ALMOST HUMAN (1974) Special Numbered Edition Blu-ray
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Shameless Screen Entertainment

"What started as a simple kidnapping ...turned into an orgy of murder" in Umberto Lenzi's brutal crime flick ALMOST HUMAN, on Region B Blu-ray from Shameless Screen Entertainment.

After fouling up a bank robbery by panicking and shooting a traffic cop, hood Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian, COMPANEROS) is beaten and tossed out on the street by smalltime kingpin Majone (Luciano Catenacci, KILL BABY KILL). Dismissed as a gasbag by his fellow Milanese cohorts for aspiring to more than purse snatching for a living, Sacchi lights upon a way of making easy money when he goes to pick up his secretary girlfriend Iona (Anita Strindberg, MURDER OBSESSION) and spots Mary Lou (Laura Belli, FROM CORLEONE TO BROOKLYN), the twenty-year-old daughter of wealthy industrialist Porrino (Guido Alberti, 8 1/2). Reasoning that most kidnappers get caught because they actually release their captives once they get the ransom, he tells buddies Vittorio (Gino Santercole, VELVET HANDS) and Carmine (Ray Lovelock, AUTOPSY) that they will ransom the girl for a billion lira, kill her as soon as they get it, and be set for life. Accosting the girl while she is parking in the woods with her secret boyfriend Gianni (Lorenzo Piani, DEEP RED), they kill the boy but Mary Lou manages to escape to a nearby country house and things end up badly for the owners (BREAD AND CHOCOLATE's Francesco D'Adda and THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE's Rosita Torosh), their seven year old daughter, and their party guests (THE CAT O'NINE TAILS' Tom Felleghy and EMANUELLE'S REVENGE's Annie Carol Edel). Connecting shells left at the scene of Gianni's murder and the party massacre to the slaughter of a gun-running tinsmith and his wife, Commissioner Grandi (Henry Silva, THIRST) is stumped until another murder leads him to Giulio. Giulio is one step ahead, threatening Majone with revealing details about the bank robbery in exchange for an alibi, but Vittorio and Carmine have become unsettled by Giulio's increasing instability and sadism. Although Grandi knows that Sacchi is behind the crimes, he finds his own investigation suspended by the chief on behalf of Porrino who is willing to do anything to ensure his daughter's survival.

Although Lenzi often catches flack for his mostly workmanlike gialli and the often absurd bent of his horror films, the poliziotteschi genre was where Lenzi excelled, and ALMOST HUMAN is one of his most grueling and brutal efforts thanks more to Milian's performance more so than the onscreen bloodshed (ZOMBIE's Maurizio Trani was one of the film's make-up artists). For all of his character's boasting and posturing, Sacchi really is just a weasel and a "gasbag" who feels most powerful with a gun in his hands, and anyone who calls him out on his shortcomings is a victim. By contrast, just about every other rotten character seems far more sympathetic from the conflicted Carmine to the contemptible Majone. Milian's character is so much the focus that Silva as performer and character is sidelined for much of the film, making his DIRTY HARRY-esque takedown of Sacchi less satisfying but fitting in its setting and Sacchi's climactic whining. The film was the second polizioteteschi of screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi following Sergio Martino's THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS, both produced by Luciano Martino, and his work is ably supported by another jangly score from Ennio Morricone.

Although the title of the export version was THE EXECUTIONER, the film was released theatrically by Joseph Brenner & Associates as THE KIDNAP OF MARY LOU with re-releases as THE DEATH DEALER and finally ALMOST HUMAN (with a misleading advertising campaign and the title later incorporated into Brenner's advertising for SHOCK WAVES). The latter title was the one used for Prism Entertainment for their cropped VHS release. An Italian DVD from 2003 had an anamorphic transfer but NoShame's 2005 US release was derived from a superior HD master. Shameless' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray follows the color timing of that master but definitely looks clean enough to be a newer (if not brand new) scan. Audio options include English and Italian LPCM 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles that enhance the music and effects while revealing some variations in the dialogue (Giulio tells a joke to Iona about an elephant on the English track and a "negro" on the Italian one).

The first of the extras is a brand new interview with Lenzi (19:38) who gives the film its historical context (which he found lacking in Gastaldi's original script), painting his hoods as marginalized and destined to a life of petty crime, and reveals that the real life influence were the kidnappings of a gang from Marseille whose methods caught the Italian police and government off-guard. He recalls how difficult Milian was to work with (and says that he both drank and popped pills as his character does onscreen) but also notes that some of his choices ended up pleasing the audience more so than him at the time of shooting. He also reveals that French stunt driving stunt performer Remy Julien and his team came to Italy and shot several generic car chase sequences which were cut into this film and THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS. Ported over from the NoShame disc (as well as Shameless' 2011 DVD) is "Milian Unleashed" (28:35), an interview with Milian who reveals that he very insistent about who dubbed him in the Italian versions of his films until he won the Italian Oscar for Bertolucci's LA LUNA in which he dubbed himself. He discusses the film and his character favorably but did feel that the film went too far in killing a child. While he is less gallant in discussing his sex scene with Strindberg, he does speak very proudly of his American co-stars from Silva to Jack Palance. It is a very casual chat that could have used a moderator but still manages to be entertaining.

Also ported over from the NoShame disc but not previously included on the Shameless DVD is the featurette "Like a Beast… Almost" (35:39) which features Lenzi, Lovelock, and Gastaldi. In discussing the poliziotteschi genre, he finds his work and that of Fernando Di Leo more comparable French noir rather with the police absent or barely there, and expands upon the social context of the story. Gastaldi only appears briefly to reveal that his favored method of writing is to start with the characters and "observe" them over outlining a plot. In discussing the cast, Lenzi reveals that he chose Santercole first but that Lovelock had recommended Milian when Lenzi threatened to walk off the production because he found proposed lead Marc Porel (THE PSYCHIC) unreliable. Lovelock recalls that he was offered the Sacchi role but proposed Milian instead and spends much of his screentime discussing his friendship with Milian (who he met on DJANGO, KILL… IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!), looking to him for advice on his acting career, and the band the two were in during the period. Also included is a Shameless Trailer Reel (1:26) of clips from other releases but the disc starts up with trailers for ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, THE SECT, and THE CHURCH. Shameless's British Blu-ray is Region B-locked but Code Red has announced their own Blu-ray which will reportedly contain both the European cut (with additional color correction) and the Joseph Brenner R-rated version. (Eric Cotenas)