Surrounded by Aquatic EVIL, No One Can Escape “The Island of the Fishmen!” reviewed! (Full Moon / Blu-ray)

Check out the scantily-cladded woman encroached upon on “The Island of the Fishmen” Blu-ray!

A French prisoner ship sinks to the bottom of the Caribbean leaving only a handful of prisoners and the Left Lieutenant Claude de Ross, the ship’s doctor, stranded on a lifeboat for weeks until they a mysterious force drives them through the fog and crash them on the rocks of a seemingly deserted volcanic island. Only a few prisoners and the doctor manage to survive the wreckage, stumbling upon a ritualistic area of empty graves and abandoned artifacts of an island society. This is where the haggard and hungry men meet the beautiful Amanda Marvin on horseback and follow her through the island jungle to a clearing where the edifice of Edmond Rackham sits imposing on them. Having left his home country, Rackham settled upon this uncharted island, garnering local Caribbean inhabitants as servants, and being a greedy treasure hunter who might have just discovered the lost city of Atlantis. There’s only one problem, the city is surrounded by aggressive fishmen kept at bay by Amanda’s famed disgraced biologist father who has fallen severely ill, charting a course for the good doctor, Lt. Claude de Ross, to be unharmed in order to care for perhaps the only person who knows how to manage the wrath of the fishmen.

A swimmingly aquatic creature feature with an all-around gratifying men in costume pastiche, familiar to the style of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” in Sergio Martino action-adventure horror “The Island of the Fishman.” Also know under the revamped shots of “Screamers” aka “Something Waits in the Dark,” here we have the original film in all it’s natural glory from the director of “Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key” and “Torso” director Martino from a script by Martino, Sergio Donati (“Orca”), “Slave of the Cannibal God’s” Cesare Frugoni who workshopped with Sergio Martino’s older brother, Luciano Martino, (“So Sweet… So Perverse”) on the original story. Some would also say that “The Island of the Fishmen” is also a crossbreed between H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and, aforementioned, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The 1979 Italian production stars an international cast shooting along various locations in Italy and is produced by Luciano Martino under Dania Films and Medusa Distribution.

American, United Kingdom, and, of course, Italian come together to form “The Island of the Fishmen” cast that doesn’t stray too far away from their individual innate dialects. The most pompous is he Essex-born Richard Johnson’s sadistic and fortune hungry Edmond Rackham with a caricature of a voice that isn’t like anything in his performance in Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie.” As Rackham, the inflections reminisce of a British Humphrey Bogart mixed with a one Dick Dasterdly and so Johnson comes off a bit cartoony and overly dramatic compared to the film’s panache malnourished yet earnest hero in Italian actor Claudio Cassinelli (“Murder Rock,” “The Scorpion With Two Tails”) as Left Lieutenant Claude de Ross, a ship’s doctor who suddenly becomes the medical caretaker and leading guard over a lifeboat full of hardened prisoners, some who have blood on their hands. Franco Javarone and Roberto Posse play a pair of surviving convicts, especially two at odds on how they should treat their next in rank penal officer. Though being thrust into the oversight position, the Lieutenant doesn’t have to worry about his prisoners for too long as the island’s baleful environment with jungle death traps, poisonous water, voodoo priestess, a sadistic lord of estate, and mutant fish people swimming in circles around the island’s parameter and through the cut through waterways sees to their wellbeing. “Island of the Fishmen” does have a few predominant male figures of different caliber but there are also a pair of women inhabiting the island who, too, have counteracting roles. Bond girl Barabara Bach (“The Spy Who Loved Me”) became plagued by the ocean’s frightening fishmen only two years later as the captive dame of Edmond Rackham who holds her hostage as he pushes her father (Joseph Cotton, “The Survivor”) to continue with his mind control potion over the fishmen. Then, there’s Shakira. No, not the Brazilian singer-song writer with the hypnotizing booty shaker. This Shakira is a voodoo priestess, played by Jamaican actress Beryl Cunningham (“Dorian Gray”), who works for Rackham but ultimately envisions foreboding doom on the volcanic island. Giuseppe Castellano and Franco Mazzieri round out the cast.

A whole lot is going on in this film that from the surface seems, surfacing meaning the home video covers and posters, to focus chiefly on the hostile half-fish half-man creatures that bubble to surface, check out top side for any unwanted visitors, and quickly dispatch them before disappearing under the glassy waters of the Caribbean. I adore the design of the rather stiff but crudely convincing creature suits with buggy fisheyes, razor piranha like teeth, and cladded entirely green and scaley in a design by Massimo Antonello Geleng who by vocation was more a production designer with credits including this film along with “Cannibal Holocaust,” “City of the Living Dead,” “The Church,” and “Dellamorte Dellamore” to name a few. Yet, the fishmen were not a sole source of danger on an island that had a deadly schemer in Edmond Rackham, the motif of voodoo and jungle trap throughout, a volcano ready to erupt and engulf the island with lava, and the lost city of Atlantis as the grand epic finale that pivots this story on an acute elbow left that shows a mighty ambitious story on an Italian slim budget. To put it frank, Sergio Martino was able to put all the elements together into a cohesive, coherent plot with action, horror, exploitation, and mad science fiction albeit the story’s wild and diverging concepts.

Though many U.S. audiences know this film as Roger Corman’s highly altered, New World Pictures presented cut retitled as “Screamers,” Full Moon features releases the original oeuvre of Sergio Martino with a remastered Blu-ray release from the original 35mm negative. The 99-minute film is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio that captures in perfect matte composition and frame the locational miniatures, such as the manor house or the underwater Atlantis temples, in a compression that doesn’t make the structures obvious fakes. Slightly tinged yellow, the overall color palette is renders out well enough to suit the release with a pristine transfer seeing no signs of real significant damage. The English language tracks come in two formats – a PCM 2.0 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The English-speaking actors have their original tracks intact while the Italian cast have their original dialogue re-dubbed in English for posterity on new releases such as this one. Dialogue, nor any of the corresponding audio tracks, show any signs of fidelity issues or damage, but do feel muffled, even on the 5.1 as if the sound was boost stifled and left with some of the channels lacking vigor. Aside from Full Moon trailers, the R-rated film rides solo on this hi-def release. “Island of the Fishmen” is a small film fighting hard to swim upstream and really does a number on many different levels regarding where the audiences should focus their attention on, but I can see why Roger Corman wanted to give Martino’s film a second run after a commercial flop with a new, gory scenes edited right into the heart of “Island of the Fishmen’s” flexible, cartilaginous bones. Despite Corman’s efforts, Sergio Martino’s unmolested, original reeling reel is the one and only catch of the day for this purist.

Check out the scantily-cladded woman encroached upon on “The Island of the Fishmen” Blu-ray!

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.