Almost Human Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: March 28, 2023 (as part of Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection)
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, English
Run Time: 99:20
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Severin’s Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milián Collection five-movie set, which also includes Syndicate Sadists (Italian: Il giustiziere sfida la città, 1975), The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (Italian: Il cinico, l'infame, il violento, 1977), Free Hand for a Tough Cop (Italian: Il trucido e lo sbirro; aka: The Numbskull and the Cop, 1977), and Brothers Till We Die (Italian: La banda del gobbo; aka: The Band of the Hunchback,1978).
When a small-time criminal (Tomas Milián) kidnaps a wealthy industrialist’s daughter (Anita Strindberg), he’ll trigger a depraved spree of class warfare, sexual violence, mass murder, and the rage of a police commissioner (Henry Silva) determined to end the carnage. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
While his career was spotty and he rarely earned credit on the level of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, or Antonio Margheriti, Umberto Lenzi was still a trendsetter. His comic book adaptation, Kriminal (1966), beat Mario Bava’s Danger Diabolik (Italian: Diabolik, 1968) to theaters by two years, he made some of the earliest Italian-brand movies in the Eurospy sweepstakes, his first thriller, Orgasmo (aka: Paranoia, 1969), helped set the tone for gialli before Dario Argento changed the genre’s trajectory, and he accidentally invented the Italian cannibal cycle with 1972’s Man from Deep River (Italian: Il paese del sesso selvaggio; aka: Deep River Savages and Sacrifice!, 1972). He remains best known for those cannibal movies – especially the jaw-droppingly sadistic Cannibal Ferox (aka: Make Them Die Slowly, 1981) – but he’d probably prefer that we remember him as a skillful and stylish action director. After cutting his action teeth on Bond rip-offs, war movies, and even a couple of gialli (Carroll Baker plays a racecar driver in A Quiet Place to Kill [Italian: Paranoia, 1970]), he unleashed his newly honed talents on the poliziottescho genre.
Lenzi’s first shot at cops vs. gangsters mayhem was Gang War in Milan (Italian: Milano rovente, 1973), followed the next year by Almost Human (Italian: Milano odia: la polizia non può sparare; aka: The Executioner and The Kidnap of Mary Lou, 1974). Almost Human was also his first collaboration with Cuban-born and Actor’s Studio-trained star Tomas Milián. Milián made his Italian film debut in Mauro Bolognini’s Bad Girls Don’t Cry (Italian: La notte brava) in 1959 and found early success when he started making spaghetti westerns, beginning with Eugenio Martín’s The Bounty Killer (Italian: El precio de un hombre; aka: The Ugly Ones, 1966) and continued through a series of challenging, often politically-themed films, including Sergio Sollima’s The Big Gundown (Italian: La Resa dei Conti, 1966) and Face to Face (Italian: Faccia a Faccia, 1967), Giulio Petroni’s Tepepa (1969), and Sergio Corbucci’s Compañeros (1970), among others.
During this time, Milián also appeared in Carlo Lizzani’s Bandits in Milan (Italian: Banditi a Milano; aka: The Violent Four, 1968), an early entry in the poliziottescho trend and became a bankable genre star with Almost Human, which was released the same year as Stelvio Massi’s Emergency Squad (Italian: Squadra volante, 1974). The actor and director paired for a total of six movies, all poliziotteschi, including Almost Human (naturally), Syndicate Sadists (Italian: Il giustiziere sfida la città, 1975), The Tough Ones (Italian: Roma a mano armata; aka: Rome Armed to the Teeth, 1976), The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist (Italian: Il cinico, l'infame, il violento, 1977), Free Hand for a Tough Cop (Italian: Il trucido e lo sbirro; aka: The Numbskull and the Cop, 1977), and Brothers Till We Die (Italian: La banda del gobbo; aka: The Band of the Hunchback,1978).
History has been kind to Lenzi’s career as critics have recognized his innovation and specific skill set. But no amount of reevaluation can retroactively position him as progressive filmmaker or secret class act, because every one of Lenzi’s most important genre shifts – Kriminal, Orgasmo, and The Man from Deep River – were characterized by lurid exploitation and the quick buck it afforded him and his fellow filmmakers. This was, after all, the guy that made Cannibal Ferox. And his first poliziottescho, Almost Human, was no exception. Eurocrime movies were already heightening the violence seen in the Hollywood thrillers that they were initially mimicking, as well as magnifying the reactionary politics of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey (of Death Wish  fame), but Lenzi and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (known for writing particularly violent gialli, like Luciano Ercoli’s Death Walks at Midnight [Italian: La morte accarezza a mezzanotte, 1972] and Sergio Martino’s Torso [Italian: I Corpi Pesentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale, 1973]) took nihilism to comic book extremes with their crime spree thriller.
For his part, Milián infuses his character, Giulio Sacchi, with a mix of pathos, eccentricity, and cruelty that defined several of his best poliziottescho villains. He didn’t specifically play Sacchi again, but pieces of the character’s uncanny capacity to be at once detestable and pitiful seeped into the hunchbacked wretch known as Vincenzo ‘Il Gobbo’ Marazzi, who appeared in Lenzi’s The Tough Ones and Brothers Till We Die. Milián also carried over his talent for stealing scenes from his eclectic spaghetti western output, completely overwhelming another consummate scene-stealing character actor in Henry Silva, forced here to play against type as a straight man and hero. Supporting players Ray Lovelock and Anita Strindberg don’t stand a chance. The duality of Sacchi’s pitability and barbarism is reflected in the film’s subversive political messaging, which acknowledges the dire economic circumstance that created him, but also validates hard-right talking points about the wanton depravity of lower class criminals. It seems unlikely that either the character or messaging are meant to be complicated – it’s just transgressive for the sake of being transgressive. Almost Human will certainly be too cynical for some tastes, but is a frenetic, over-the-top pulp treat for those that are willing to roll with it.
Blazing Magnums: Italian Crime Thrillers Vol. 1, edited by Tristan Thompson and Paul J. Brown (Midnight Media, 2006)
Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980 by Roberto Curti (MacFarland & Co., 2013)
Almost Human made its US VHS debut from Prism Entertainment in 1987, sporting some of the strangest cover art you’ll ever see, though perhaps not as strange as the UK tape, which reused a misleading poster that tried to sell it as a horror film (tag line: “There is a reason for every living creature…with one exception”). The film was made available on stateside DVD by the defunct No Shame in 2005 and the first Blu-ray was available in 2017 via UK company Shameless, followed directly by a US equivalent from Code Red the next year. According to the box, every movie in this collection was restored from the original uncut negatives and some descriptions indicate that the negatives were scanned in 2K, so we’ll just assume that’s the case. The remaster is an upgrade over the duller Code Red disc with tighter detail and better separation, but no notable issues with haloes or over-hardening of soft focus elements. The naturalistic colors are consistent and black levels help create a better dynamic range. Grain levels throughout the collection appear accurate (it can get a little yellow in wide-angle shots of the polluted cityscapes) and there’s little damage to the negatives, aside from occasional roughness in dark shadows and minor color fluctuations (mostly at the end of the movie).
Every film in the set features both English and Italian dub options, all in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. As per usual, like most Italian films from the period, Almost Human was shot without synced sound and dubbed in post, often with international casts speaking different languages on set. There is no official language option. The two tracks are comparable in sound quality with the English one being a little crisper and the Italian one a little louder, so choice comes down to performance preference. Milián doesn’t dub his own performance on either track, but Ferruccio Amendola’s voice on the Italian dub fits Milián’s performance a bit better, so I suppose I’d recommend that one (on the other hand, Silva seems to be dubbing himself in English). Almost Human was one of only two Lenzi movies scored by Ennio Morricone, the other being a giallo called Spasmo, also released in 1974. The driving title piano theme is reminiscent to the one he wrote for Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), but with that extra funky ‘70s edge.
Commentary with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, moderated by Federico Caddeo – The first of two commentaries (actually, the only two commentaries in the five movie set are found here on Almost Human) is an Italian language track recorded in 2004. Caddeo does a great job aiming the conversation, including quotes from contemporary reviews, while Gastaldi, who also wrote The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist, talks about his script, other movies he worked on, the cast, working with Lenzi, intended themes vs. critical accusations, and the Italian film industry on the whole.
Commentary with Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth – Mondo Digital’s Thompson and Howarth, the author of Make Them Die Slowly: The Kinetic Cinema of Umberto Lenzi pair once again for this collection’s one exclusive commentary. They’re big fans and dig into Lenzi’s work, the making-of and release of Almost Human, the careers of the cast & crew, the intricacies of the poliziottescho genre and its connection to Italian politics, the influences of Sergio Martino’s Violent Professionals (Italian: Milano trema: la polizia vuole giustizia, 1973), and the crazy stunts that define the genre (mostly outside of Almost Human, which has one very good car chase at its beginning).
Violent Milan (29:01, HD) – A ‘new’ interview with director Umberto Lenzi recorded some time before his death in 2017 in which he discusses the real-world crimes that inspired the poliziotteschi, his entry point into the genre, the story & themes of Almost Human, casting the film, his love/hate relationship with Miliån (who he claims was talented, but coked out of his skull when they worked together), and second unit stunts.
Milián Unleashed (25:50, HD) – Part of a 2005 interview with star Tomas Milián, who talks about working on Almost Human, his creative method and improvisation, opting to play the bad guy instead of the good guy, terrorizing actresses, that love/hate relationship with Lenzi (he doesn’t hate Lenzi, but understands Lenzi hates him), his castmates (he loves Lovelock), and even his respect for dubber Ferruccio Amendola.
A History of Violence (37:43, HD) – A 2023 interview with Gastaldi, who covers a lot of the same ground he covers in the commentary, sometimes with more detail and the advantage of a couple of decades of hindsight.
Italian-American Gangster (5:30, HD) – The final new interview is with actor Henry Silva, who briefly recalls his “Italian gangster movies.”
English export trailer
Almost Human Soundtrack (separate CD)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be seen by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.