Writer-director-photographer Joe Begos certainly shows a passion for low budget horror flicks, particularly the variety from the 1980s where these vintage frightfests were cheaply made gross productions but rich in guilty pleasure gore. In fact, ‘Almost Human’ (not to be confused or mistaken for the Fox-TV show of the same name) is set in the late 1980s and tries to emulate the grotesque allure of the yesteryear scare spectacles that were fingerprinted by such movie-making shock-jocks as John Carpenter, Eli Roth and Sam Raimi. Certainly ‘Almost Human’ is an homage to the gritty and grimy goose-bump thrillers that saturated the Reagan-era years on the big screen.
In trying to put a steady and sacred handle on the modern indie horror scene, filmmakers are left with very limited options in conveying a sense of freshness or innovation in uplifting this genre to new macabre-inspired heights. Sadly, ‘Almost Human’ merely echoes the sadistic sentiments of yesteryear’s boo-enhanced blueprints instead of contributing something distinctively radical and preserving the essence of these nostalgic fright flicks it wants to honor in its creepy copycat convictions. As a morbid suspense piece that tries to weave elements of sci-fi and horror overtones with a dash of abduction and alien life form themes, ‘Almost Human’ chaotically juggles its assortment of menacing moments but never quite fingers a solid momentum where the audience can settle in on the hair-raising premise. The plot is relentlessly thin and convoluted and the rudimentary characters and generic edginess does not quite match the reckless rhythms of the movie.
The setting takes place in the wooded regions of Maine circa 1987. We find a frantic Seth (Graham Skipper) en route to visiting his bulky and bearded friend Mark Fisher (Josh Ethier, the film’s editor and Begos’s real-life buddy and collaborator) to report the strange happening of their mutual friend’s vanishing courtesy of a ‘mysterious flashing blue light’ (accompanied by a screeching sound) that whisked him away. However, Seth would witness lightening striking twice as he is subjected to watching poor Mark experience the same fate of disappearance courtesy of this very same method that previously abducted their other pal.
Naturally, Mark’s shocking departure thanks to this curious supernatural phenomenon has created a worrisome buzz around town. Understandably, Mark’s absence has disillusioned the numb Seth and his female acquaintance Jen (Vanessa Leigh) who is the missing Mark’s former girlfriend.
It would take two years later for the unimaginable to occur, the reappearance of a stark naked Mark Fisher in the flesh. Specifically, Mark had been spotted and found by a couple of hunters in the backwoods. Unfortunately for the hunters, a brutal and beastly reincarnation of Mark Fisher butchers the unsuspecting men in ghastly fashion. In fact, the routine slaughtering of humans that come in contact with the slicing and dicing Mark are victimised and stored away in cocoons to be later converted into alien specimens.
As the ‘alien’-ated Mark continues to stack up the body count around the surrounding area, he hopes to be reunited with his beloved Jen so that he can reproduce with her thus finding another way in which to spawn the alien presence among the human population. It does not take a rocket scientist for Seth and Jen to connect the dots and observe that the old Mark exists no more and that the new and bizarre Mark is the mastermind behind the escalating carnage. Hence, Seth and especially Jen must duck and dodge the rampaging Mark if they want to live and tell of their nightmarish exploits at a later time.
Sure, the heavy-handed havoc as demonstrated in ‘Almost Human’ has its enriching highlights of perverse pleasures that incorporate its rancid share of blood-splattering, head-bashing and throat-cutting. The fear factor definitely cannot be questioned as Begos delivers the deranged goods in terms of the movie’s sordid absorption. Still, ‘Almost Human’ strains because it is so busy feeding the various mouths of it being a sci-fi invasion flick, slasher B-movie and alien saga that it overlooks the cohesiveness of simply resting in its scaly skin as a solitary and cunning creepfest that soundly registers.
One can appreciate and admire Begos’s affinity for revisiting the glory days of 80s cinema debauchery where this particular movie movement of slash-and-dash ditties where so commonplace and occasionally colorful, impish and caustically creative. We do not necessarily need the synthetic likes of ‘Almost Human’ to ape the manic madness when reminiscing about yesterday’s twitchy vibes in cheapened hell-raising movie-making that is conveniently at one’s immediate disposal.
Almost Human (2014)
STARRING: Graham Skipper, Vanessa Leigh , Josh Ethier, Michael Locicero and Susan T. Travers
DIRECTED BY: Joe Begos
SCREENPLAY BY: Joe Begos
MPAA RATING: NR
RUNNING TIME: 80 mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY: IFC Films
CRITIC’S RATING: ** stars (out of 4 stars)