Cauldron Films: American Rickshaw (1989) - Reviewed

Italian giallo genre master Sergio Martino was coasting on a high crest wave through his run in the 1970s, churning out such classic thrillers as Torso, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key and The Suspicious Death of a Minor.  Much like fellow Italian cult auteur Lucio Fulci, the director’s creative output shifted in the 1980s towards erotic thrillers and decidedly goofier genre hybrids consisting of things that shouldn’t necessarily go together.  Although the quality control of both respective auteurs began to diminish around the turn of the 80s, they still nonetheless presented some of their most peculiar offerings ever during that decade.

Which brings us to Martino’s American Rickshaw, truly one of the weirdest and wackiest black magic supernatural thrillers that isn’t Indonesian.  Rivaling the go-for-broke wild imagery unleashed in Mystics in Bali and featuring an Olympic Gold Medalist in the lead role that’s somehow more ridiculous than Gymkata, this completely uncategorizable Miami-set “thriller” is the least likely and most batshit creation to ever emerge from the great Italian director.  This might be one of the craziest Italian/American productions the film world may ever meet.

Scott Edwards (Mitch Gaylord) works as an evening rickshaw in Miami whose life is turned upside down when he’s lured by a stripper into filming a sex tape.  Inadvertently grabbing the wrong tape which reveals the murder of a televangelist’s son, Scott finds himself being relentlessly pursued by an assassin intent on retrieving the tape.  Meanwhile an elderly Chinese woman, Madame Luna (Michi Kobi) practicing black magic and armed with her trusty supernatural cat and cobra, is after an ancient Chinese relic with otherworldly powers.  And that’s just a tip of the iceberg as this wild, untamed beast of a movie proceeds toward an increasingly insane climax.

Featuring the weirdest role of Donald Pleasance’s career, occult demons including but not limited to a man who turns into a pig, some inspired practical effects work, over the top violence and gore with plentiful gratuitous sex and nudity, American Rickshaw is truly an untamed beast of late 80s Italian cinema set on the Miami strip.  Even longtime Martino fans won’t be ready for this one, a completely unpredictable and lunatic jaunt which I myself don’t admit to having a full grasp on. 

Unlike anything else in the director’s career, American Rickshaw had a small VHS run in the US under the title American Tiger before retreating into obscurity.  Frequently bootlegged until 2020 with the rise of new boutique label Cauldron Films, American Rickshaw has been restored in 2K and features a wealth of new retrospective extras.  Whatever you ultimately make of Martino’s genre-bending head scratcher may consist of what you bring to it, but for my money this was like an insane tidal wave of disparate feature films crashing together into one curious object resembling nothing else in the director’s career or any other “film” for that matter.  Not the giallo maestro’s strongest effort but certainly his strangest.

--Andrew Kotwicki