Aldo Lado is best known in cult movie circles as a director of giallo films – the particular strain of violent Italian thriller popularised by bravura technicians such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Sergio Martino – so, quite frankly, WTF was he doing directing this Star Wars rip-off? Couldn’t they afford Antonio Margheriti? Did Luigi Cozzi want to avoid getting type-cast, so soon after the amazing Star Crash (1978)? Whatever the reason, given that Lado also co-wrote the script, he has to take the lion’s share of the blame for turning out such a maddeningly frustrating film – a potentially great science fiction romp, utterly ruined by a single, stupid idea.
So, let’s look at the potential – go on, scan those credits: Aldo Lado, himself – director of greats such as Who Saw her Die? and The Short Night of the Glass Dolls; a score by Ennio Morricone, no less; Silvano Ippoliti, Tinto Brass’ talented DoP; makeup by Gianetto de Rossi; Enzo Castellari on 2nd unit duties; special effects by a team including the aforementioned Margheriti, something of an Italian sci-fi specialist; a cast including Corrine Clery, Barbara Bach, Arthur Kennedy, Ivan Rassimov and … wait a second… Richard Kiel? Yep, there we have it – the proverbial fly in the ointment. It’s Jaws from those Bond movies – something of a comic relief villain, who was, the same year, to be turned into a comic relief sidekick in Moonraker. Kiel’s inability to act may not have proved terminal in a Italian sci-fi knock off, but in a role which both plays off his supposedly threatening demeanor and bulk and encourages pathos in his plight, it blows what might otherwise have been an entertaining enterprise out of the sky.
The ‘Great Brother’ rules the former planet Earth – now renamed Metropolis, which makes about as much sense as renaming it, I dunno, ’roundabout’ or ‘suburban allotment’. His brother – the evil Lord Graal (Rassimov), who controls an army of soldiers in lawsuit-baiting black leather and buckethead costumes – launches an attack to capture a chemical element which can turn men into indestructible monsters. During the attack, virtuous scientist Barbara Gibson (Clery) receives a telepathic warning from Tom Tom, her ward (I guess?) – an Asian boy who possesses mystical powers and is protected at all times by a pair of light-bow wielding, teleporting guardians. She escapes the carnage, but the chemical is stolen and transported to Graal’s home planet, where insane scientist Dr. Kraspin (Kennedy) uses it to transmute the kindly Golob into an UNSTOPPABLE KILLING MACHINE to be unleashed on the people of ‘Out-of-town Car-park’, sorry – Metropolis.
Right off the bat, let me draw your attention to an innovation. Lucas is sometimes mocked for the silly names with which he saddles his one-dimensional characters – Leia, Solo, Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi, etc. Lado, perhaps foreseeing this, perhaps suffering some sort of brain aneurism, gives his characters names which make them seem like they work in real estate. Barbara Gibson? The universe’s only hope, apparently. Especially so when she teams up with the head of the Imperial guard, who is called Nick. I personally think Nick is too heroic and Lado should have gone with Brian, which to my mind expresses a kind of quiet dignity. Seriously though, lines like “And remember to kill that Barbara Gibson” had me smiling from the start – not since ‘Dan the antichrist’ (see earlier review of Nero Veneziano) has Italian cinema so tickled my funny bone with the stupidity of its character names.
Until this point, translation quirks aside, The Humanoid is a solid romp, with some surprisingly good model effects and sets – certainly not in Star Wars’ league but not an embarrassment in comparison either. What tips the whole shebang over the edge is the UNSTOPPABLE KILLING MACHINE. When Golob is hit by a missile containing the chemical he undergoes a profound change – physically and mentally. Physically, he loses his beard and a tiny green dot appears on his forehead. Mentally, his prior big, dumb, lunk persona is utterly transformed to big, dumb lunk who talks a bit less and occasionally throws people around. Presumably unable to afford additional action scenes, Lado appears to have concocted a plot device which allows his central ‘battle’ to involve Richard Keil marching into the Metropolis’ capital single-handed, while laser beams bounce off him from every angle. They can’t even afford to establish his status as the UNSTOPPABLE KILLING MACHINE, as an attack using “micro-nuclear” shells occurs off-screen, leaving the viewer instead with endless scenes of redshirts running up to Kiel and being tossed aside in a decidedly PG manner, while the womenfolk (all of whom sport a range of Leia-approved braids) run around in panic. You really do wonder if this film is a remake of Eegah! rather than Star Wars.
It’s not all bad though. The film does rally for a fairly rousing shoot out on the enemy planet, although this does require a scene where Kiel is un-Humanoid-ed, turning back into the kind of good-humoured brute soon to appear in Moonraker. As I said, some of the sets are very good – the matte paintings which depict the desert landscape of Metropolis in particular are lovely. Clery and Bach are beautiful and the latter actually puts in a decent performance as the evil queen who preserves her youthly beauty with Bathory-style transfusions. And the whole high-camp sci-fi knockabout antics are no more offensive than in Flash Gordon or modern day pap which mines the same territory, such Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It’s just a shame about Keil. They should’ve left the humanoid out of The Humanoid.