In the 70’s and 80’s the Italians developed a bit of a reputation for creating knock-off versions and/or unofficial sequels to American films. This wasn’t a bad thing either. A number of supremely talented directors got in on this action and churned out some wonderful films. For the most part, these Italian films were heavily inspired by current American films from the time but every now and then they would reach back and take their inspiration from something older. Umberto Lenzi did exactly that when he made Almost Human in 1974.
Almost Human is the story of small-time criminal Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian). Giulio is a pretty standard low-level goon, basically a hired hand for a larger criminal organization.
Giulio and some other bottom of the barrel thugs attempt a kidnapping that doesn’t go as planned. They don’t get captured by the police but they don’t get their target. This results in the boss being upset and he beats Giulio to prove a point. This sends Giulio over the edge.
Giulio decides he’s tired of taking orders and is ready to work for himself. He gathers up a few of his low-level cronies and begins building up his own crime syndicate. Their first big operation is to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy man and hold her for ransom. They bungle the start but eventually capture the girl, however, what should be a fairly simple plan quickly spirals out of control.
Almost Human has a lot in common with Scarface. Whether or not Lenzi was actually influenced by Scarface I’m not sure. If he did take a page directly from the famous gangster tale it would have to have been from the original Howard Hawks’ version as Almost Human was released about a decade before Brian DePalma’s take on the American Dream. Whether or not Lenzi borrowed from the Hawks film doesn’t change the fact that the two contain similar DNA.
Giulio starts as a nobody with nothing, but he’s ambitious. He’s not the smartest guy, but he’s not an idiot either. He knows how to operate within the criminal world and has an ability to manipulate situations to work to his benefit. Above all else he’ll stop and nothing to get what he wants. It’s that drive to push himself to the top of the gangster world that makes him such a threat. Unfortunately for Giulio that drive and confidence ends up being his biggest downfall. He thinks he can do anything and ultimately gets in way over his head and what he thought were perfect plans come crashing down.
Milian gives a staggering performance. Giulio is such a loose cannon and you know that at any moment he could just completely lose it. Milian plays the character completely unhinged, constantly pushing the envelope. Milian had an extremely prestigious career and this is maybe my favorite individual performance from him. Giulio is a scary, scary man and Milian plays him as such.
Playing opposite Milian is Henry Silva in an equally impressive role as Walter Grandi, the detective hell-bent on bringing Giulio to justice. Grandi and Giulio are very similar in a way. They have different goals and clearly different ethics, but they have the same drive. Grandi will do whatever it takes, including stepping outside the boundaries of the law, to bring down Giulio. They make for perfect foes.
Almost Human is a terrific Lenzi film. It’s a dark, brutal film. Nothing here is glamorized within the criminal community. At one point Giulio shoots and kills the child while the child’s parents are tied up in the same room. There isn’t as much onscreen gore as other Lenzi films, but the subject matter and content is pretty heavy.
The film was recently released on region B Blu-ray in the UK from Shameless Films who have been on a killer roll as of late. This edition of Almost Human looks fantastic. You can see a lot of detail and grain from the film, which is always welcomed, and there’s plenty of depth and richness to the colors. Easily the best-looking version of Almost Human to hit the home video market. The Blu-ray contains a brand-new interview with Lenzi and then a couple of features with Lenzi and other members of the cast that I believe were ported over from the Shameless DVD release of the film.
If you love your Italian-crime thrillers uncompromising and brutal, Almost Human is the film for you and this is the release you need.
Almost Human is currently available on region B Blu-ray from Shameless Films.
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