Almost Human (1974)
“There is a reason for every living creature …with one exception.”
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Cast: Tomas Milian, Henry Silva, Laura Belli
Synopsis: A psychotic small-time criminal realizes that the everyday robberies, rapes and murders he commits aren’t making him all that much money, so he figures to hit the “big time” by kidnapping the daughter of a rich man.
The almost human character to whom the title of this mid-1970s Euro-crime exploitation thriller refers is Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian — The Agony and the Ecstasy), a small-time thief with a troubling cruel streak. We first meet Sacchi as he acts as a getaway driver for three armed robbers. Their robbery is rudely interrupted when a twitchy Sacchi guns down a policeman curious about what a car with a nervous, sweaty driver is doing illegally parked in front of a bank. Sacchi’s nerves earn him the wrath of Ugo Majone (Luciano Catenacci), the gang’s leader, who kicks him — quite literally — out of his gang for being a coward. Now gang-less, Sacchi is reduced to stealing coins from vending machines, during which he somehow manages to murder another policeman. This second murder sparks an idea in Sacchi’s addled brain: why take risks for small stakes when there’s no larger risk involved in going for something big?
Sacchi takes this nugget of wisdom to his long-suffering girlfriend Iona (Anita Strindberg), whose status will later be changed to victim when she threatens to go to the authorities about his criminal master-plan. You see, Iona happens to work for a wealthy businessman, Porrino (Guido Alberti) who has a lush young daughter, Marilu (Laura Belli), whom Sacchi decides to kidnap with the aid of two accomplices and hold for a ransom. However, Sacchi secretly has no intention of returning the girl once the ransom is handed over.
We gain an insight into just how truly twisted Sacchi is when Marilu briefly escapes from her kidnappers and stumbles into a house in which two wealthy couples are holding a little party. Sacchi and his mates follow Marilu into the house and force the two women and one of the men into performing fellatio on them before hanging them semi-naked from a chandelier and then shooting them. Almost Human is almost worth watching for this scene alone, simply because it’s so bizarre, and because it epitomises the brash, gaudy style of Italian exploitation flicks. Subtlety definitely wasn’t a byword of the genre or its director, Umberto Lenzi, who is probably most famous (or notorious) for The Man from Deep River, the first of the exploitation cannibal movies that got the Daily Mail in such a tizzy back in the 1980s.
There’s a manic energy about cult actor Thomas Milian that is reflected in the pace of Almost Human. The action is ceaseless, to the point where editing seems to have been a secondary consideration. Scenes tumble over one another at a breakneck pace, as if they’ve been thrown at the screen and chronological accuracy has simply been a fortunate coincidence. They furiously drive the plot forward while adding zero depth to its characters. We learn that Sacchi’s a sadistic madman early on in the picture, and we’re repeatedly provided with evidence to confirm this assessment over and over. Milian at least gives an entertaining performance, sneering and twitching, twisting his mouth this way and that, employing the method style of acting to an exaggerated degree that leaves you mesmerised. Henry Silva plays the dogged police detective on Sacchi’s trail — or perhaps in his wake would be a more apt description. He’s always one step behind — which just goes to show what a lousy cop he is. Silva wisely decided not to try and match Milian’s method, choosing instead to deliver a much more restrained performance, and you get the impression he was resigned to the fact that he was always going to be overshadowed in this one.
Almost Human is worth watching if you’re a fan — or just curious about — 1970s exploitation movies and you’re not too particular about pacing or characterisation, but at the end of the day it’s just a lot of noise with little worth commending.
(Reviewed 5th March 2014)