Thanks to Umberto Lenzi’s skilled direction and one of Tomas Milian’s most memorably villainous turns, ALMOST HUMAN (1974) has long been considered one of the most-noteworthy Eurocrime films, and it finally arrives on domestic Blu-ray courtesy of Code Red in what can easily be considered the film’s best-ever incarnation on home video yet.
When an armed robbery doesn’t go as planned due to Giulio Sacchi (Milian)’s incompetence, gang leader Mioni (the always-reliable Luciano Catenacci) ousts him from his tightknit crew. In consolation, Sacchi gets roaring drunk and visits his girlfriend Iona Tucci (Anita Strindberg), much to her obvious dissatisfaction. Upon eventually meeting-up with Carmine (Ray Lovelock) and Vittorio (Gino Santercole), a pair of low-level criminals with equally low-level aspirations whose main source of income is bootlegging cigarettes, Sacchi and his newfound partners-in-crime devise a plan to kidnap one Mary Lou Perrino (Laura Belli), the daughter of Iona’s boss (Guido Alberti), in the hopes of exchanging her for a hefty 500-million-lire ransom. Of course, the sociopathic Sacchi’s unpredictable behaviour – including an almost insatiable thirst for violence and sadism – soon thwarts this already shaky plan, leaving many dead in his wake. Meanwhile, the frustrated Inspector Grandi (Henry Silva) is at a loss to apprehend Sacchi, even though he knows damn well that he’s behind all the recent slayings in Milan. Even when he does get arrested, he’s soon released on a mere technicality; so, much like Clint Eastwood’s character “Dirty” Harry Callahan (and his Italo counterpart Maurizio Merli, of course!), Grandi takes the law into his own hands…
Propelled by one of Ennio Morricone’s distinctive, fast-paced scores, Lenzi and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti really set the trend for the influx of poliziotteschi (or polizieschi, as preferred by Lenzi [that former term being a more informal one for the genre in Italy]) that hit Italian cinema screens over the next decade. But it’s Milian’s over-the-top mentally-unstable, jittery, paranoid performance that really sets this film apart from many of its contemporaries, even others in which he himself also appeared. Here, as per his formative Actor’s Studio training (under Lee Strasberg), Milian goes full-throttle and really immerses himself deeply into his character. It remains one of his greatest, most-unforgettable film roles of all; although, it must be said, many critics at the time weren’t so kind! Upon its US theatrical reissue, Variety (“Lor.,” July 1980) wrote: “One of the innumerable ‘police are powerless’ Italian crime films of the mid-’70s... Main wonderment of the film is how scruffy, unappealing, and hammy Milian ever became a local superstar on the basis of roles like this one.” According to Lenzi in this disc’s accompanying interview, Milian, in true ‘Method-acting’ fashion, even resorted to getting hopped-up on cocaine and vodka in order to give himself the necessary shifty/fidgety edge required by the part. In one of the film’s most notorious moments, he, Carmine and Vittorio break into a house in an affluent Milanese suburb, where Sacchi’s jumpy, trigger-happy anxieties really rise to the fore as the trio humiliate, torture and then kill everyone for no apparent reason other than sick kicks.
Although at risk of becoming overshadowed by Milian, everyone else in the cast does hold their own, with Silva (who thankfully dubs his own voice, as he had a tendency to do on his Italian movies) being a particular standout as the exasperated commissario; considering he was generally cast as extra-baaad baddies, his playing an actual good guy – and a high-ranking official in the judiciary, yet! – makes for a refreshing change of pace. Lovelock, who also starred with Milian in Stelvio Massi’s low-key-but-brilliant EMERGENCY SQUAD (1974) that same year, also puts in a nicely-nuanced performance, full of self-doubt, fear and anger. Swedish-born sex bomb Strindberg (Sweden’s “other” Anita!) is also not just a pretty face, and she too contributes a committed – and highly convincing – performance as Sacchi’s morally-conflicted, long-suffering girlfriend, while Laura Belli puts on a brave face as his captive, who becomes ensnarled by her crazy captor’s uncontrollable bloodlust.
First released on domestic VHS / Beta videocassettes courtesy of Prism Video in a heavily-cropped, pan-and-scanned version, this shortened U.S. edit was prepared by Joseph Brenner & Associates, as one of that company’s final retitled rereleases of the film, whose ALMOST HUMAN title made it sound more like a horror film, an impression further conveyed by some of its poster artwork (just for the record, Brenner’s other stateside release titles for it also included THE DEATH DEALER and THE KIDNAP OF MARY LOU). The film first appeared on an English-friendly Italian DVD care of Alan Young Pictures in 2004, in a “2 DVD Deluxe Box Set” which also housed a nice release of Sergio Martino’s equally-influential poliziesco, THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS ( co-starring Luc Merenda along with frequent genre guest star, charismatic Italo-American ex-Hollywood player Richard Conte). Not long after the Alan Young Pictures disc release in 2005, the American arm of No Shame Films released ALMOST HUMAN in an even nicer edition, which included both English and Italian language options with English subtitles, plus a couple of informative featurettes. The first was Milian Unleashed, wherein the Cuban-born, Italian-based actor discusses, among other things, the importance of proper dubbing in his films; in particular the work of Ferruccio Amendola, whom the star insisted should dub him into the vernacular on all his Italian films. In Like a Beast… Almost!, Lenzi, Lovelock and Sacchetti also discuss at length their memories of working on the film. In 2017, U.K. label Shameless Entertainment debuted the film on Blu-ray (they also simultaneously released an identical DVD edition) in yet another substantially-improved edition, thanks to the added benefits of High Definition. Recycling the same featurettes from No Shame’s disc, they also included Meet the Maker (19m39s), a newly-shot interview with Lenzi in which he discusses the impact of the film and the subsequent flood of what have since become popularly known as “Eurocrime” entries over the next few years.
Bringing things up-to-date, in 2018, Code Red re-debuted the film on Blu in both the U.S. and Canada in yet another still-more-superior edition, which features an all-new HD transfer of the original version under its English-language export title of THE EXECUTIONER. Everything looks terrific, with an appropriate colour scheme, which nicely reflects the urban milieu of Milan; colourful at times but down-’n’-dirty at others (as with the far-from-urbane persona of Milian!). Like those numerous aforementioned previous releases, Code Red also provides both English and Italian language audio options (including ‘properly translated’ subtitles for the Italian track) in DTS-HD MA, and both of these sound excellent; although it’s hard to resist going with the English language option just to hear Silva’s characteristic voice alone!
|U.S. one-sheet courtesy of Steve Fenton.|
Code Red’s disc is also the biggest winner as far as extras are concerned, which once again include both of No Shame’s above-noted featurettes as well as a new – and very probably his last-ever – interview with Lenzi courtesy of Federico Caddeo’s Freak-O-Rama Productions, entitled The Outlaw (29m01s). In it, Lenzi discusses the influence of (quote) “The Marseille Gang” on the Italian syndicate, and its subsequent rise from a (quote) “provincial to international” organization; how John Saxon was originally considered for the role of Sacchi; the importance and influence of French motomaster Rémy Julienne’s stuntwork on the genre as a whole; and some of his favourite (quote) “secondary” characters in the film, such as Santercole. Lastly, Code Red have also seen fit to include Brenner’s U.S. theatrical version, transferred from a suitably battered-and-bruised – if still very watchable – 35mm film print remastered in HD, no less! This shorter version, running a mere 92m04s as opposed to Lenzi’s original version (which clocks-in at 99m23s), includes quite different – and briefer – opening and closing credits, plus a few other alterations besides. While the original version is much-preferable, this alternate version nevertheless remains a nice ‘nostalgic’ touch, since it’s the form in which most North American audiences first encountered it in the years long before either cable television or home video became forces to be reckoned with in the entertainment media. The disc finishes off with both the Italian and U.S. trailers for the film, as well as trailers for some of Code Red’s ever-expanding catalogue of Italian-produced titles.