Personally, I’ve grown quite tired of hearing the word ‘throwback’ used to describe new and upcoming horror films, because in most cases it’s a total cop out, and a way for horror fans to make uninspired movies that tend to amount to nothing more than generic rehashings of movies they love.
But every so often, a filmmaker comes along and gets it right. Joe Begos is that filmmaker. And Almost Human is that film.
Begos’ debut feature, which just hit home video as well as Netflix Instant this week, centers on the mysterious disappearance of Mark Fisher, sucked up into the night sky by some extraterrestrial force one October night in 1987. Two years later, his friend Seth Hampton begins to have the same disturbing visions he had prior to that night, and it’s not long before Mark returns to his hometown, not quite the same as he was when he left.
If we’re being honest here, the acting – for the most part – in Almost Human isn’t all that great. The story isn’t either, and the whole movie is so thoroughly anti-climactic that it’s hard not to be disappointed once the end credits roll across the screen. In many ways, it’s quite clear that the film is the work of a guy who has as little money as he has experience, and there’s no denying that there’s something missing from the proceedings that would’ve really made it pop.
Fortunately for Begos and all involved, these issues don’t hurt the film so much as they serve to make it an utterly charming piece of old school fun, evoking that low-budget DIY spirit of another amateur effort that we all know and love; The Evil Dead. Much like the movie that put Sam Raimi on the map, Almost Human is quite clearly a film made by a group of friends who absolutely love horror cinema, and that love translates on the screen to blood-soaked fun that it’s hard not to be thoroughly entertained by.
The star of the show here is without a doubt the effects work by Rob Fitz, who previously worked on films ranging from Meet Joe Black to American Hustle. The alien abduction/slasher film hybrid allows for both ooey, gooey monster movie grossness and insanely gory cut ’em up carnage, and not a single dose of CGI is present throughout. Yep, we’re talking back to basics practical effects here, and the word glorious is one that effectively describes the various axe hits, throat slits, shotgun blasts and alien impregnations on display.
Yea. It’s that kind of movie.
While it’s likely that most seasoned horror fans will spot many direct homages in Almost Human – everything from Terminator to Fire in the Sky to Re-Animator – Begos smartly refrains from using any one movie as the framework for his first feature, which keeps things feeling fresh and new – despite the obvious influences. The trap most intended throwbacks fall into is in staying far too close to the movies they’re paying tribute to, and Almost Human shines bright as the rare throwback that is also very much its own movie.
At a brisk 1 hour and 10 minutes, Almost Human is fast-paced and never overstays its welcome, wasting little time between the intense opening abduction scene and Mark’s weapon-wielding arrival back in town. In many ways, it’s the absolute perfect modern day take on an 80s midnight movie, and though that also means its plagued by many of the issues that were inherent in those films, it’s nevertheless the kind of mindless fun that has been so sorely lacking in the genre’s recent past.
With a better script, Almost Human could undoubtedly have been a much more entertaining movie, but it’s fun enough to warrant a double feature with your favorite 80s B-movie, which seems to have been all that Begos really set out for it to be. Very few modern day horror films have managed to nail that old school spirit that Begos does with his inaugural foray into feature film territory, and that alone is worth the price of admission – and, sometime down the road, a late night re-watch with friends and a bottle of booze.
Many years ago, when Sam Raimi was gearing up to make The Evil Dead, a friend instructed him to keep the blood running down the screen, indicating that it would be a surefire way to make the target audience happy. By following that same bit of advice, Joe Begos has come out the other end with a film that very much put a smile on my face, and has me all kinds of excited about the future additions to the genre he’s no doubt working on as I sit here typing up this review.
So bring it on, Joe. Because yours is a filmmaking voice I look forward to hearing more of in the very near future.