Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Retro Review: ALMOST HUMAN (1974)

(Italy - 1974)

With the possible exception of Umberto Lenzi's incredible 1976 Maurizio Merli ragefest ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH (aka THE TOUGH ONES), the director's ALMOST HUMAN is probably the greatest of the 1970s Italian poliziotteschi crime movies. Astonishingly mean and unrepentantly nasty, even with some of its more transgressive offenses--the main villain forcing a male hostage to blow him at gunpoint--clearly implied but taking place offscreen, ALMOST HUMAN exists on its own special plane of misanthropy. Tomas Milian is Giulio Sacchi, a vile worm of a whining, pathetic lowlife in Milan's underworld, a twitchy loose screw and a psychotic fuck-up who can't even handle the simplest task without losing his shit--he overreacts and kills cops on two separate occasions in the first ten minutes of the movie--and causing trouble for boss Majone (Luciano Catenacci). Full of self-aggrandizing hot air and tired of small scores and subsisting on Majone's table scraps, Giulio pressures his dim-witted sometime-girlfriend Iona (Anita Strindberg) for information on Mary Lou (Laura Belli), the daughter of her wealthy boss Porrino (Guido Alberti), with the intention of kidnapping her for a hefty ransom. Because Giulio and his equally thick-skulled, impulsive sidekicks Carmine (Ray Lovelock) and Vittorio (Gino Santercole) can't do anything right, the entire plan collapses on itself, and with a quickly-escalating body count, it's only a matter of time before angry detective Grandi (Henry Silva) realizes Giulio is behind all the mayhem.

Shot under the Italian MILANO ODIA, which translates literally to the very appropriate "Milan Hates," the film was released in the US by Joseph Brenner from 1975 to 1979 under a variety of titles like THE KIDNAP OF MARY LOU and THE DEATH DEALER. Brenner relaunched it again in 1980 under the ALMOST HUMAN moniker, which saw the film absurdly being sold as a horror movie ("It doesn't matter how loud you scream"). That title seems to have stuck and is what the film is best known by these days, but not since career con man Edward L. Montoro's Film Ventures released 1973's acid-bathed RICCO THE MEAN MACHINE in the US in 1979 as THE CAULDRON OF DEATH ("Pray it doesn't happen to you!") was a Eurotrash crime movie more fraudulently peddled to unsuspecting audiences. ALMOST HUMAN is a masterpiece of seething rage and completely unlikable characters. Even the "hero"--Silva's irate Grandi--is a hot-tempered asshole, but he's the most upstanding asshole around (and nobody, and I mean nobody--not even Samuel L. Jackson--belts out a "motherfucker" like Henry Silva). Even dubbed by veteran voice actor Frank von Kuegelgen, Milian is one of the most weaselly, loathsome bad guys you'll ever see, one whose quick solution to everything is to make matters even worse and dig the hole deeper. To say he gets his comeuppance in the best possible location is an understatement, and a scathing critique on exactly what Lenzi and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi thought of the character. It's foul, it's trashy, and there's no redeeming qualities to any of its characters--in other words, ALMOST HUMAN is mandatory viewing, and an excellent place to start if you're new to the demented joys of poliziotteschi. (R, 99 mins)

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