The best thing about the world of horror is the multitude of sub-genres that exist within it. You’ve got slashers, zombies, ghosts, demons, vampires, werewolves… the list goes on and on. And now, thanks to director Stephen Tramontana, the woefully underpopulated murderous piñata sub-genre has another entry with Killer Piñata.
Now, it’s a safe bet that if you’ve read past the headline of this review, you’ve got some bit of curiosity about this film which is totally understandable. While the title tells you what you need to know (it’s a movie about a killer piñata), it doesn’t tell you what you want to know. And what you want to know is, “What on earth would possess a piñata to become a killer and how can such a beast be stopped?” However, to answer that would be to wade into what could be considered spoiler territory and Killer Piñata is not a movie you want spoiled.
Our story starts, as they often do, at a Latino party store. The store owner, a hook-handed grandmotherly-type played by Joette Waters, opens up one day only to find that the employee on the night shift didn’t close things out properly. Any thoughts of firing the employee are pushed aside, though, when the employee’s dead body is found sprawled out on the floor – the letters P-I-N written in blood next to an outstretched hand. Looking on is a determined looking, rainbow-colored little donkey piñata.
Later, despite hanging a “do not sell” sign on it, the burro is sold to a harried dad who has admittedly not listened to his wife and needs supplies for his son’s birthday party. With burro, bull and Captain America piñatas in tow, the man heads home. The piñatas get questionable looks from the wife, but the son enjoys (perhaps a little too much) beating the ever-loving shit out of the bull. The party winds down and everyone heads inside, leaving the donkey to survey the slaughter; the beaten and headless body of the bull lies forgotten, candy scattered everywhere. It’s right here, at this moment, that you just know there’s gonna be some payback. And when the boy’s older sister invites a couple of friends over for a small get-together after the parents and boy head off for the night, you know that that payback is coming soon.
Killer Piñata is probably a far better film than it has a right to be. While the acting is a little rough and the comedy tends to be hit or miss, Tramontana, along with co-writers Megan MacManus and Nick Weeks, deliver a fun and original story. There are a few shots where a second take or an edit might have improved things, but there are also some clever uses of the camera like “Piñata Cam” and creative uses of slow-motion. One of the most creative and more entertaining segments is the animated origin of the piñata which was most certainly included because filming a live-action version of the events would have required another set and more actors which would have added to the production costs. The blood and gore is not widespread, but when it shows up, it’s plentiful. One scene in particular will leave some viewers (probably most of them being men), squirming in their seat. And while not bloody, another scene will test the endurance of even hardened viewers. The first thing that might come to mind as an inspiration for the scene is from Tommy when Ann Margret is writhing in a flood of baked beans – the differences being it’s not beans and there’s nothing curiously titillating about it.
The cast, despite the aforementioned lapses in acting quality, does an admirable job with the subject matter. Eliza-Jane Morris (who plays Lindsey, the older sister to the kid who beat the snot out of one of the piñatas), and Billy Chengary (who is Lindsey’s sexually frustrated sort-of-boyfriend, Scott), have the hardest job. It’s been said that one should never work with children or animals, so you can imagine how difficult working with an animal made for children can be. Let’s just say that making it look like a paper mâché burro could be a formidable foe isn’t the easiest job in the world.
At ninety minutes, the film is a little long and some scenes feel padded to up the running time and, while mostly on point, some of the humor falls flat. It’s during these times that the viewer may wonder if a better approach would have been to play the movie straight, allowing the humor to flow organically from the absurdity of the premise itself. This approach worked for an equally as unlikely killer in Quentin Dupieux’s cult hit Rubber (2011). All in all, however, Killer Piñata is a fun movie that gets an “A” for effort and is deserving of at least one viewing before beating it senseless with a stick.
Killer Piñata (2.8 / 5)