Color, 1974, 99 mins. 20 secs.
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Tomas Milian, Laura Belli, Henry Silva, Gino Santercole, Anita Strindberg, Ray Lovelock
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Code Red (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Shameless Screen Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), NoShame (US R1 NTSC), Alan Young (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Color, 1975, 93 mins. 20 secs. / 90 mins. 27 secs.
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Tomas Milian, Joseph Cotten, Mario Piave, Maria Fiore, Luciano Catenacci, Femi Benussi
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Shriek Show (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Color, 1976, 91 mins. 49 secs.
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Tomas Milian, Claudio Cassinelli, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Henry Silva, Robert Hundar
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Fractured Visions (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Cinestrange (Blu-ray) (Germany R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Color, 1977, 99 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Tomas Milian, Maurizio Merli, John Saxon
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), X-Rated Kult (Blu-ray) (Germany R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Color, 1978, 99 mins. 34 secs. / 97 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Tomas Milian, Pino Colizzi, Isa Danieli, Sal Borgese
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

One of the most reliable names in genre-hopping Italian classics during the 1970s, Umberto Lenzi keeps gaining in stature now that the full breadth of his work can be appreciated. In particular, he was up there with some of the country's best action filmmakers with a knack Almost Humanfor tough cop thrillers-- most starring the versatile and sometimes divisive Almost HumanCuban-born local star Tomas Milian. Five of their collaborations have been gathered in one handy place in a 2023 Blu-ray set from Severin Films, Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi / Tomas Milian Collection, representing all but one of their films together. (The odd one out, 1976's The Tough Ones, is available as a very stacked special edition from Grindhouse Releasing.)

First up is Almost Human in which unhinged thief and getaway driver Giulio Sacchi (Milian) is beaten up and kicked out by his gang after a botched bank robbery. He finds solace only in the arms of his girlfriend, Iona (Strindberg), but his savage side can't be tamed for long. One afternoon he devises a ransom plan to earn some quick cash when he spots Mary Lou (Belli), a millionaire's daughter, and enlists the aid of two criminals (Santercole and Lovelock) to help pull off the abduction. However, persistent Inspector Grandi (Silva) catches Giulio's trail and, stymied by the bureaucratic roadblocks of the Milanese police force, must resort to brutal vigilante tactics to bring this mad dog psychotic down.

Lenzi's second foray into Italian crime cinema following the solid Gang War in Milan is one of his best, offering plenty of action and sleazy thrills as Milian and Silva compete to see who can show down the largest amount of scenery. Like The Tough Ones, any chance for this entertaining and degenerate treat to find its audience was stymied in the US by short-sighted distributor Joseph Brenner who cut it to ribbons and, several years after the fact, tried to pass off the product as a horror film under its current title and others like The Death Almost HumanDealer and The Kidnap of Mary Lou. Luckily the subsequent Eurocult revival has helped its reputation considerably, with fans able to appreciate it on Almost Humanits own terms and savor its incidental pleasures like the funky Ennio Morricone score (with the incomparable Bruno Nicolai along for the ride). In a fearless performance, the late Milian steals most of the film (sort of like a macho version of The Candy Snatchers) but everyone turns in good work, with the reliable Lovelock and Strindberg so interesting they deserve a bit more screen time.

Almost Human (or as it's known by a more ornate title in Italy, Milano odia: la polizia non può sparare) first appeared on DVD in Italy from Alan Young (as a double feature with The Violent Professionals) containing the English and Italian audio tracks without subtitle options. The NoShame version from 2005 represented a substantial upgrade at the time, adding English subtitles to both audio options and sporting a visibly slicker transfer as well. Extras exclusive to the US release include the Italian and international trailers, a poster and photo gallery, excellent liner notes by Richard Harland Smith detailing the political circumstances which bred the film, a lively interview with Milian (28m36s) called "Milian Unleashed," and heftiest of all, "Like a Beast... Almost" (35m40s), with Lenzi, Lovelock, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, and (off screen via telephone) Milian talking about the making of the film including the friendships that formed among them, the original casting of Milian as the Almost Humancop, the unexpected death that threw a wrench in the production, and the impact of the film's then-shocking levels Almost Humanof violence.

In 2017, UK label Shameless Entertainment (the opposite of NoShame?) took a stab at this film with separate Blu-ray and DVD editions, plus a site-only lenticular cover option that’s very, very NSFW. The transfer looks quite healthy with throughout with that vibrant,peculiar color scheme unique to '70s Italian films fully intact (bright reds, weird overcast dreary skies, etc.).Fans should be more than pleased; apart from some rough second-unit footage during the opening car chase, the transfer also looks very clean. The English and Italian tracks are included in LPCM mono with optional yellow English subtitles (as with the NoShame, directly translated from the Italian, not dubtitles). Both featurettes from the NoShame disc are included (with an amusing new text intro for the Milian one), and Lenzi goes solo with the new, exclusive "Meet the Maker" (19m39s) discussing his cycle of crime films (including ones with Maurizio Merli) and how they reflected the turbulent real-life crime wave and political unrest in Italy at the time. Also included are bonus (newly created) trailers for All the Colors of the Dark, The Sect, and The Church.

Less than a year later in early 2018, Code Red brought the film to Blu-ray (sporting the ridiculously misleading U.S. poster art on the cover), sold domestically via Ronin Flix and Diabolik. This release contains a different HD scan of the film featuring the title The Executioner at the beginning, with mono DTS-HD MA options for the English and Italian tracks with either English SDH subtitles or translated English subtitles for the Italian version-- a nice choice to have. The image features some variations compared to the prior Blu-ray; some of the Almost Humantwilight or night scenes are darker and have a grittier feel (more similar in tone to something Almost Humanlike Dirty Harry), while daylight scenes feature slightly more vibrant colors. A bit more image info is also visible in the frame; in short, fans should be more than satisfied. Both of the NoShame featurettes are ported over again along with the Italian and U.S. trailers (the latter as The Death Dealer), plus bonus ones for The Violent Professionals, The Last Hunter, Ironmaster, and Seven Blood-stained Orchids. A different and particularly juicy new interview with Lenzi is added here, "The Outlaw" (29ms1), which spends more time than usual on the criminal gang aspects of the period while cruising through the beats involving Gastaldi, the potential casting of John Saxon, and Milian's vodka and cocaine-enhanced improvisation. However, the big new extra here is the American release prepared by Joseph Brenner, which runs 92m4s and differs radically at times, such as some major music changes and rampant editorial tweaks including a totally reworked ending with a more overt moralistic text card at the end. This one's transferred from a somewhat worn 35mm print (quite a bit of water damage on the right edge) and doesn't look as fresh, but its inclusion here is a really nice touch.

Finally the 2023 Severin Blu-ray features an uncut scan of the European cut of the film (as The Executioner), looking close to the Code Red in terms of framing and color timing with crisp English and Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono options (with English translated or SDH subtitles). Two audio commentaries are included, the first with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and the second with this writer and Troy Howarth. In "Violent Milan" (29m1s), Lenzi provides a lengthy appraisal of the film and his early collaborations with Milian as well as the development of the story and the socio-political situation in Italy. Then Milian appears in "Milian Unleashed" (25m51s) for an in-depth, English-language discussion of his approach to playing bad guys and the difficulty he created personally doing those roles for his colleagues. In "A History of Violence" (37m44s), Gastaldi goes more into how he approached the depiction of criminality, the real-life turbulence that he drew upon, and comparisons to society now. Finally in "Italian American Gangster" (5m30s), Silva briefly goes into his time making tough crime films in Italy for directors like Lenzi and Fernando Di Leo that helped him avoid getting "stuck in a rut." The English international trailer is also included, plus a 12-track soundtrack CD Syndicate Sadistsreflecting the most recent remastered Syndicate Sadistsedition.

Next up in the set is 1976's Syndicate Sadists, the lurid title conjured up by Sam Sherman's Independent-International for the U.S. release of Il giustiziere sfida la città. It's another fun one buoyed by a lively, funky score by the great Franco Micalizzi, and not surprisingly in the '80s it took on a whole new meaning from the fact that Milian's protagonist is named Rambo. (Yep, it even got a reissue as Rambo's Revenge, with Milian lifting the character named from the David Morell book.) Here our Rambo is a biker and vigilante with a criminal past whose visit to good buddy Pino (Piave) turns tragic when the mob kills him during complications over a child's kidnapping. Rambo targets the gang's boss, Conti (Catenacci), by cleverly pitting them against old rival mob boss Paterno (Cotten).

Violent but not as cynical as some of its peers, Syndicate Sadists is an Syndicate Sadistsinteresting transition film for Milian as he developed the loner, flawed hero that would become his bread and butter well into the '80s in Italy (including a variation on his trademark cap). It all flows well and has some interesting twists and turns along the way, especially a nifty reveal involving Cotten near the end. Because of its fairly heavy U.S. play and regular availability on home video (including a U.S. DVD from Shriek Show), this ranks with Almost Human as one of the Syndicate Sadistsmost familiar title to American grindhouse fans over the years and has some extra cult cred thanks to the presence of familiar faces like Femi Benussi, Shirley Corrigan, Luciano Pigozzi, and Silvano Tranquilli. A 2017 Blu-ray from 88 Films in the U.K. was a welcome development featuring both the English and Italian versions with English subtitles, plus a Lenzi interview (22m44s) and an enthusiastic primer from "movie tough guy expert" and documentarian Mike Malloy (9m19s), who brought you Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films that Ruled the '70s.

The Severin disc is a significant improvement though, with much better color timing (richer and more convincing than the pinkish tinge on the U.K. disc) and finally presenting the truly uncut version of the film with three minutes of footage (most of it trimmed around the 20-minute mark) missing from the earlier DVD and Blu-ray. As with all the other films in the box, you get the English and Italian tracks here (DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono) with English translated or SDH subs. The featurettes here include "First Blood" (8m4s) with Lenzi covering the development of the film and its ties to real kidnapping crises, and "Family Affair" (17m13s) with Ida Galli a.k.a. Evelyn Stewart talking about her '70s career and her fairly small role here. In "Kidnapped" (27m2s), actor Alessandro Cocco sits in front of Bruce Springsteen sheet music and recalls the jovial atmosphere on set compared to the film itself and his imperiled youngster role. Finally we get the most jolting extra in the entire set: "Interview with the Fascist" (24m17s), with actor Bruno Di Luia talking about his willingness to take on physically demanding roles, his early time served in jail, his memories of his co-stars, and his own extreme right politics (which is enough to merit a disclaimer at the beginning). Finally the disc concludes with the English trailer, and it also comes with a 34-track soundtrack CD containing the score for this film and Brothers Till We Die (more on that below).

Free Hand for a Tough CopOriginally released as Il trucido e lo sbirro, the bullet-riddled Free Hand for a Free Hand for a Tough CopTough Cop on disc three holds a special place in history as the cinematic debut of Tomas Milian's "Monnezza," one of the exaggerated personas he introduced to the poliziottesco and one he'd revisit to varying degrees in several later films like Brothers Till We Die and Destruction Force. After one of the funniest fake-out openings in Italian cinema we're introduced to our antihero, Sergio Marazzi, a.k.a. Monnezza, a crude, cigarette-pinching, curly-haired prison inmate watching a spaghetti western with his fellow prisoners. During a bathroom break he's suddenly punched out and snatched by Commissioner Antonio Sarti (Cassinelli), who's taking very unorthodox tactics to close in on some gangsters who have just dumped a trio of kidnapping victims at a construction site. However, still missing is a little girl, Camilla, who has a kidney ailment -- and a rich daddy being extorted for a great deal of money. Monnezza will be crucial in pinpointing the main culprit, Brescianelli (Silva), who's just had plastic surgery to render himself unrecognizable to the casual eye. The carrot dangled in front of Monnezza is a promise to let him get back to his low-level racketeering without interference from the Marseille mob, but things get very complicated indeed as our Free Hand for a Tough Copodd pairing face off against a motley Free Hand for a Tough Copcrew of ruthless criminals.

Thanks to the presence of Milian near the start of his exaggerated caricature phase (the same year as The Tough Ones and before he really went nuts with the Nico Giraldi comedy crime cycle), this one introduces more humor than was typical for the period. However, Milian mostly keeps it in check here and has you rooting for his character all the way to the clever ending, which finds a satisfying way to handle both of our protagonists without leaving you feeling short-changed. The film is also a feast of Italian character actors and movie in-jokes, with several familiar faces turning up throughout; it's Lenzi at the peak of his crime movie powers, somehow churning out this, The Tough Ones, and his masterpiece Violent Naples all in the same year. Adding to the fun is an infectious and funky score by Bruno Canfora, which deserves a full soundtrack release one of thee days.

Probably due to its very Italian sense of humor and localized atmosphere, Free Hand for a Tough Cop didn't get much play in English-speaking territories outside the VHS and gray market circuit until it finally hit Blu-ray in 2021. The first out of the gate by a nose came from Cinestrange in Germany (as Der Schlitzohr und der Bulle) with the German, Italian, and English tracks with optional German subtitles, followed by a U.K. one from Fractured Visions. The 2K restoration from the camera negative looks pretty good and is likely accurate to the source, given that we don't really have much out there decent quality-wise to go by. That said, it's presented at 30fps which is an odd quirk. The original Italian and amusing English tracks are both included in Free Hand for a Tough CopDTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English (translated) subtitles, and both Free Hand for a Tough Copsound perfectly fine for what they are. Also included are two audio commentaries, the first with Eurocrime! producer Mike Martinez and the second with Troy Howarth and this writer; obviously they can't be evaluated here but hopefully you'll find them informative and enjoyable.

In "Cops and Robbers" (24m21s), the first of four Eugenio Ercolani featurettes, cinematographer Nino Celeste covers his career from the early days in the Italian new wave working his way up the ladder through his peak period with the likes of Lenzi (as well as his love of Disney). "No Small Roles" (28m36s) features actor Corrado Solari relating his own life story starting in Trieste and going through his gigs on a variety of spaghetti western, crime, and war films opposite actors ranging from Rod Steiger to Gian Maria Volante, with a big chunk devoted to this film of course. In "Producing Mayhem" (11m30s), producer Ugo Tucci recalls his own common traits with Lenzi, the inspiration for the Monnezza character, and his subsequent projects with Milian like Destruction Force by Stelvio Massi (a gig that ticked off Lenzi). Alessandara Lenzi turns up in "Portrait of a Daughter" (18m46s) to chat about her memories of her father, his great love for cinema that kept her on the road with him a lot, her times on the sets, and her mom's participation on the productions, as well as some of the location shooting for films like Violent Naples. In "Eurocrime: The Lenzi Way" (16m11s), Barry Forshaw offers an academic rundown of the film and its place in the "Years of Lead" poliziotteschi trend which often required a significant international star to travel outside Italy. (The original specs announced a featurette called "Monnezza's Machine" by Francesco Massaccesi, which apparently got dropped somewhere along the line.) Finally the disc rounds out with the subtitled Italian trailer, the English VHS trailer, and the English VHS credits. Limited to 3,000 units, the slipcase edition also comes with six art cards and a booklet featuring an essay by Austin Fisher and a Free Hand for a Tough Coptext interview by Ercolani with Free Hand for a Tough CopLenzi. Note that for some bizarre reason, loading up the disc forces you to sit through a lengthy textless menu screen with music for about 90 seconds before the menu proper comes up. Just go grab a soda or something while it plays out and then come back when it's ready.

The Severin Blu-ray of Free Hand for a Tough Cop looks like it comes from the same scan but features some welcome adjustments, correctly presented at 24fps and toning down the beige and green cast that pervades many scenes. A quick Lenzi interview, "In the Asphalt Jungle" (3m46s), touches on this mid-collaboration entry with Milian while "Tough Guy Corrado" (38m45s) with actor Corrado Solari covers his entire career from drama school through his crime movie cycle. "The Father of Monnezza" (34m2s) with Sacchetti goes into the origins of the flamboyant, scenery-chewing character, followed by "Hand-Held Camera for a Tough Cinematographer" (15m40s) with Nino Celeste, "Making Movies" (12m10s) with producer Ugo Tucci, an alternate extended bank robbery scene (3m27s), and the English trailer.

The Cynic, the Rat and the FistThings start to get a little tangled with the last two films in the set. The Cynic, the Rat and the FistFor example, the excellent fourth film, The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist is a successor to The Tough Ones with Italian crime icon Maurizio Merli back as Inspector Leonardo Tanzi -- except, as with the finale of Dirty Harry, he's turned in his badge as a protest against the powers that be cracking down on his own methods. However, Milian is back as a completely different character, Luigi "The Chinaman" Maietto, who slips out of prison and immediately sets up a hit on Tanzi, who was largely responsible for that jail sentence in the first place. When Tanzi ends up barely making it out alive, the cops and press cover up as a means to get him out of the country to lay low. However, Tanzi doesn't take attempted murder lying down and instead embarks on a mission to get justice by playing the Chinaman against another mob boss, Di Maggio (Saxon), with motives of his own.

Despite its top-notch pedigree and the fact that it absolutely delivers the goods, Cynic has split opinions over the years with Gastaldi (who The Cynic, the Rat and the Fistclaimed he worked as a glorified script doctor) and writer Roberto Curti expressing The Cynic, the Rat and the Fistdisappointment with the end product. It's a hugely entertaining film if you take it in the right spirit though with Merli and Milian still having that magic touch here, and Micalizzi's energetic soundtrack is one of his best. Probably due to oversaturation by this point, the market for these films would getting tougher with far fewer titles getting English-language releases in the U.S. and U.K. -- including this one, which languished in bootleg hell for a long time before legit releases emerged on DVD and Blu-ray. The 2016 Blu-ray from 88 Films was a flawed but welcome one at the time with extras including a fun Mike Malloy interview (10m49s), a Milian interview (14m29s), and a Lenzi interview (22m), with the usual English and Italian audio options. Unfortunately the transfer left a lot to be desired with heavy edge enhancement throughout and a The Cynic, the Rat and the Fistweird digitally processed look that proved to be very distracting. The 2023 Severin Blu-ray is a massive improvement all around, looking far more natural with The Cynic, the Rat and the Fistnormal film grain and none of those harsh outlines around people's heads; the color timing is also more consistent and convincing than the U.K., which could look overcranked at times. Here the extras include no less than three Lenzi interviews: "Merli vs. Milian" (4m18s) about juggling the personalities of his two stars, "A Man of Action" (10m13s) from an older archival standard def session, and "Me, Milian and Merli" (19m33s) going into more detail about his various combinations with the actors over the years. Then "The Writer, the Director and the Actor" (32m) features Dardano Sacchetti explaining his approach to bringing back Merli's character in a totally different format, followed by "Here Comes the Fist" (8m27s) with Saxon chatting about his Italian crime appearances and the international English trailer. An 18-track soundtrack CD is also included.

Brothers Till We DieFinally we get to the craziest and Brothers Till We Dieleast seen film in the set on disc five with La banda del gobbo or Brothers Till We Die, which gives you more Tomas Milian than the average person could possibly absorb in one sitting. Essentially a dual sequel to multiple Milian films, it features the actor as both Vincenzo "The Hunchback" Marazzi, basically the same character with a slight name change as the earlier one in films like The Tough Ones, and twin brother Monnezza, making a return appearance after Free Hand for a Tough Cop (among others). Here the Hunchback is busy dispatching the criminal colleagues who tried to rub him out during an armored car heist, with his brother put on his trail where they naturally end up forming a bond outside the law.

Milian is really Brothers Till We Diesomething to behold here, turning his penchant for crazy wigs, eyeliner, and costume props into borderline performance art including a jaw-dropping discotheque monologue that puts the film's political undercurrents right there in your face. Apparently the actor's showboating Brothers Till We Diewas enough for Lenzi to call it quits with him after this film, but Milian continued to push his screen personas further in the '80s... which is a whole other bizarre saga unto itself. Once again you get a propulsive Micalizzi score and some dynamic action scenes, including a bullet-spraying climax that demonstrates Lenzi's skill with this genre. Not surprisingly this one proved to be a tough sell at the time for English-speaking audiences, with Italian home video releases being the norm apart from very scarce dubbed VHS editions. The 2020 Blu-ray from 88 Films in the U.K. featured a pretty solid transfer, both English and Italian tracks, and a commentary by this writer and Troy Howarth that is, as of this writing, still exclusive to that release. On the featurette side you get "Heart of Rome" (18m51s) with composer Antonello Venditti (whose songwriting figures in the film's most famous scene), "Master of Funk" (19m32s) with Micalizzi, the Italian trailer, and a deliberately ridiculous and Brothers Till We Dieentertaining Mike Malloy interview (11m17s) including an appropriate split-screen Brothers Till We Diegag.

The Severin Blu-ray looks similar in detail but adjusts the framing slightly to the right, with very visible improvements in terms of color timing with less of a yellow veneer and more pure whites throughout. Both the English and Italian tracks sound solid for what they are, and in this case the two English subtitle tracks reveal some significant variations in the dialogue throughout. The last Lenzi interview in the set here is "Tomas and Tomas" (12m5s) about his swan song with the actor and his issues with that one big scene, "He Called Me 'The Tamer'" (19m28s) with editor Eugenio Alabiso chatting about action cutting and the illusion of creating twins with one actor, "Music and Bullets" (19m32s) with Micalizzi chatting about his masterful dance-friendly soundtrack, and a carryover of the "Heart of Rome" featurette, plus a better quality English trailer.

ALMOST HUMAN: Severin Films (US Blu-ray)

Almost Human Almost Human Almost Human Almost Human Almost Human

ALMOST HUMAN: Code Red (US Blu-ray)

Almost Human Almost Human Almost Human Almost Human Almost Human

SYNDICATE SADISTS: Severin Films (US Blu-ray)

Syndicate Sadists Syndicate Sadists Syndicate Sadists Syndicate Sadists Syndicate Sadists

SYNDICATE SADISTS: 88 Films (UK Blu-ray)

Syndicate Sadists Syndicate Sadists Syndicate Sadists Syndicate Sadists Syndicate Sadists

FREE HAND FOR A TOUGH COP: Severin Films (US Blu-ray)

Free Hand for a Tough Cop Free Hand for a Tough Cop Free Hand for a Tough Cop Free Hand for a Tough Cop Free Hand for a Tough Cop

FREE HAND FOR A TOUGH COP: Fractured Visions(UK Blu-ray)

Free Hand for a Tough Cop Free Hand for a Tough Cop Free Hand for a Tough Cop Free Hand for a Tough Cop Free Hand for a Tough Cop

THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST: Severin Films (US Blu-ray)

The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist


The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist

BROTHERS TILL WE DIE: Severin Films (US Blu-ray)

Brothers Till We Die Brothers Till We Die Brothers Till We Die Brothers Till We Die Brothers Till We Die

BROTHERS TILL WE DIE: 88 Films (UK Blu-ray)

Brothers Till We Die Brothers Till We Die Brothers Till We Die Brothers Till We Die Brothers Till We Die

Reviewed on February 11, 2023.