Sit Back. Relax. And Wank Off to EVIL’s “Live Feed” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

While on vacation in China, five friends traverse the local festivities and drinking holes, relaxing in the surroundings of an alien culture of their getaway destination, but when one of them accidently bumps into a depraved Chinese Triad boss, they believe to have nearly escaped a localized international incident with the help of a Japanese vacationer who seems to know quite a bit about this particular Triad boss.  To blow off steam, and to blow off some loads, the friends patron the Venus Theater, a sleazy porno theater offering 1-hour couples VIP rooms.  Their short-lived, and short-comings, visit turns into a terrifying nightmare of broadcasted kill rooms as they find themselves trapped inside the theater owned by the Triad boss for his personal snuff cinema experience and fine dining of cannibal cuisine.  Fried dong and balls are 100% MSG free. 

With a Ryan Nicholson directed film, you never know just what to expect.  From our reviews of the Vancouver native’s work, his teen slasher “Famine” was an angsty disappointment, his destitute slaughterhouse “Collar” collided technical gaffes with sordid satisfaction, and his most renowned direction on the bowling-themed retro-slasher, “Gutterballs” displayed a primal brilliance that rolled one hell of a strike down the lanes of indie filmmaking, but the late, great gore hound filmmaker always lit up our screens with a single reoccurring theme – flashes of red.  Lots and lots of red blood that is!  The blood geysers and gushes in heaps in Nicholson’s 2006 release, the written and directed, “Live Feed” that touts SOV violence in an arcane snuff style.  Co-written with his father, Roy Nicholson (“It Waits”), the self-taught, special effects prodigy bursts onto the full length feature scene with an introductory exploitation and survival horror full of ambition, insane effects, and a narrative bred specifically for fountaining blood.  Self-funded under Nicholson’s Plotdigger Films, the ”Live Feed” legacy continues to output interest in the gore and snuff subcategories with updated home video distributed releases throughout the years, keeping the resourceful, twisted humor filmmaker alive and well in our hearts and collections. 

The story revolves around five friends, or more intimately, the hapless stars of a snuff theater production, who are not the most chaste or morally concerned individuals finding themselves center stage because of their wanton whims and uninhibited fortes.  Out of the touristy Americans in a given the impression of being a strange and sordid foreign land, one of them quickly becomes established as the primary beacon of hope as an unassertive wiser in Emily played by Taayla Markell in her first lead performance.  Though their long history makes for easy persuasion into participating, from a distance, in their lewd behaviors, Emily’s hemmed in around familiar perversities derived from her good friends and even her finance.  Mike, a muscular, drug-fueled blowhard develops his crass charisma from “Stan Helsing’s” Lee Tichon, Mike’s current and former girlfriends, Sarah and Linda, in tinge of tattered relationships by Caroline Chojnacki and Ashley Schappert, and Darren, Emily’s douchebag, philandering fiancé played by “Skew’s” Rob Scattergood, lead Emily astray from her own self-preserving inner voice when their arrogance and laxed attitudes place them in hot water with a sadistic Triad Boss.  Stephen Chang fills in the gangster roll with a plastic energy that’s over-the-top and absurd just like the two women who hang off each side of his arm in hackneyed fashion, offering very little to outshine as a sadistic megalomaniac.  Luckily for the out-of-towners who are soon-to-be-goners, they coincidently meet the conversant Miles Nakamura (“Mortal Kombat: Legacy’s” Kevan Ohtski) who round houses his way through a torrent of bad guys to save his newfound American friends, but for what reason goes over our heads other than the potential guilt of knowing he left them to their demise.  Greg Chan, Mike Bennett, Ted Friend, Colin Foo and introducing boner-fide stripper, Charlene McCulloch, with an in your face pole dance rounding out the cast.   

Whether in a stroke of good luck or an ill-timely misfortune, Eli Roth’s highly popular and profitable “Hostel” was released a year earlier in 2005 and while Nicholson’s surely cantered behind that gore porn locomotive in the early 2000’s that sauntered a path for many filmmakers to make unbridled torture and tits productions in the wake, “Hostel” undoubtedly provided some hinderance by scraping some of the shock value from off the sticky theater venue floors of “Live Feed.”  The characters were also nothing to write home about, or in this case, to write highly about, as the circumstances that churn the dynamics amongst their closed circle friendship don’t dissolve until well onto the cusp of being dismembered and thus becoming a moot investable or relatable venture that was, in a way, still crawling for the finish line with spotty payments on Darren and Emily’s acute about-face relationship, the only turbulent character context that saw contentious action.  Yet, there is wonder why “Live Feed” even attempts to brittle or outright break the bonds between friends and lovers in a film that’s all about the blood, about the blood, no trouble, as I channel my Megan Trainor phrases that probably sounds better in my head than in my review.   Unless Emily and Darren’s woes play later into the story, as a point of significant break from the other or in a glimmer of salvaging something between them, the purpose is purposeless and the blood should pool together the entire snuff narrative without an emotional hiccup.  Speaking of blood, the effects between Jason Ward (“American Mary”) and Ryan Nicholson couldn’t have been better executed with a pliable, tangible, and free from visual imagery arsenal at their fingertips with prosthetics upon prosthetics of grisly skirmish matter.

“Live Feed” has it all:  cannibalism, decapitations, sex, bondage, medieval torture, kung fu, snakes, pole dancing, barbecued penis, sword play, a “Big Trouble in Little China” old man Lo-Pan lookalike, and gallons of spattering blood.  All of the above now arrives uncut and uncensored onto an Unearthed Films Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release.  The region A BD50 presents the transfer in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enclosed with various formatted styles from the poor resolution of SOV to a full-bodied and unstrained digital playback lit up with vibrant neon lightening by director of photography, Sasha Popove, to create an illuminating florescent color splay of a universal Asian urban district.  The sundry of styles can be weighty on the sequences that challenge what should be natural segues into the next scene, but the format choices, from mostly handheld vantage points, interrupt the flow with a nonsensical fluidity.  Unearthed Films amassed a legacy-stamping amount of extra content with a commentary with Ryan Nicholson and cast, a making-of segment entitled “Behind the Blood” which is geared toward being a tell-all on how they spun and produced “Live Feed’s” fruition, a return to the Venus Theater location with a low-key walkthrough of scene locations and you get a little X-rated show during a live project run, deleted scenes, alternate scenes and ending, the video feed footage, photo gallery, trailers, and a short film entitled “Womb Service” of the softcore feature playing background of the feature story. There’s also an “Adult version” of “Live Feed” in the bonus material that includes the original runtime feature but with edited in hardcore footage; however, personally, did not notice any sultry inserts. Maybe they’re brief and missable…? In the experience unravelling Ryan Nicholson’s work, “Live Feed” is the filmmaker’s second best movie with wholehearted intention to jazz it up with as much blood and exploitation as possible and his loss, as a person and an exorable filmmaker with room for ghoulish growth we’ll never experience, stings to this day.

“Live Feed” blu-ray now on sale at Amazon.com. Click the cover to go to Amazon.

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.