Almost awesome. Almost Human is touted as a return to the glory days of gritty '70s/'80s horror, running lean and mean, with lots of gore and weirdness. The movie does indeed sport these attributes, though there are a few things holding it back from being as sick and dispiriting as some of those old-school horrors. However, any return to evil that skirts both the torture porn of ten years ago, or horror that relies solely on atmospheric jump scares, is welcome news for fans.
Mark (Josh Ethier) and Seth (Graham Skipper) are hanging out with their girls, pondering strange goings-on in the woods surrounding their hometown, when mysterious sounds indicate they might be closer to the weird action than they'd like. These opening scenes slowly build tension; if we're not fully invested in their characters yet, we're still able to buy into the notion that whatever's happening above their home, they probably shouldn't check it out.
Mark steps into the darkness with a gun, but ends up howling like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (a movie with which Almost Human shares plenty of DNA) as a blue light takes him away. Meanwhile, Seth ends up with some nasty nosebleeds, and everything pretty much goes to hell for everyone else until Mark reappears in the woods two years later, naked and covered in slime.
You can bet Mark isn't bringing peace and love from the great beyond, but is he bringing the goods, or will his desire to make new friends get muddled up by lackluster acting and craziness that just doesn't go far enough? It's kind-of the latter, at least in the short run, and sadly that which keeps Almost Human from really taking of are the performances from the two leads, who inject their performances with just the tiniest amount of Gilmore Girls attitude. Seth and ex-girlfriend Jen (Vanessa Leigh) have been through a lot, which they try to show while somehow maintaining the slightest bit of remove from their characters. It's a bump in the wallpaper - as it were - that telegraphs in obvious fashion.
With a short run-time, (71 minutes) and ultimately a pretty nihilistic attitude, Almost Human does indeed strive for the grim charms of old-school horror. Splashy kill scenes that rely on practical effects work well, and had me wishing for the violence to really go over the top. Luckily, things pick up in the third act, with naked and headless tentacle activity, and some nice skull crushing. That's when gorehounds will really start to drool, and the move comes to a screeching halt. Maybe, as in some of those classic low-budget horrors, the producers simply ran out of money. Damn, just when it was getting really good! (Stick around after the credits for the obligatory "evil never dies" tag ending.) Rent It.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Almost Human looks pretty good. There is a little grain to remind you of classic horror from the '80s, and the color palette is subdued, favoring blues and grays - that is until the red shows up. The transfer is relatively solid, though I noticed a few blatant instances of motion blur occurring around the edges of characters moving across detailed backgrounds. It's not a consistent problem, but when it crops up you will probably notice it as well.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio is lively. All dialog is clear and easy to understand, while the soundscape gives you some little surprises here and there from different channels. The 'alien howl' that will remind you of those screams from Invasion of the Body Snatchers is mixed a little bit too high in the mix for my tastes, but this is otherwise a good audio presentation.
Almost Human comes across with the extras, starting with boilerplate items like English SDH subtitles, Spanish Language Subtitles, the Theatrical Trailer, Alternate Trailers, a Vintage TV Spot (pretty cool) and a Photo Gallery. Go ahead and kick back then for a healthy helping of extras, including a Commentary Track with director Joe Begos and actor Josh Ethier, a Commentary Track with Joe, Josh, Graham Skipper and associate producer Cory Lockman, (both tracks are entertaining and there's not too much overlap) a Feature Length Making Of Documentary, (actually just 45 minutes, but worth a watch) a 5-minute Behind the Scenes featurette, 2 minutes On Set With Graham Skipper and the 4-minute Short Film: Toxin, revolving around a sort-of zombie POV attack. . That's a pretty nice dose of extras!
Almost Human strives for that gritty early '80s horror vibe with an old-school alien abduction storyline and plenty of practical gore. The movie builds some nice suspense and really starts to take off in the abruptly aborted final act. It's a blessing for gore-hounds like myself who were hoping the carnage would really go over the top, but, coupled with some less-than-perfect performances, (Josh Ethier as the title subject does the best with his role) it means that discerning horror hounds might leave wishing for just a little more grit and realism. A fine effort, but that 'almost' in the title tends to apply. Rent It and judge for yourself.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com