Tuesday, March 20, 2018


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 ([1973] 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.

Order your copy today from Ronin Flix, or from DiabolikDVD, but please be aware, that due to (quote) “contractual obligations” this disc will not be available to U.S. residents from Diabolik until after March 25th (which, as of this writing, is just 4 short days away!).

Thursday, March 15, 2018


For this exceedingly low-budget if ambitious splatterfest, director Pat Bishow’s main inspiration was to create something (quote) “different”, right down to the film’s, um, colourful title. For all its faults though, THE SOULTANGLER (1987) remains one of the more bewildering D.I.Y. (“do-it-yourself”) ’80s horror films, which was recently resurrected from the VHS graveyard courtesy of the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and Bleeding Skull Video.

Dr. Anton Lupseky (Pierre Deveaux) has developed a new drug called Anphorium, which somehow allows people to transfer their souls into (quote) “any human corpse, provided it has eyes”; since the eyes are the window to the soul, as it’s said, this kinda makes sense in a way. However, his drug also affects the person’s nerve centers, causing vivid and highly horrific hallucinations. Thus Dr. Lupesky, who is also referred to as (quote) “pure evil”, has his assistants Carl (Bob Cederberg) and Jessica (Louise Millman) abduct females (“Women are everywhere on the streets these days!”), so he can continue his unorthodox experiments down in the dingy, gore-strewn basement which doubles as his laboratory. Meanwhile, in hopes of uncovering the truth about her father’s death, a feisty, chain-smoking reporter named Kim (Jamie Kinser) begins looking into Kupesky’s work, and duly informs we the viewer directly (quote), “That’s when things really got crazy!”

Made by Bishow’s family and friends over a week-long period in Long Island, New York in 1985, THE SOULTANGLER is certainly one of the more offbeat – and at one point elusively hard-to-see – “homemade” movies to emerge out of the ’80s. However, for all its innate liveliness and grandiose ideas, much of the film is actually quite slow on the uptake. At the same time, however, like many of these homegrown horrors, the tedium achieves a rather strange, almost hypnotic quality in-between its horrific highlights. Padded with an inordinate amount of people walking and driving from one location to another (more on that later) or sitting in offices, these often useless scenes of repetitive action are mind-numbing. As with the Anphorium-driven characters in the film, it’s like some bizarre fever-dream, which either leaves you scratching your head or simply succumbing to the film’s idiosyncratic logic and pacing. Drawn-out and disorienting, the film’s primary intention still remains depicting gooey grue, and like Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR (1985), the film it most closely resembles thematically speaking, much of it is reserved for the gore-soaked finale, which features plenty of enthusiastic – and effective – blood-spattering F/X work, including decapitations, resurrected zombies, pulsating headless brains (with their eyes still attached, no less!), and one poor schmoe getting strangulated by a zombie’s dangling intestines.

Shot in 16mm and then edited on video, AGFA’s fully-loaded DVD was transferred from the original 1-inch master tapes, and the results are about what you’d expect from such a hand-to-mouth endeavour. The film is also presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio, and while the picture quality is limited by its less-than-optimal source material, it all looks reasonably sharp, with relatively stable colours (which are especially evident during some of the more outlandishly-shot moments). The Dolby Digital audio is also free of both distortion or an overabundance of hiss, with HypnoLoveWheel (i.e., Jim Cook, Griffin Dickerman and Chris Xefos)’s decent electronic score sounding just fine. Unlike Mondo / AGFA’s earlier retro big-box VHS edition from 2014 or the once even-harder-to-find Canadian VHS from Astral Video, which housed the standard (89m42s) edition of the film, AGFA have this time round also included a (quote) “previously unseen 62-minute director’s cut”, which plays far more effectively. In director Pat Bishow’s feature-length audio commentary, he goes on to discuss how the distributor forced him to (quote) “pad it out to 90-minutes” because it was simply too short. So, much to his dismay, using previously discarded takes and extra footage, Bishow went on to (quote) “explain Anphorium” and also add all those unnecessary filler scenes of people walking and driving, which he equates to (quote) “torture”. He also goes on to talk about the trials of shooting a low-budget film such as this, as well as discussing many of the Long Island locations (including that filthy basement!); how much of it was (quote) “done on the fly”; plus he also mentions the uncooperative nature of Kinser, who (quote) “wasn’t very nice.” While Bishow begins his commentary by exclaiming “I can’t believe anybody is actually listening to this!” he goes on to fill the 90 minutes with ease. Other extras include The Making of The Soultangler (12m13s), with plentiful behind-the-scenes footage shot in May of 1985; the film’s original video trailer (“From every corner emerges total terror!”), still another video trailer from Bishow’s earlier film, THE DEAD OF NIGHT TOWN (1983); and also a music video shot by Bishow for HypnoLoveWheel’s “Wow!” In addition to including the film’s very rare Canadian VHS release, the disc also comes with reversible cover art featuring new – and wholly appropriate – art by Matt “Putrid” Carr. 

On the whole, THE SOULTANGLER is, for reasons beyond the director’s control, a little slow to get going, but it still offers something different even outside of its spirited bursts of gory mayhem; and for that alone, it should be respected and appreciated.  Order it from DiabolikDVD or Suspect Video.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


When the cannibals attack, I want you to kill me!” exclaims Sheila, making a doom-laden proposition to her jungle guide, Mark.

Although he is technically credited for launching the so-called ‘Italian cannibal film’ cycle with his gruesome if well-mounted jungle adventure THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972), director Umberto Lenzi’s film – despite featuring a brief, gory bit of cannibalism – is simply a copy of Elliot Silverstein’s A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970) which transposes that film’s Native American setting over to Southeast Asia instead. Like the Silverstein film, most of the primary promotional materials for Lenzi’s unofficial ‘remake’ likewise centered on its grisly initiation rituals, albeit in a far more exploitative manner. However, it was the success (or infamy?) of Ruggero Deodato’s harrowing CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979), which truly kicked-off this questionable ‘body horror’ subgenre, resulting in a number of inferior imitations, including Umberto Lenzi’s notorious CANNIBAL FEROX (a.k.a. MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, 1981) and the present EATEN ALIVE! (1980), one of the more, um ‘entertaining’ and completely bonkers films the genre had to offer, which even incorporated – and certainly tried to capitalize on – the notoriety of real-life fanatical cult leader Jim Jones and the tragic 1978 mass suicide / massacre he presided over in Jonestown, Guyana.

Following a series of baffling murders perpetrated by some low-level assassin by means of (quote) “tiny darts dipped in cobra venom” in both Niagara Falls and New York City, our blow-dart killer is, during a moment of panic, run-over by a garbage truck in midtown Manhattan. Soon after, Sheila Morris (Janet Agren), a (quote) “good ’ole Southern gal from Alabama”, is summoned to NYC because the police happen to find a canister of 8mm film in the murderer’s pocket (!) – yet another connection to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST – featuring footage of Sheila’s sister Diana participating in some sort of native ritual involving mondo-styled scenes of suspension piercing. More disconcerting still, though, is her involvement with Jonas (Ivan Rassimov), a (quote) “first-class nut”, who has set up camp somewhere in the wilds of New Guinea with his cult of worshippers, a bunch of (quote) “ecology freaks”. With the help of Professor Carter (a seriously slumming Mel Ferrer), Sheila heads to New Guinea, where she meets up with Mark (Robert Kerman / a.k.a. Richard Bolla), a Vietnam deserter, who begrudgingly agrees to help locate her sister and, in the midst of some shocking sights, promises the wide-eyed Sheila (quote) “you’ll see worse before this is over!”

Unbelievably crass, but highly entertaining, Lenzi’s first real cannibal film is a genre-hopping jungle romp, which features some form of indignity and/or gory set-piece every few minutes. However, unlike Deodato’s unforgivably harsh and misanthropic CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, Lenzi’s film is just so slapdash and preposterous that it’s hard to take seriously. Furthermore, Lenzi – rather brazenly – includes footage from a number of previous cannibal flicks, including Deodato’s THE LAST CANNIBAL WORLD (a.k.a. JUNGLE HOLOCAUST, 1976), Sergio Martino’s upscale THE MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (a.k.a. SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, 1978), and also from his very own THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, which was undoubtedly done to pad the film out with as much gore for a modicum of the cost. Minus some of the film’s obligatory animal cruelty, most of the gory makeup effects are of the “H.G. Lewis” school, but at the same time, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness – and nastiness – of shots showing cannibals slowly eating people alive during one of the film’s climactic sequences, which is done without the use of any music whatsoever and is accompanied by sounds of the natives hungrily chewing on raw flesh, the victims’ dying breaths and birds chirping in the background. It’s certainly a grisly, unforgettable tableau. For the most part though, this is an enjoyable, fast-moving film, which also affords prominent porn-star Kerman / Bolla another leading man role following his turn in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, and who also gets to perform many of his own stunts; it’s too bad he wasn’t offered more non-adult roles over the course of his lengthy career. Usually cast as the heavy, veteran Eurocult star Ivan Rassimov really gets to chew on the scenery here as well, in what is undeniably, one of his more over-the-top roles as the Jim Jones-inspired (if that’s the right term!) Jonas, who is seen either barking orders, overseeing native sexual rituals or, in yet another one of the film’s more ‘notable’ eyebrow-raising scenes, gleefully participating in some ceremonial mumbo-jumbo involving a drugged Agren, who he seems to perceive as some sort of deity.  

Briefly released theatrically by Continental in 1985 as DOOMED TO DIE, which also flaunted a “Banned in 38 Countries” moniker (that’s a whopping 7 more countries than Lenzi’s MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY!), Continental released it soon after on home video in 1986 as THE EMERALD JUNGLE (retitled once again to cash-in on John Boorman’s then-recent THE EMERALD FOREST [1985]), in a colourful, over-sized box, which housed an uncut copy of the film. In the early 2000s, a number of DVDs surfaced in Europe, but for the time, the best release came from Shriek Show in 2002, which included a solid transfer (albeit incorrectly framed at 1.78:1) of this low-budget film and a trio of interviews with Lenzi, Rassimov and Kerman. Severin’s new Blu-ray (the first out of the gate) is most definitely a vast improvement, which includes the film’s correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is a far more pleasing presentation. And despite the film’s low-budget origins and ‘borrowed’ footage, everything looks damn fine. Unbelievably, the DTS-HD MA mono audio is included in English, Italian and Spanish, and in a nice surprise, English subtitles are even included for the Italian audio track, which differs slightly and makes for a highly welcome inclusion; but it’s hard to resist the English language track, which features the usual voice talent, including Susan Spafford (she dubs Sheila) who, quite hilariously, tries her best to affect a ‘Southern twang’; Closed Captions are also included for the English audio.

Extras are plentiful, and these begin with Federico Caddeo’s Freak-O-Rama-produced Welcome to the Jungle (16m37s), an on-camera interview with the always enthusiastic Lenzi, who discusses one of his most popular and infamous phases in his long and varied career, beginning with THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER and that film’s inception; apparently it was based on some of Emmanuelle Arsan’s first-hand experiences in Myanmar and Thailand where, according to Lenzi (quote) “the nature was wild!” Of course, he goes on to discuss his later films, as well as his dissatisfaction with star Kerman (“…we didn’t have a relationship”), and also Agren’s professionalism. The second, most-substantial extra, is Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection of the Cannibal Queen (79m55s), a feature-length documentary originally included with 88 Films’ THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER U.K. Blu-ray, which runs through her entire career while placing a particular emphasis on her Italian film work. In The Sect of the Purification (13m03s), yet another Freak-O-Rama production, veteran production / costume designer Massimo Antonello Geleng goes into detail about his time in Ceylon and his (quote) “instinctive” approach to his work, and how most of EATEN ALIVE!’s (quote) “raunchiest scenes” were filmed back at DEAR Studios in Rome. Culled from Shriek Show’s DVD, a pair of archive interviews (12m20s) with Kerman and Rassimov are also included, but are significantly improved upon thanks to some skilled editing. In the last extra, on September 21st, 2013, Lenzi attends a Q&A at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films (23m43s), where he discusses much of the same topics from the previous interviews, including his dislike for these cannibal films, but because they continue to bring in the royalties, he has no choice but to modestly declare them (quote) “masterpieces!” The original English-language export trailer finishes-off the extras.

Available in a number of editions, including a DVD, a standard Blu-ray, a Limited Edition Blu-ray (which includes a soundtrack CD and a rather striking slipcover) and a special Cannibundle (which includes the Limited Edition Blu-ray, a T-shirt and an enamel Umberto Lenzi pin [!]), Severin have definitely gone all-out for the film’s Blu-ray debut, which will, most certainly, remain the ultimate edition for as long as physical media continues to thrive. It can also be ordered from DiabolikDVD, and you Canadian readers can get it via Suspect Video.