Sunday, 28 October 2012

Almost Human (Umberto Lenzi, 1974) DVD Review...

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Umberto (Cannibal Ferox, Nightmare City) Lenzi's brash poliziotteschi crime thriller kicks off in grand style, with a botched bank robbery that leads to a frenzied car chase filled with screaming rubber and battered metal – a sequence that best demonstrates Eugenio (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) Alabiso's tight editing. Blamed for ruining the score, Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian, full of twitchy energy) is introduced as an unreliable low-level hoodlum on Italy's crime-ridden streets, a man with enough chips on his shoulder to fill-out a fish supper. What's more, he's not above killing a policeman for a mere 600 lira stolen from a cigarette machine, in this film where the usual Italian glamour is replaced by uncompromising grit.

Screenwriter Ernesto (The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh) Gastaldi's vision of Italy exposes a society ruled by a totally corrupt legal system which fails to enact the basic intentions of law and order. Criminals are routinely let off the hook due to a lack of evidence, and it is with this knowledge that Giulio sets about coming up with a scheme to net him some fat cash.

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Giulio's plan comes to fruition when his middle class girlfriend Iona (Anita Strindberg, Who Saw Her Die?) - who is into him as a bit of rough, yet blissfully unaware of his criminal activities - reveals that her boss' daughter, Marilu Porrino, works with her and that industrialist Mr Porrino is a very rich man indeed. Teamed up with two more hoods (Vittorio and Carmine), Giulio and his gang kidnap Marilu for ransom – but not before Giulio's hot-headedness is written large across the screen as they unleash their brand of violence and 'equal opportunities for all' humiliation upon a gathering of the local bourgeoisie, who are quickly hung like trophies from the drawing room chandelier.

Consumed by arrogance, and a low view of society in general (the police, journalists, youth, the rich and more are all derided), Giulio's teeth-gnashing irrationality and bug-eyed ego soon threaten to transform this kidnapping into the end of them all, as Henry Silva's hard-nosed Inspector Walter Grandi closes in on them, following the trail of bodies left in their wake.

The world of Almost Human is one of distrust (even disrespect) in authority and a seething frustration. Class war becomes a face-off between the greed and anger of the 'poor and dirty' versus the blissful ignorance of the well off, while the justice system stands idly by in the middle, scuppered by lawyers lacking in morals (“all too typical of Italian law”), and politicians neutered by the malaise afforded to them by the system. In one particularly interesting scene – where Giulio visits an arms dealer – the criminal exchange is discussed using religious terminology, where machine guns are referred to as “Rosaries”. The socio-political disenfranchisement of Gastaldi's acerbic script knows no bounds, and is given an added edge by Lenzi's steely-eyed direction and Ennio Morricone's jagged, down-and-dirty score, which is all prowling pianos and stalking saxophones.

Shameless Screen Entertainment's 32nd release arrives – as is the norm – in the original aspect ratio (2.35:1), fully uncut, and with a decent set of extras. A half-hour interview with Milian is the main highlight, while a Fact Track, an essay introduction to poliziotteschi films, and a range of trailers fill out the rest of the extras package. Transfer-wise the films looks as good as you could hope for – there is some print damage here and there, and a few snippets that are curiously cast into a strange blurry softness, but for the most part it's a good, clear transfer. However, this release does suffer in the audio department. The Italian track is good, but the English track is surprisingly not up to the usual standard – at times it sounds like a low bandwidth internet video from the days before broadband – you don't miss any dialogue, but it sounds murky at frequent junctures.

Fans of Lenzi's work, and of the poliziotteschi genre in general, should be well catered for here. On the strength of Gastaldi's script and Milian's crazed performance alone, you're in for a cold-hearted treat – a slice of the Italian crime thriller served with a sneer.

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