In-between his stellar gialli and trashy cannibal epics, director Umberto Lenzi also became notorious for delivering some of the wildest, most violent Italian crime films ever made! ALMOST HUMAN, marketed in the U.S. as a horror film, is one of Lenzi's more popular entries in the polizia genre and features many eye-boggling scenes which you won't see in any American films of the period!
Giulio Sacchi is a hired hood for one of Milan's biggest crime syndicates who is growing tired of being beaten up by his benefactors for his erratic behavior. Together with two of his pals, he decides to make some quick cash by kidnapping Mary Lou, the beautiful daughter of a billionaire, and demanding 500 million lira as ransom! Hot on the bloody trail of Giulio is Inspector Grandi, a no-nonsense cop who becomes more enraged when confronted with every dead body he encounters while tracking down the kidnappers.
ALMOST HUMAN is an excellent film for newcomers to the Eurocrime genre. It contains everything which makes these films so much fun: shady characters, gritty dialogue, lovely ladies, gory violence, car chases, fast-paced action and suspense, and an overwhelming sense of bad taste. How many films can you name which feature a little girl slaughtered in machine gun fire, a trio of middle-class partygoers hung from a chandelier and shot to death and a man forced to give his captor oral sex (offscreen, but the implication is enough!)? Screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, who would pen many more important films of the Eurocrime genre, contributes an excellent script which is fast-paced, exciting and throws a number of curveballs at the audience. Lenzi really amps up the tension in several key scenes, including Mary Lou's attempt to escape from the three kidnappers through the woods and entering the home of unsuspecting partygoers who also fall victim to horrors inflicted by the criminals. This scene is where Lenzi really piles on the sleaze and the violence, sex and humiliation in this sequence keeps the audience on its toes for the rest of the film, never knowing what to expect next from the unhinged Giulio.
After gaining popularity through a series of spaghetti westerns, Tomas Milian had graduated to crime star by 1974 and had worked with several other directors in polizias. Here, he really shines as the unpredictable gun-toting villain. The character of Giulio is maybe the most unlikable weasel you'll ever see, killing absolutely anyone who gets in his way. To make this sadistic thug even more irritating, he cries "Abuse!" when he manages to sneak out of paying for any of his crimes on a technicality (shades of the Zodiac in DIRTY HARRY). But stone-faced hero Henry Silva never stops his quest for justice, and is a strong heroic presence worth cheering for. As with most of his films, Ray Lovelock is good-looking in a supporting role but is given little to do except once again act the innocent in a world of crime. Polizias aren't known for their strong female characters (unlike their American film noir counterparts), so Anita Strindberg and Laura Belli are merely here for titillation. Strindberg's rock-hard breast implants are on-hand, as usual, but Belli is the more photogenic and memorable leading lady. This lovely brunette was also very good in an episode of Dario Argento's TV show DOOR INTO DARKNESS and another Eurocrime classic, EMERGENCY SQUAD (forthcoming from NoShame Films).
Previously released in a nice region 2 disc paired with the thoroughly average VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this region 1 version seems to be much sharper and clearer. There are still some instances of hair and debris near the edges of the frame, and some discoloration in early scenes, but colors are sharp and vibrant and skin tones are accurate. Two audio options are offered, the original Italian mono with optional English subtitles or the English dub. It's easy to recommend both; while the majority of the cast spoke their dialogue in Italian, a few (like Silva) still speak in English, so it's a toss-up over which is preferable.
The supplements kick off with "Like a Beast...Almost," a 37-minute featurette with director Umberto Lenzi, writer Ernesto Gastaldi, and stars Ray Lovelock and Gino Santercole. Lenzi is more animated and jovial here than in other interviews I've seen, discussing the influence of French noir on the film, the possibility of Marc Porel in the lead, and how Henry Silva fell into the role after the intended actor passed away. Lovelock reveals he read the script and suggested Tomas Milian take the lead; he also talks about how he got started in film. Gastaldi and Santercole unfortunately have very little to say, with Lovelock dominating with stories of his friendship with Milian. Too few comments about the film itself and no remembrances of the leading ladies hurt the featurette, but it has its moments. Also included in this documentary are excerpts from a phone interview with Tomas Milian, but he gets his own video interview in the second featurette, "Milian Unleashed." He begins by discussing crediting the man who dubbed his voice (the first in Italian cinema to do this) and then dives into explaining the motivations and his thinking about the character while shooting ALMOST HUMAN. Milian also remembers working with Anita Strindberg, Henry Silva, Ray Lovelock, and Laura Belli, his version of taking the lead (Lovelock was not involved), not liking the child murder scene, his love-hate relationship with Lenzi, and he still believes that his performance in ALMOST HUMAN is his very best. In addition to the two featurettes, two trailers are included: the Italian trailer with English subtitles and the international trailer. They're both the same preview, just in different languages. A poster and stills gallery displays posters, lobby cards, publicity stills, and video covers with Ennio Morricone's catchy theme song playing over the images. Capping off the extras is a collectible booklet with an excellent essay by Richard Harland Smith and bios of Lenzi and Milian. One caveat with the package: almost everywhere on the disc, Tomas Milian's name is spelled "Thomas" (and at one point his last name written as "Milan"), a major mistake which should have been avoided.
One of the best Italian crime films ever made, ALMOST HUMAN appears in its best DVD edition to date and is highly recommended for fans of the genre and newcomers to the pleasures of Eurocrime alike. (Casey Scott)
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