Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
September 1st, 2004


Directed by Stuart Gordon

Ah, Howard Phillip Lovecraft. Your work has been adapted, stolen, modified and outright bastardized more times than I care to count. Your name appears above more titles than John Carpenter, not to mention more opening credit crawls than Bob and Harvey Freaking Weinstein, and I get the distinct feeling that, somewhere, you are SPINNING in your grave. If you are in hell right now, you are likely tied to an uncomfortable chair and forced, your eyelids pried open, to watch these movies over and over again. "Cthulhu Mansion" alone is probably making you vomit, but that's another story.

But anyway, back to Dagon.

We join our story with the next dot-com millionaire in the making on a boat with his wife and their friends. The boat, of course, doesn't last long and the dot-com millionaire and wife head ashore into a small fishing village. Stopping into a church with a familiar sign, Esoterica Orde De Dagon, allows them to at least try and get their stranded friends some help. This sets off a chain of events in the most evil little seaside village since John Carpenter and his "Village of the Damned" redux.

Which, of course, anyone even vaguely familiar with Lovecraft's work will see coming from hundreds of nautical miles away. When the only church in town worships the psychopathic meat-eating god of murderous mer-creatures, you know it's not going to be Pleasantville On the Seaside.

And I have to hand it to our boy genius here...when there's fifty angry villagers storming his hotel room, how does he help himself? Not by taking a couple minutes to push his bed and other furniture against the door, oh NO that'd be far too simple! He instead decides on removing a deadbolt lock from one door and installing it on another with a SWISS ARMY KNIFE!! He then takes the couple minutes he bought with the half - installed deadbolt (at a net time loss of like a minute and a half--I haven't seen an investment idea this miserable since the "All Enron and Haitian Penny Stock Portfolio".) to take his skinny, hundred and fifty pounds soaking wet body to try and break down the door into the room next to his.

This guy's not the sharpest tool in the shed, folks.

And if you've ever wanted to see a man's face removed manually, Dagon's the title for you.

The biggest problem with Dagon is that it doesn't seem to have much of a point. It's a wandering, rambling discourse about an incident that happened in a town full of monstrous mutant prosetylizers. It's like Night of the Living Dead meets the Mormons. Random plot elements, including the worst cliche of all, find their way into Dagon. The cliche?

"(Fill in the Blank), I am your (circle one) father / mother / sister / cousin / uncle / other _____________ / bookie / former roommate."

Yes, it's one of THOSE movies...isn't it bizarre how family members you never knew you had suddenly crop up when you're stranded in an evil little town by the sea? You have to wonder what these parents tell their kids.

"Gosh, son, you really aren't an only child...we just don't talk about your sister because she's a half human, half squid running the cult of Dagon on some island somewhere."

It's like the Maury show on crack!

Although you have to hand it to Lovecraft's bastardizers for sheer depth of continuity. All the Lovecraft - based films I can recall seeing in the last five years plug Miskatonic University in one way or another. Someone somewhere in the film is invariably named Howard out of homage, and Dagon is no different in either regard. As always, prime baddie Cthulhu is mentioned.

All in all, Dagon is a horribly confused contrivance that can never seem to get off the ground. Too much script effort was blown on making sure the piece was self - referential, and not enough was spent on making sure the piece made SENSE.

Check out the acid logic interview with Stuart Gordon

Pinata: Survival Island

zero stars
Directed by David Hillenbrand, Scott Hillenbrand

Pinata: Survival Island is the story of college students gone wild, and pinatas gone bad--pinatas with HEARTS, no less.

The story, convoluted as it is, goes something like this. Ancient Mayans or Aztecs or Incans or what have you were getting a little too evil for their own good, and thus the evil in the village was taken out of them and put into a pinata, that remained undisturbed for several hundred or even thousand years. If the pinata ever broke, the evil within it would be unleashed.

And you know that that evil will not want to play canasta when it gets out.

All is going well, too...until the drunken college kids show up for a Cinco de Mayo party and scavenger hunt. Scavenging what, you ask? Why, it's perfectly obvious when you realize what kind of movie we're dealing with here. They're scavenging underwear.

It was, in retrospect, a pretty bad idea to tell these bloated-liver, underwear hunting, future cirrohsis carriers that there was free tequila hidden inside pinatas on an island where a demonic pinata is just waiting to be broken open so it can kill again.

You know the temptation to break open every single pinata they can find, including the evil one that looks like, well, something out of a nasty horror movie, must have been and in fact WAS insurmountable. And of course, the killing begins in spades, with blood spattered on every flat surface around.

I hesitate to yadda-yadda movies, but this is one of them. I can't BELIEVE how awful a retread this one is. It's like "Deadly Species" all over again, except whoever wrote this slop thought that adding an evil pinata would somehow make it all original!

It continues on for an hour and a half or so, along with several murders that redefine the term "overkill", until we get ourselves to the truly mystifying ending to all this.

Do you want to know just how this awful slop ends? Do you?


The worst part is, I'm not kidding. They really killed the giant, evil, ceramic pinata by setting it on fire. This makes no sense. This follows no rational, reasonable, coherent chain of events. I don't even know where to begin describing how wrong this is.

But anyway...after that garbage winds down, we have extra features. We have Spanish subtitles, so that Spanish speakers can be TWICE as offended by this nightmare of a film. We also have trailers for Pinata Survival Island, Bark, and Revelation. And as if that weren't enough, we have audio settings, commentary, cast bios, filmmaker bios, a segment on the Chiodos who made the pinata effects, a trivia game that brings new meaning to the term "trivial pursuit," because that's exactly what it is, and production stills.

So all in all, Pinata Survival Island is just one more piece of garbage in the overswelling landfill that is most of the direct to video industry. Shovelreel, anyone?