Scream Horror Magazine

ALMOST HUMAN (1974): Film Review

Posted on: December 30th, 2015

A sadistic psychopath upsets a local crime syndicate, embarks on a killing spree and kidnaps the daughter of a wealthy businessman.

Umberto Lenzi’s (Cannibal Ferox, Nightmare City, Seven Blood Stained Orchids) grubby urban horror melds home-invasion cogs within a twisted cop mystery that’s scattered with vibrant action spats and grizzly acts of depravity. Damaged characters are frittered throughout yet the violence is served in abundance, deployed with effect and only slightly exploitative. While scenes of suspense and tension are executed with reverent finesse and in a style fitting to that of the many sub-genres Almost Human embellishes, Lenzi’s film is impious, shocking and often unyielding. A sinuous plot, excellent performances (of deplorable characters) and an angry creative vigour help elevate this kidnap/ cop horror into something much more than mere exploitation.

Tomas Milian is superb as the maniacal Giulio Sacchi: an unhinged hoodlum hell-bent on hating, raping and alienating anyone he comes into contact with. Milian conveys the smashed persona of a discarded career criminal with a defined yet frightening conviction that’s unique for such an unbalanced role. Even the out-of-sync dubbing doesn’t distract from his anarchic disposition; suggested through vibrant gesticulations and renegade facial ticks. Milian comes across like a cartoon gone haywire. His performance is dubbed, but those warped idioms and animal gestures go some way to conveying the psychotic fury that boils inside. The rest of the cast are equally captivating.

The inscrutable Henry Silva (Nico, Ghost Dog, The Manchurian Candidate) plays Commissioner Walter Grandi with an enigmatic prowess in a role that grows more prominent as the story progresses. Meanwhile Laura Belli portrays the kidnapped Marilu Porrino with modish elegance, exemplifying innocence in contrast to the horrors that surround her. But, even though they are all well-performed and crafted, the characters of Almost Human remain it’s primary weakness. Giallo, home invasion and poliziotteschi subgenres are fraught with maniacal men prying on innocent women and in Almost Human this is also the case, but it is the inherent nature of these individuals that defines/ fires them and serves as a primary driving force for the narrative. These overriding traits power similar stories (within varying contexts) throughout the aforementioned subgenres, making them all seem exactly the same. Operating without depth, rhyme, reason or motivation other than flabby financial gain or desperation to survive under gruelling circumstances. This can be seen as a key genre characteristic but it would have been nice to have seen some depth and variation that would have made lesser, similar efforts a bit more interesting. But Almost Human has so many strengths which make it better than films of a similar ilk.

A hasty plot propels the viewer face first into the grimy action while expertly weaving parallel story strands that entwine for a brisk and vigorous thrill-ride, laced with well-deployed punch-ups and mucky gun battles. Apparent subtexts on socio-economic conditioning within working class communities, shaping man’s inherent weakness, desperation and greed, infuse the surface story with appropriate substance but may not have been deliberately incorporated. As the protagonist veers from the central narrative to participate in an investigative subplot, the final third of Almost Human swerves into fresher terrain that concludes with a neat and fitting finale. The slum settings coalesce perfectly with Ennio Morricone’s salty saxophone score, augmenting Lenzi’s film with a granular zest that compliments the plotting and characters. Thudding synths also lend to the style and laces Almost Human with a requisite flavour, befitting to the poliziotteschi, home invasion and giallo subgenres, along with the lurid yellow lettering in the title sequence.

Lenzi is a legend of 70s giallo as well as poliziotteschi, and here crafts a formidable tale with a style and energised action that is frequently referenced in modern film-making but lacks the rawness of the era from which it originated. Shameless Films have unearth a true gem that is a must for genre aficionados, serving as a great introduction to Lenzi and poliziotteschi. The DVD includes a 28 minute interview with main star Tomas Milian (who later went on to work with the likes of Oliver Stone in JFK, Steven Soderbergh with Traffic and Steven Spielberg in Amistad), an essay on poliziotteschi and the Shameless Film trailer reel featuring other available titles.

Words: Dan Goodwin

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