Do You Know Why EVIL is Fun the Life of the Party? Because He’s a Fungi! “Gaia” reviewed! (Decal / Digital Screener)



Checking and repairing motion capturing surveillance cameras in one of the last untouched forests in the world, a park ranger becomes severely injured while tracking a downed drone.  She finds herself in the company of a nature survivalist, a father and son, living outside the means of the modern world and becoming acolytes to waking entity underneath the forest ground, sprouting up and assimilating the living organisms topside, including people, into spore-growth mutated creatures.  Despite the father and son’s devotion to the being, essentially integrating themselves seemingly uninfected by the airborne spores, they avoid the blind drones who hunt by sound and the survivalist know most of the tricks in the book to dodge their incessant wrath, but the ranger brings new dangers to their sanctuary forest home being an outside influence on the son who takes a keen fascination to her beauty as well as instill in him an interest beyond the edge of the wilderness.  Battling two fronts and keep his devotion to the ancient being, the father must do anything in his power to avoid the corruption of his son even if that means making a sacrificial pact with his God. 

If you dug unearthing Ben Wheatley’s “In the Earth” that released earlier this year, then travel from the United Kingdom to South Africa and definitely follow up with another subterranean deity at the crust of breaking through to our plane of existence with Jaco Bouwer’s nature versus man, out of body experience, thriller “Gaia.”  “Gaia,” from Greek mythology is one of the primordial deities of Earth, plays on themes of youth into adulthood, the parental struggles of children leaving home, and the dangers of a forgotten and neglected nature from a script from South American screenwriter Tertius Kapp, collaborating once again with Bouwer after their work in their respective roles on the crime horror series “Die Spreeus.”  Filmed in the Tsitsikamma forest of South Africa, “Gaia” is a production of the new Film Initiative Africa company in partnership with kykNet Films.

With only less than a handful of actors, four to be exact, the characters are quickly overshadowed and swallowed by the dense growth of an uncultivated forest.  Couple that with an insidious fungi that unhurriedly alters the exposed with toadstools and mushrooms shoots growing from the inside out onto their skin and face until they’re a part of the forest or a syncytial creature and you have an isolating setting of dichotomized terror between the beauty of nature’s miracle and it frighteningly growing right on your forehead. The story opens with park rangers Gabi (“Die Spreeus'” Monique Rockman) and her more playfully cautious partner Winston (Anthony Oseyeme, South African television’s “The Dead Places”) kayaking down river with Gabi using a drone to scout the forest ahead. Eventually, Gabi and Winston become separated because Gabi feels compelled to track down the downed drone alone and Winston bumbles the his watertight inappropriate walkie-talkie right into the river, making it useless and easily setting up obstacles to make reinstating their partnership extremely difficult in a forest that’s literally trying to eat them so to speak. This is where Gabi encounters the austere father and son living on dogma Gabi has yet to be schooled until the pundit father, Berend (“Blood Drive’s” Carel Nel), educates her on him and his son vocation, the forest deity, and, eventually, her own fate. Berend’s son Stefan (Alex van Dyk) is a child raised in the thicket, lamed by his father about the outside world because of his own insecurities. Nel and van Dyk are charismatically mysterious snaking themselves through the woods as one unit and ping well of each other in silent action as they collect spores and set primitive traps. Only when Gabi becomes an inadvertent wedge that lights a small flame of interest under Stefan, who’s at the edge of adulthood as a young man with hormones and a sense of wonder, does Nel and van Dyk begin to dissolve the father and son union that turns into a love triangle, of sorts, to which no parent will ever win when it comes to new and shiny objects and a sexual drive bigger than any spirit dwelling forest.

“Gaia’s” disturbing and omnipresent world imagery creates thought-provoking allegory of nature fighting back against the rapid infestation known as people.  As mankind creeps closer to the borders of naturally preserved habitats, singeing ancient ecosystems with deforestation and various grades of Earth withering pollution, the idea that a planet has a champion of defense, eager to rid the land of detrimental flesh and bone with a fungus cleanse, in an unseen mythological terrestrial being personified as this worshipped-by-few deity is great creative story telling. Paralleling the concept is a secondary of dynamics, the growth of life within the destruction of life. Stefan is nothing more than a boy without knowledge beyond the forest limits until he meets an resident of that outside world with the power to influence and we all know beautiful women have this mystifying power of young men. While Berend sees corruption, a tainting of purity that is his son, Gabi depicts more than just an aesthetic influencer and good-doer eager to save a boy from an unadorned existence, she is also the full-bodied, well-endowed representation of everything persuasive to impressionable minds. Bouwer works the characters interactions inside an imagery soup that bob with meat chunks, that gleam off the edges of rigid noodles, under a milky broth that looks so unnatural that only nature can be the very architect of it’s organic design. The hallucinations, the nightmares, the floating, hazy spores douse the senses, the psyche, with undiluted uneasiness and that’s Bouwer’s defining moment with a trip down a rabbit hole made with cautionary tale fibers too unreal and fantastical to forget.

Part ecological horror, part posture on pollution, and part Biblical narrative with The Binding of Isaac, “Gaia’s” value is as immensely somber as it is scary. “Gaia” is planned to be unearthed to the public exclusively in theaters on June 18th and everywhere digitally one week later, June 25th, as the inaugural feature from the new distribution company, Decal. Jorrie van der Walt’s eye for contrast and distressing imagery is enriching to a soul hungry for the subtle and striking caliginous brink of apocalypses. Bordering pure performance art tinged with intense closeups, Walt easily interchanges the grand forest presence with tight personal trepidation as if nothing else in the world was as important as that exact moment, as you’ll see in the screenshots. The digital effects coupled with the makeup work tilts more to a less textured desire, but integrates well enough into the madness of phantasmagoria. “Gaia” is beautifully shot, edited, acted, written, and directed as a pondering piece for the reality of Anthropocene principles rooted by elemental horror.

Uncalcified Penal Glands and Designer Drugs are an EVIL Around-the-Clock Cocktail. “Synchronic” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Well Go USA Entertainment)

A new over-the-counter designer drug called Synchronic has been at the center of a string gruesome deaths in New Orleans.  Simultaneously, two best friend paramedics, Steve and Dennis, individually battle their own life-altering personal problems while responding to the grisly emergency calls.  With each horrific scene of Synchronic’s doing, Steve decides to take matters into his own hands by purchasing the remaining supply in all of New Orleans after Dennis’ teenage daughter mysteriously disappears after ingesting the drug.  With no leads on the missing girl’s whereabouts and after being visited by the time abstract ramblings of the chemist responsible for creating the drug, Synchronic’s harmful hallucinogenic properties have more tangible dangers than what meets the eye leaving Steve no choice but to pop one of the pills to understand where, or when, his friend’s daughter may have disappeared to.

I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are visionary filmmakers with a penchant for the larger-than-life and otherworldly terrors.  From their directorial of a mind-bending death cult in “The Endless” to their producing hand in Jeremy Gardner’s lost love and creature feature, “After Midnight,” and Amy Seimetz deathly contagious, “She Dies Tomorrow,” under Rustic Films, the ambitiously talented duo returns with “Synchronic,” an anything but plain spoken, time-winding, Sci-Fi tale revolving around themes of redemptive purpose and grateful circumstances stitched by the uncanny temporal effects of artificial illicit drugs.  Lying somewhere between the cognitive warping psychedelic drug and feeling disconnected from the environment of a dissociative drug, “Synchronic” sojourns random grooves with the needle of time in a culminating enlightenment that now, the present, is a gift worth enjoying.     Along with Moorhead and Benson’s Rustic Films, Patriot Pictures, and XYZ Films bring to fruition the filmmakers’ biggest production yet. 

Like most of us during pandemic times, but not quite exactly like us who are working stressfully from home, is Anthony Mackie acting comfortably in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana.  The “Captain America” star temporarily hangs up Falcon’s wing harness to play lonely paramedic Steve frequented by his tragic past that has led him down a path of casual flings and an inability to attach to anyone romantically.  Opposite Mackie is Irish actor and “Fifty Shades of Grey” star Jamie Dornan as Dennis, a man kicking himself hard for marrying and starting a family too early in life that’s created a bizarre Prince and the Pauper dynamic where Steve and Dennis are envious on each other’s life.  Mackie is pitch perfect in the timing of a seemingly tailored-to-Mackie script that is funny as it is engrossing and thought-provoking.  “Synchronic” is truly the Mackie show with Dornan playing second fiddle as a compliment to Mackie’s more clandestinely troubled character who aims to upend and mend many wrongs in his life, including those of his best friend, and weaves in and out through the fabrics of time with Katie Aselton (“She Dies Tomorrow”), Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monself, and Bill Oberst Jr (“DIS”).

Time travelling is a finnicky concept.  Lots of variables have to be ironed out in order to break the planes of chronological, set-in-stone, thinking and construe time as an infinite recording always available for repeat and playback.  Time travel is perhaps science fiction’s most powerhouse model, producing some of the most influential and staple films of the genre in our time that include “The Time Machine,” “The Terminator,” and “Back to the Future” that have carried out repeated viewings of admiration, a franchise legacy, and been the source of inspiration and remakes.  Plot holes and flaws in these films go without saying and are considered expected, but if filmmakers can get away with convincing audiences otherwise, then expect a blast from the past, present, and future.  Moorhead and Benson’s “Synchronic” has a gripping and cosmically vast story done in only one small corner of the world, the historically rich and diverse culture of New Orleans, and that isolating effect pressed upon by the distant and ominous unknown, a supremely niche and bracing style from the directors.  “Synchronic,” like time jumping films before it, has the anticipated plot holes in the mechanics of the designer drug’s side effects that are seemingly straight forward to the experimenting character only after attempting a handful of pill-popping jumps.  There are also no adverse butterfly effects stemmed from any of the Synchronic’s users.  You’ll find yourself lost in time over these questions that routinely shoot up other films to smithereens in the ole inconsistency corral thanks to Moorhead and Benson, along with the riveting and hilarious performance from Anthony Mackie, who suck you in with their relatable and humanizing story premised around Steve and Dennis’ life regrets mended by an eye-opening slight tear in the fabric of time to understand what you have now could have been a lot worse then.

 

“Synchronic” is stylish, Sci-Fi craftsmanship coming to you onto Blu-ray home video from Well Go USA Entertainment. The film is also available on DVD and digitally. Presented in 16:9 widescreen format, “Synchronic” barrages with a somber and slick, yet almost alien, plating over the Creole and double gallery architectures in a mesh of robust multicultural with the grimy slums, envisioned by director of photography, Aaron Moorhead, who, in part with Ariel Vida, the production designer, is able to capture era slithers native to Louisiana lineage. The Blu-ray comes with an English language DTS-HD master audio 5.1 surround sound that’s crisply makes distinct every track element defined by individual scenes. Jimmy Lavalle returns to collaborate with Moorhead and Benson once again to compose an unique compositional score that can only be described as driving nails into your soul while also being powerfully moving without being an echo out of inspiration. The release is rated R with a runtime of 101 minutes and comes with a fair amount of bonus features including commentary with Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, a making of featurette, a previsualization (a fancy word here for live-action storyboarding with a camera phone), a VFX breakdown (which is touched upon a lot in the making of featurette), a deleted scene, and an alternate ending that will doggone blow your mind! “Synchronic” is intense medication to repair a kindred friendship falling into disrepair in this literal mind-boggling must see it to believe it thriller. Expect more great things from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson to come!

Order “Synchornic” on Blu-ray by clicking the poster above!

This Little EVIL Piggie Went to the Post-Apocalypse Human Meat Market! “Bullets of Justice” (The Horror Collective / Digital Screener)

The years following the third World War, America has been overrun by the Governments very own super soldier weapons project involving splicing the human genome with pig DNA.  The creatures, dubbed Muzzles, have occupied the country 25 years later and have turned the tables on the human species, capturing, breeding, slaughtering, and eating their packaged to serve meat.  When humanity created a toxin to combat the Muzzles, they inadvertently released a gas that sterilized the entire human population and the last of the human survivors have formed a resistance who aim to seek out and destroy The Mother, the continuous Muzzle breeder no man has ever seen, but is supplied large volumes of man meat in order to maintain Muzzle production.  The task to root out the mother’s trough of carnage falls upon Rob, a human bounty hunter working for the resistance, and his mustache sporting Raksha, who never loses a fight.  Together, Rob and Rahska butcher their way through a pigsty to locate and kill The Mother, but not every human shares their hope for mankind. 

“Bullets of Justice” is a hog wild, Bulgarian-made, bulldozing bloodbath of a post-apocalyptic exploitation may-ham from the warped (or genius?) minds of co-writers Timur Turisbekov and Valeri Milev with the latter sitting in the director’s chair.  Milev, who directed the 6th installment, “Last Resort,” of the “Wrong Turn” franchise, collaborates with first time filmmaker Turisbekov and pulled out all the stops in this outrageously funny, insanely gross, and eyebrow raising delicatessen of deprave cold cuts.  Initially considered as a pilot for a television series and later tossed around as a potential short film, “Bullets of Justice” found invigoration and traction as a feature length film from premise’ author Timur Turisbekov that led to a crowdfunding campaign on Indigogo to cover the remaining post-production costs of all the material shot by Turisbekov and his friends.  Zenit TT serves as the production company.

Blasting away sounders of swine, graced with the visual effects washboard abs, and is able to score tail of every single last human woman he comes across in this dog-eat-dog world, even his sister’s, is Timur Turisbekov as humanity’s last hope, Rob Justice – hence, “Bullets of Justice.”  Rob’s a stone-faced and skilled Muzzle gravedigger with a penchant for being one step ahead of everyone else and Turisbekov can act out the part of an untouchable 80’s action hero with relative ease complete with fancy fighting choreography  and a thousand yard stare and though the dubbing track is undesirable, it satirically plays into the black comedic satire of the man versus pig post-war consequence conflict narrative and there’s a score of characters with all sorts of dialect dubbing that doesn’t single out just Turibekov.  Rob’s sister, Raksha, stuns even with a stache on the upper lip of the darker attributes of Doroteya Toleva in what is perhaps her most memorable, if not most bizarre, performance that adds more of an aggressive balance to Rob’s stoic demeanor.  “Bullets of Justice” freely offers up plenty of nudity to go around from male full frontal to female full frontal though neither Turisbekov or Toleva bare them true selves as body doubles and movie making magic fill in the private parts, but there’s plenty of dirty, glistening in sweat, real skin from actresses, such as stuntwoman and actress Yana Marinova (“Lake Placid 2”) and the introduction of Ester Chardaklieva, to fill that authenticity void plus a few heftier and plump extras in the roles of slaughterhouse pig fodder.  What’s most frustrating about these quintessential apocalypse and ostentatious characters is that their development and arcs never, ever come to term of a poorly knitted post-production. I wanted to learn more about the antagonist with “the most beautiful ass,” Rafeal, played by male belly dancer Semir Akadi, I wanted to understand Askar Turisbekov’s General Askar betrayal, and even dive into what drove “Machete’s” Danny Trejo’s Godless dogma as a single parent to young Rob and Raksha in his small bit role. “Bullets of Justice” rounds out with Dumisani Karamanski, Alexander Ralfietta, Neli Andonova, Gregana Arolska, Svetlio Chernev, Dessy Slavova, and Doroteya’s twin sister, Emanuela Toleva, in a small dream role.

Being spurred as a potential television series or a short film, “Bullets of Justice” barely formulates a step-by-step story as the genesis of a surreally articulated full length embattlement with pre-scripted, pre-funded, and pre-shot scenes full of head turning high cost stunts, explosions, and with World War II replica weaponry (50 caliber, MP 40, STEN, etc) of already completed shots for a particular medium in mind, which was unfortunately not a feature. This is where post-production needed to step up to fill in the gaps, to muster visual segues, in order to piece the unsystematic scenes into a single unit of thought, but the second act inevitably goes off the rails as taut tangents snap like over tightened cable cords when Rob and Raksha team up to flush out The Mother and then one of the next scenes has Rob smack dab in the middle of being teleported, his future has developed the mode of travel through time and space, and while the viewer tries to interpret whether this is a dream or a style of the director’s auteur expression, Rob is actually teleporting to, well, we don’t really know where initially. Crucial backstory elements come whirling in to explain Rob trying to go back to the year just after the third world war to unearth where the mother might be hiding, but keeps missing the exact date. How Rob gets back to his own time is not known; Yet, these series of unexplained inconsistencies reap the benefits of such a gory good time that includes midgets firing submachine guns and dropping grenades out of the jetpack of a flying pig-man wielding a minigun on each arm – an entirely insane concept. Is “Bullets of Justice” a well-made, well-rounded film that would make your film professor proud? Probably not. Yet, here’s the kicker, a theory of mine that might explain everything. Rob Justice is actually daydreaming the entire degrading society where he is the lone savior of mankind, never missing a target, bedding all the women, idolizing a villain, and that end shot ties those concepts all together. Again, just a theory but it’s a damn good one.

A highly-recommended blood, sex, and pigs with machine guns exploitative romp and ruckus, “Bullets of Justice” overindulges with vice transfixing visual and imaginative dexterity that can now be experiences on multiple VOD platforms such Amazon Prime, Apple TV/iTunes, Google Play, Xbox, and Vimeo distributed courtesy of The Horror Collective (“Blood Vessel”). Orlin Ruevski’s cinematography is impressively expensive without actually costing an arm and leg with a well stocked cache of wide shots that capture the simulated war-torn world and girth of rural landscapes while simultaneously, through the use of low contrast and darker color tones, harness shots of grime and graveness of the Turisbekov’s pig-utter chaos that ensues. Combine Ruesvki’s expeditiously confident totalitarian style with the campy visual sfx from the Bulgarian based Cinemotion LTD, same visual effects company on “Tremors 5,” a rare and beautiful species of film emerges from the edge of rotoscoping to the go-big-or-go-home ludicrous-speed composites. Since this is a digital release, there were no accompanying bonus materials or scenes. With non-stop melees and a flavor for the tasteless, “Bullets of Justice” rattles along as a pure, uncut dystopian fantasy big on the pig and galore on the gore.

 

Must Watch “Bullets of Justice” on Amazon Prime!

Millennial Martian Mayhem Is EVIL’s Wheelhouse in “Save Yourselves” reviewed! (Bleecker Street Media / Digital Screener)

Brooklyn couple, Su and Jack, find their noses constantly buried in their devices as the relationship between them begins to stagnate with unfulfilled measures.  In an effort to reconnect with each other meaningfully and detach themselves from the wedging worldwide web, they accept a close friend’s offer to use his upstate cabin as a rekindling retreat getaway from the mundane routine, away from the bustling city, and away from their highly addictive technological devices, shutting themselves off from the numbing side of the world to focus on each other.  As they become acquainted with their isolated surroundings and truly work on themselves, an attack from an alien race of pouffe balls has invaded Earth.  When they finally figure what’s happening, the serenity cabin therapy has been abruptly severed by besieging extraterrestrial furballs from space and they must rely on their little know-how to survive.

To all the modern millennial couples living comfortably in urban stasis and experiencing the world vicariously through the internet, “Save Yourselves!” is a calling and an unlikely savior you didn’t even know you needed from the writing-directing team of Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson.  The duo’s introductory feature length film is a satirical sci-fi side-splitter of the celestial kind that, frankly, exposes the rudimentary sustaining people like Su and Jack who we all know exist and wouldn’t know how to start a fire with the quick strike of a match let alone save themselves from an apocalyptical alien invasion, but much like Su and Jack’s understanding of their surroundings and also to their defense, what does anybody know about surviving creatures from another planet?  “Save Yourselves!” is produced by Peter Traugott and Adi Ezroni of the New York based Keshet Studios as the company’s sophomore feature, Eamon Downey and Philip Erdoes of Last Rodeo Studios (“Scare Me”), and Joshua Blum of Washington Square Films.

Internet obsessed couple Su and Jack can barely not fiddle with their phones, laptops, and even Alexia for more than a minute, scouring the limitless online resource for information and entertainment that even infiltrates into their livelihood of administrative assistant scheduling and online popup box retail services.  “Mr. Robot’s” Sunita Mani sits into the internet top 10 list fixated mindset of Su with a complimenting structure revolving around her character’s meticulous life layout constructed by internet page browser tabs.  Equally as reliant on the power of the internet is her beau Jack, played by “Stranger Things’” John Reynolds in a hipster blend of Crispin Glover with the voice comparisons to Hanna-Barbera’s The Funky Phantom.  Mani and Reynolds accorded a charmingly naïve pair of social media engulfed millennials on a path of monotonous self-implosion and take their characters’ arcs over the growth threshold as their thrust to survive without knowing nothing of the tangible (Jack’s own word) world.  “Save Yourselves” is essentially the Sunita Mani and John Reynolds’ show, but the cast rounds out with bit part performances from Ben Sinclair, John Early, and Johanna Day.

Su and Jack are extremely likeable characters with some real and some fantastical unlikeable problems of social media addiction and space beings snatching their planet right under their touchscreen pressed noses. “Save Yourselves” knits a palpable double meaning that not only conveys the impractical saving of themselves from the impending attack of furry aliens, isolated in a thick, unfamiliar wooded ecosystem, but also save themselves from their own social network debilitated selves who rely too much on the glitzy pyrite of the Gram (Instagram) and Facebook to rule their lives.  Directors Fischer and Wilson gamble with a good chunk of the story’s unresolved aspects the plot points build up so well that might leave audiences scratching their heads while a lip-curling complexity freezes their mouths agape in wondering next steps for hapless couple Su and Jack. For the defense of the unexplained, the Earth invasion is an, as we know it, impenetrable fact of pure science fiction, glimmered in 1960’s fashion with resemblance to the Shatner era Star Trek “Trouble with Tribbles” alien pouffe balls (the filmmakers must have been “Star Trek” fans) of various shapes and colors beleaguering an assault with Spider-Man-like bio-lash to get around, an unquenchable thirst for Ethanol, and sonic fluctuance. When you type it out loud it sounds ridiculous, but “Save Yourselves!” harps back on the classic Sci-Fi features with a contemporary wit toward the inept abilities of today’s modern young adults and their reliance on social media.

Going off the grid nonplusses city dwellers with formidable diurnal life routines in the indie science fiction comedy “Save Yourselves!” that has invaded theaters and at-home platforms this week, distributed Bleecker Street Media. The 93 minute, rated R social commentary satire is shot mainly in an unfiltered, natural light with a handheld and steady cam, grounding the filming within the wilderness of New York’s upper state with a sound staged to recreate the tuning fork of kooky otherworldly sound bites and soundtracks. Since this is a theatrical new release, there will be no review on the A/V aspects. There were no bonus material included or any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Save Yourselves!” is an eye opening gag of real time, real world dependents forced to outlast the odds and grow individually, and collectively, as independent people valued more than thought.

Pre-orde “Save Yourselves!” on DVD ahead of it’s October 9th release.

Sit Back and Enjoy EVIL’s Ride on the “American Rickshaw” reviewed! (Cauldron Films / Blu-ray Screener)


Scott Edwards, a struggling college student, works as a rickshaw runner on the vivacious streets of Miami. When a beautiful woman offers more than just the rickshaw fare for his service, Scott reluctantly accompanies her on a private boat secured at the local harbor for a night of sensual loving, but Scott finds himself in the middle of a voyeuristic scheme by being videotaped behind a two-way mirror and before fully copulating, Scott roughs up the secret cinematographer and the woman escapes. After realizing he forgot the tape, Scott returns to the boat to discover the man dead and all the evidence points to him, framing him for the murder. On the run and being hunted down by Miami PD and the actual killer, Scott embarks on a mission to clear his name, with the help from the woman on the boat, a stripper named Victoria, and a Chinese witch named Madame Luna, during a pivotal time of Chinese mythology that pits good versus evil entrenched sordidly around a renowned televangelist.

Perhaps one of the most offbeat action-fantasy-horror movies to come out of the U.S. in the late 1980’s, the “American Rickshaw” cinematic experience can be a mesmerizing 97 minutes of claptrap theology and clandestine villainy bedim by a witch’s obscured telepathy powers of fire, snakes, and unveiling evil with a human to pig physical transformation. Also known as “American Tiger” in the States and “American riscio” in Italy, the film has the sensation of a blend of various filmmaking abstracts and for very good reason, it is. Notable Italian filmmaker, Sergio Martino (“Torso” and “Slave of the Cannibal God”), helms the cultivation of a big-ticket American production with the ethereal supernatural essence invoked by the Europeans that results into being one of complex whirlwind of a story from a script penned by Martino, Roberto Leoni (“Sex Diary”), Maria Perrone Capano (Beyond Kilimanjaro, Across the River of Blood”), and Sauro Scavolini (Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key”). Dania Film, Medusa Distribuzione, and National Cinematografica serve as the Italian production companies responsible for the “Rickshaw’s” wild ride through Miami heat.

With a premise already on a high bonkers plane, “American Rickshaw’s” curiosity extends to the casting of an American Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics, the perfect 10 recording Mitch Gaylord, is cast as the male lead, Scott Edwards. The physically fit Olympic hero with little-to-no experience or exposure in acting to his name became the story’s prime suspect on the run from not only the law, but a merciless goon embodied by “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark’s” Daniel Greene. Greene already had an established relationship with Sergio Martino, having worked previously with the director on “Hands of Steel” and “The Opponent,” marking “American Rickshaw” as his first collaborated effort in being the story’s villain, Francis, who is seemingly more of the antagonist foe for Scott Edwards than his sect master, Reverend Mortom, a masquerading televangelist seeking to exploit an ancient Chinese relic for nefarious purposes and it’s “Halloween’s” Donald Pleasance to be the face of what would be established as quintessential evil. Pleasance seemingly goes along with the story even when has to snort like a pig during the character’s climatic ending, but is enveloped in a rather mundane, behind-the-scenes puppet master preaching a good biblical hellfire and brimstone game only to be castrated as a backseat bad guy with little to no vice exploration other than swindling the Chinese witch while dolled up in a kimono. The cast rounds out with Victoria Prouty, Darin De Paul, Roger Pretto and Regina Rodriguez and Michi Kobi as the young and old Madam Luna.

I’m one who never likes to research movies before watching them; I believe knowing the film in and out before viewing will more than likely become ruinous toward the quality of perception and cement a foundation of fixed judgement before the opening title credits roll. I don’t even like reading the film’s synopsis for the fear of spoiling too much on too little so I sat down with “American Rickshaw” knowing virtually nothing about the Marino anomaly and coming out relatively pleased, strangely piqued, and from start-to-finished bewildered. Off the bat, “American Rickshaw” could be grossly compared to be the East Coast variation of or, perhaps, the Italian answer to “Big Trouble in Little China” that channels less Chinese mysticism for more mysterious thriller. There are some noticeable similarities between the two films, such as for the obvious uncanny powers of Madam Luna, and then the not so obvious, but maybe more of a referential nod to John Carpenter’s film with the main character sporting a graphic tank top of a tiger that’s familiar with Jack Burton’s graphic yin-yang tank top, the young and old versions of Madam Luna resemble the young and old versions of Lo-Pan, and the scene where a prominent character gets runover by a big, red semi-truck. You know, the kind of rig Jack Burton mows down Lo-Pan with? “American Rickshaw” pales in comparison or, perhaps, shouldn’t be compared at all as Martino’s spellbinds his work by riddling it with cross cuts that attempts to discern solely by optics that swiss cheeses your mind as it tries to fill in the gaps of where the hell did that snake come from? Why did the key burn through his hand? Why is the stripper key to Scott’s Journey? What’s the reason behind Scott’s year of the tiger birth date significance toward his impelled Chinese zodiac destiny? There lies so many questions, but very few are answered; Yet, “American Rickshaw” is the wonderland tour Martino fabricates as some dysfunctional vision quest mapped with spontaneous witchery, horoscope horrors, and a devil pig in human clothing.

As the second half of the inaugural releases of Cauldron Films, “American Rickshaw” receives a limited edition Blu-ray release with a 2k restoration scan from the original camera negative. Since the review is based off a Blu-ray screener and not a physical copy, only 1500 copies being release, the A/V aspects of the package will not be critiqued, but this unrated 80’s hybrid action-fantasy-horror will receive the works, including a limited edition high quality slipcase with new artwork by Mattias Frisk, a reverse covering featuring the Italian artwork, and a booklet inside with writings by grindhouse comics writer and Tough to Kill co-author, David Zuzelo. The picture will be presented in a widescreen, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, with an English language LPCM dual channel audio track with optional English SDH subtitles. Bonus material aplenty with an one-on-one interviews with director Sergio Martino and production designer Massimo Antonello lamenting about the film while as providing a stark difference between Italian and American filmmaking in the late 1980s, a then and now look at filming locations, The Production Booth Podcast, including commentary from Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger discussing the zaniness of “American Rickshaw,” and an image gallery. Distinct beyond anything else you’ll ever see and indelible with solid practical effects, “American Rickshaw” deserves the upgraded, horror-marketed update set apart from the poorly sultry, softcore porn “American Tiger” U.S. release that stiffens the story’s true self on retail shelves.