Viva (2007)

If the films of the 70s — well, let’s say the excesses of Russ Meyer and the drug and biker movies that I love so much — prove to me that there’s no way I would have survived the excesses of the decade.

There’s another truism — the movies of that era have people and imagery that look like no one and nothing else. Yet Anna Biller — who created this and The Love Witch — is the rare filmmaker that is able to recapture that past without merely creating a pastiche that has no heart and soul of its own.

VIVA may take its look and feel from the classic exploitation cinema and vintage Playboy magazines of the early 70s, with the gaudiest apartments outside of a Sergio Martino movie and colors that practically bathe your eyes in a soft and lush bath of joy. Yet on the inside of this taffeta-wrapped box lies hints that 1972 wasn’t always what was seen on drive-in screens.

There aren’t many films that are inspired by both the works of Hugh Hefner and Luis Buñuel — I would say that this is the only one — and for that, the world is a much worse place.

Biller wrote, directed, edited, designed the costume and stars in this film, which is the most self-aware movie I’ve seen that features unself-aware characters, which is some kind of meta backflip trickery when you get right down to it.

Barbi (Biller) starts the film happily married to the workaholic Rick, all while dealing with harassment at every turn, from her boss to her friends Mark and Sheila. Yet when her husband continually chooses work over her, she decides that she’s a single woman. And with Sheila also now single, the two ladies decide to go into the oldest of all professions, like something out of a Barry Mahon film.

Can a movie based on films and magazines that pretty much defined the male gaze break through and become a strong piece of feminist art? When it’s as well made as this film, the answer is yes. That said, this is a film that definitely feels like it will work better for an audience who understands camp and has a beyond working knowledge of the material that inspired it.

As I watched a scene where Barbi got ready for her man to come home, I was struck by one of the first women I ever dated that cared about make up. I felt horrible that she was spending so much time putting on a frustrating pair of false eyelashes and said, “You don’t have to do that. I think you look just fine without them.” And she replied, “Maybe I’m not wearing them for you.”

I’m glad that I learned that lesson. And glad that I watched this film.

You can get the new blu ray of VIVA from Kino Lorber, about whom Biller said, ““I am thrilled to work with Kino Lorber, who releases the best classic and contemporary films, and to see VIVA discovered by a whole new group of fans. VIVA is important to me both as a piece of cinema and as a response to the excesses of the sexual revolution, and I’m excited to see the types of conversations it will generate in the era of #Metoo.”

Want to learn more about Anna Biller? Here’s her official website.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Island of the Living Dead (2007)

When the rest of the world makes zombie movies that are either boring or sub-Troma winks at the camera filled with humor that breaks the tension, Bruno Mattei remains single-mindedly devoted to making the kind of undead movies that made me love the genre.

In short, in the sad world we find ourselves in where zombies have become boring, Bruno Mattei alone reminds us that these kinds of movies can remain incredibly fun.

After a team of adventurers loses their gold, they go through a fog bank and end up on an island of the living dead. There, nearly everyone dies as they’re pursued by shambling, blood puking monsters that never stop. Oh yeah, there’s also another higher caste of zombies that act like a cross between the Blind Dead and vampires, hypnotizing unwilling victims into becoming their thralls, even if they have to charm them with flutes!

I’ve come away from Mattei’s late period — he made this movie a year before his death — digital video films with great fondness, particularly for Yvette Yzon, who has taken over for Laura Gemser in his movies, starring in this, Zombies: The BeginningThe Jail: Women’s HellA Shudder on the Skin and two Segreti di Donna films for Mattei.

Here, she’s Sharon, not only the final girl but the Lara Croft of this story. The rest of her crew is pretty worthless, except for Snoopy, who gets his name by always wearing a Snoopy t-shirt. This is an astonishing choice for a zombie film and one that I applaud. He’s played by Jim Gaines, who has been in plenty of Mattei films like RobowarZombie 4Strike Commando and even shows up in The One-Armed Executioner.

Want an even better name? The leader of the ship is Captain Kirk (Gaetano Russo, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats and Trhauma, which he wrote)!

Screenwriter Antonio Tentori has been there for the dark night of the soul that aging Italian horror filmmakers must endure, being the scribe for everything from Argento’s Dracula 3D to Fulci’s Cat in the Brain and D’Amato’s Frankenstein 2000.

Only Sharon survives, but it appears that she becomes a zombie. No worry — she comes back perfectly healthy in the sequel, Zombies: The Beginning. Yes, only Mattei would name the second movie — or third, if this is in the same universe as Hell of the Living Dead — with a title like Zombies: The Beginning.

What are we to think of a movie that has not only the Necronomicon but also the De Vermis Mysteriis and the Cask of Amontillado? A film willing to rip off The Fog, Night of the Living Dead, Ghost Ship, Fulci’s eyeball scene in Zombi, the Blind Dead movies and even Mattei’s own Hell of the Living Dead? A movie that outright steals footage from The 13th Warrior, Interview with the Vampire, Deep Rising and House of the Dead?

We are to celebrate it. Thank you, Bruno Mattei, for always making it cheap, gross and upsetting, but never ever boring. The spirit and flame of 1980s Italian horror was kept alive by you longer than anyone.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

You have to give Bruno Mattei credit for sheer force of will. At a time when most filmmakers retire — he was 76 when making it and died the very same year — he was hitting. the Philippines and making a zombie movie on digital video when the rest of his Italian exploitation filmmaking contemporaries were dead, retired or no longer relevant.

Dr. Sharon Dimao (Yvette Yzon, who was also put through the Mattei ringer in the first film in Mattei’s zombie saga, Island of the Living Dead, as well as The Jail: The Women’s Hell; she’ll return to play this role again in Dustin Ferguson’s Hell of the Screaming Undead) has already survived one zombie attack and spent years recuperating in Buddhist temple, hiding from the bosses that fired her from the Tyler Corporation.

Oh, you didn’t realize that Mattei was going to turn a zombie movie into Aliens? Let me remind you that this is the very same man who turned an Aliens movie into Terminator 2 with Shocking Dark.

Somehow, a member of the company named Paul Barker convinces her to head back to the island, along with a team of mercenaries who get to use Goldberg’s entrance music when they fight the walking undead. Somehow, there are also zombie little people, which thrilled me to no end, along with a plot stolen from Resident Evil and actual footage lifted from Crimson Tide. As if that wasn’t enough, the poster is an exact Xerox of Fulci’s City of the Living Dead.

Sadly, this was Bruno’s last movie. Everyone has to die some time, but if anyone could have lived forever, making scumtastic movies that cashed in on the latest trend, I wish that it could have been Vincent Dawn.

Many people have been credited with saying “Talent borrows, genius steals.”

They were talking about Bruno.

LEE MAJORS WEEK: The Brothers Solomon (2007)

Between being directed by Bob Odenkirk and written by Will Forte, who also stars, I had high hopes for this goofy comedy and they were definitely lived up to.

John (Will Arnett) and Dean Solomon (Forte) grew up in isolation as they were raised by their single father Ed (Lee Majors) at an Arctic research station. Now that they’re in the normal world, they have no idea how to interact with other people. Now that Ed is in a coma, the brothers decide that they can wake him by having a child, which proves to be nearly impossible.

I mean, it’s mostly a one-joke premise — the woman they pick to adopt a child from (Kristen Wiig) is having a baby with a black man (Chi McBride) — but I was in the right mood for a ridiculous comedy, much less one that had Majors in it.

Lee Majors Week: Spring Break ’83 (2007)

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran on February 23, 2020, as part of our “Box Office Failure Week” of film reviews. We rerunning it as part of our “Leek Majors Week” tribute.

If you ever wondered: Is there a film with an almost $20 million dollar price tag that the acting and technical unions had to shut down because none of the actors or crew were paid? Is there a film that still hasn’t been released—thirteen years after it completed production? More importantly: Is there a film where Lee Majors (being a really good sport about his “pop culture” status) goes “Six Million Dollar Man” on Dan Conner’s ass? Is there a film where Lee Majors makes prank phone calls looking for “Phil McCracken” with Johnny Brennan of The Jerky Boys?

Yep. There is.

Tag! You’re it. Whoomp! There it is!

And that movie is this reported “remake” of director Sean S. Cunningham’s second post-Friday the 13th project, the 1983 teen comedy, Spring Break. (That film’s theme song by Cheap Trick is below.) The story is a familiar one: a group of four friends who were bullied in high school decide to seek revenge against those now college freshman bullies during a Florida Spring Break in 1983. Shot in outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the film was produced by Big Sky Motion Pictures, the production company of the film’s writer and director, Mars Callahan, who’s best known for the acclaimed Poohall Junkies starring Chazz Palminteri and Christopher Walken (and the little seen What Love Is starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.).

While the title makes you think this is a direct-to-DVD knockoff of a Judd Aptow sex-joke fest, you’d be wrong. Spring Break ’83, co-directed by Sam Raimi associate Scott Spiegel (Intruder, co-writer of Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn), carries an $18 million dollar price tag and was intended as a theatrical release.

And look at that cast. The talent we love here at B&S About Movies is everywhere you look! It’s a B-Movie fan’s dream wet dream with Robert Davi (Maniac Cop II), Erik Estrada (Do or Die, the Hallmark Channel’s Dead Over Diamonds), Morgan Fairchild (American Horror House), John Goodman (C.H.U.D), Lee Majors (The Norseman), Joe Pantoliano (The Final Terror) Joe Piscopo (Dead Heat), Richard Portnow (Howard Stern’s dad in Private Parts), and Adrian Zmed (The Final Terror, William Shatner ‘80s TV series TJ Hooker).

It’s been reported the film screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009. However, it actually didn’t screen at festival: the film was shown at an (unnamed) venue in Park City, Utah, at the same time Sundance was taking place. Piggybacking the film onto the festival did nothing to help the film find a distributor. The film’s once official website now leads to a 404 error and the legal disputes over who owns the film’s negative still continues. . . . And we’re sure Lee has stories to tell. We wonder if he ever got paid?

About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

LEE MAJORS WEEK: Ben 10 Race Against Time (2007)

Based on the Cartoon Network series and directed by Alex Winter — yes, that Alex Winter — Ben 10 Race Against Time is a great live-action version of a kid-friendly series that you may have slept on.

Ben Tennyson has the power of the Omnitrix, which allows him to transform into a multitude of super-powered different characters (for ten minutes at a time) to protect the galaxy, a job his grandfather (Lee Majors!) has done for decades. But now, Eon wants to destroy our her and use the Hands of Armageddon to open a gateway to his home dimension and unleash war upon our planet.

It turns out that Eon is an alternate reality version of Ben gone wrong, one that has learned how to get past the time limit of the Omnitrix. Only four of the powered forms — Diamondhead, Grey Matter, Heatblast and Wildmutt — show up here, but I really enjoyed getting to see a live-action version of a cartoon that I really dig.

Winter would also direct a sequel, Ben 10: Alien Swarm. And hey — Lee Majors is the perfect actor for Max.

KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Kong: Return to the Jungle (2007)

After the Peter Jackson King Kong movie, this animated spin-off told the story of another Kong, a more heroic and human-friendly version. After beauty killed the beast, a young scientist Dr. Lorna Jenkins cloned him and took him back to Kong Island. Her grandson Jason (voice actor Kirby Morrow, who has played everything from Cyclops to Michaelangelo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle) and his friend Tan (Scott McNeil, whose voice was all over Dragon Ball Z) decided to take their teacher Ramon De La Porta (David Kaye, the narrator of Fido) to meet Kong, but it turned out that he was evil, using the Primal Stones of the island to unleash the evil elder god Chyros. Luckily, Jason, Kong and an island named Lua (Saffron Henderson, who was the rocking J.J. in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan) have always been around to protect the world.

Unlike the animated series, this is all 3D rendered and has not aged well, but the story itself is still pretty good. If you have young kids at home who love Kong and monsters, well, this is perfect, with the big ape battling alongside and against cyber hunters, wooly mammoths, saber toothed tigers, raptors, a T. Rex, a giant cave snake and more.

You can watch this on the official YouTube channel of the Kong Animated Series. You can also watch it on Tubi.

Tomie vs. Tomie (2007)

The seventh Tomie film, this one is directed by Tomohiro Kubo and based on Junji Ito’s story The Gathering, which appeared in the third volume of the manga.

For some reason, someone thought that it would be a good idea to inject two kids with the blood of Tomie. This meant that they would grow up into two full Tomies, but flawed as they need the blood of pure Tomies to sustain themselves.

In case you’re wondering if this series has gone on too long…

So where does the male love come in? Well, there’s a factory worker who is pining over his dead girlfriend and can’t move on. Because of that, he won’t fall for the Tomies, who soon get angry about why he won’t fall for them and they begin to fight one another. You know, when two unkillable women go to war over a man showing no interest in either of them, it isn’t pretty.

So yeah, somehow Tomie has moved from being the cannibal queen of a snowy mountain to running a mannequin factory because, well, Japanese horror movies. And as she lurks in the shadows, you know that by the end of the film she’ll be set ablaze and probably eat her way through a man’s body. Both of these things happen, so if you’re a Tomie fan that has stuck around this long — this series is becoming my Japanese Amityville — then you kind of have to watch this. Right?

You can watch this on YouTube. The subtitles are beyond bad on this and are barely even intelligible, even renaming Tomie as “rich river.” Yeah, maybe they actually make this one better. Or funnier, at least.

Ten Inch Hero (2007)

If you haven’t already guessed: this is another John Doe flick in our week-long tribute to his acting career. And even though John Doe brought us here — and does a great turn as a romantic lead — if he wasn’t here, I still would have loved this under-the-radar sleeper. The feature film writing debut for Lifetime and Hallmark movie scribe Betsy Morris, you may have watched SnowComing (2019), her most recent offering as result of its direction by Peter DeLuise — yes, son of Burt Reynolds’s buddy Dom (The Cannonball Run), and of the Stargate TV-verse.

And while Peter got me to watch Morris’s latest film and John got me to watch her first film, it was the fan base afforded to Elisabeth Harnois, Danneel (Harris) Ackles, and Jensen Ackles of TV’s One Tree Hill and Supernatural that got everyone else to watch.

It’s a simple story (with nicely-arced, complex characters) about the Empire Records-esque crew of Beach City Grill, a Santa Cruz sandwich shop owned by Trucker (John Doe), a surfing-hippie and de facto father to the staff of “not normal” twenty-somethings dealing with romantic issues and personal skeletons. Yes, even John Doe, who pines for Zo (Alice Krige of Sleepwalkers and Thor: The Dark World), the owner of a Wiccan store across the street. For me, it all comes across as a lighter, less dramatic inversion of one of my all-time favorite films, Inside Moves (1980), a post-Superman film by Richard Donner concerned with the employees and patrons of a local bar.

John Doe as a romantic? You bet, and he’s great at it.

Of course, as with most of the John Doe flicks we’ve watched this week, his character and its related subplot (well-written and buoyed by John’s heartfelt performance) are secondary to the youthful, female stars of the ensemble cast that also features Clea DuVall (Veep, Better Call Saul, and American Horror Story; John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars).

Piper (Elisabeth Harnois) is a new-to-Santa Cruz artist searching for a lost family member and meets single dad Noah (Sean Patrick Flanery of Boondock Saints fame), Tish (Danneel Ackles) is a promiscuous temptress, Jen (Clea DuVall) is a humanitarian so shy, she searches for love on Net, and Priestly (a great Jensen Ackles), is a smarter-and-more-sensitive than-he-looks punk rocker who hides his insecurity through quips and off-the-cuff debates about Kurt Cobain and John Lennon.

To say anymore would be telling and ruin your experience of watching this charming, charismatic film. John scored himself a great role here, and you can enjoy it as a free-with-ads stream on TubiTV.

Yeah, this is my favorite John Doe performance of all the films this week. Yeah, Doe as Pat McGurn in Road House and his work here, as Trucker. Great stuff. Watch it.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 27. 666: Beware the End is at Hand (2007)

DAY 27. ALKEBULAN: Watch something from the second largest continent.

Religious men try all ways to reach out to the unwashed. There were those that tried TV shows like Davey and Goliath. Jack Chick gave out billions of tracts. And then there are those like Ron Ormond and Estus Pirkle, whose If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? is a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie in ecclesiastical finery. Hal Lindsey, whose tabloid end times film The Late Great Planet Earth made me not sleep for most of the late 1970’s. Russ Doughten, whose apocalyptic saga that began with A Thief In the Night converted thousands. And pastor Kenneth Okonkwo, who seems to have inherited their willingness to go absolutely and wonderfully bonkers just to make you see the light.

Lucifer has sent his demons to Nigeria, impregnating a woman — in horrifying 1980’s direct to video gore detail — with the Antichrist, who ends up being a small child dressed in a bootleg Jordan jersey with glowing rainbow eyes.

Only Pastor Lazarus can stop him, as he and Pastor Chucks (Okonkwo) walk through the streets, screaming the word of God at real people like some Christian ministry version of Jackass while the demon child beats up homeless women and gets yelled at by his father before committing patricide, then engaging in Street Fighter style battle with the priest.

By the second film, gay sex is equated as always rape and often demonic possession and demons pay women $10,000 to lick their scabs. The demon child has also grown a horn and is able to leave the Mark of the Beast on the foreheads of anyone he touches.

Take it from someone who listened to Bob Larson’s Talk Back every single afternoon, this is the real deal. Everyone in this movie believes completely in what they are saying, despite having the effects budget of a trip to the grocery store. Imagine if the worst public access show decided to make a two-hour blockbuster and you have a good idea of what you’re about to watch.

There’s really no other movie-watching experience that can prepare you for this. Bouncy pop music plays alongside cheap flames that dance across cardboard visions of Hell while little kids smoke cigarettes. Also: a devil baby.

You know how you should build up to the really hard drugs? I recommend that if you haven’t watched enough religious films or handled snakes after drinking poison that you ease your way into this. Here’s the YouTube link, but trust me. This isn’t for everyone.

You can also download this from the Internet Archive.