regrets in their present and past. As genre fans, October will always the Christmas month for horror and after thoroughly enjoying the dementedness of Bob Clack’s “Black Christmas” to start the night of mischief off right, make sure to pop in Craig Anderson’s psycho-cinematic “Red Christmas” to totally ring in the complete holiday fear!

Get “Red Christmas” gift for the holidays!