ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Hands of Steel (1986) Blu Ray (88 Films)
Hands of Steel is set in a near-future America which has been ravaged by pollution, resulting in widespread illness and acid rain. Daniel Greene plays Paco, a cyborg assigned to assassinate a blind scientist-cum-politician named Arthur Moseley (Franco Fantasia) on behalf of crooked executive Turner (John Saxon). The latter wants him out of the way as he is carrying out work researching the effects of the emissions from Turner’s industrial plants. When Paco breaks into his hideout and attempts to kill him however he gets an attack of the conscience and only manages to inflict a non-fatal injury before making his escape in a nearby sports car. The furious Turner has the various subordinates he holds responsible for Paco’s failure bumped off and sends a European hit man named Peter Howell (Claudio Cassinelli) to take our hero down.
Paco meanwhile passes the Arizona border and hides out in a roadside hotel run by Linda (Janet Agren) who is impressed enough by his ability to chop up a huge pile of wood in record time to offer him a free room and board. Amongst her frequent visitors are a bunch of local truckers led by Raul Morales (George Eastman) whose favourite activities appear to be bullying anyone within a ten-metre radius and taking part in arm wrestling contests. Raul challenges Paco into the latter, and Linda decides to take her chances by betting $1000 on him. Sure enough, Paco wins, resulting in him getting another match - this time against the regional champion. However, Raul isn’t taking any chances and hatches a scheme to derail the cyborg’s chance of victory.
Watch a trailer:
Although not exactly great films, Italian genre director Sergio Martino’s two dystopian sci-fi action pics After the Fall of New York (1983) and Hands of Steel (1986) are better than you might expect given their pedigree. Sure the futuristic milieux are hokey (society has collapsed but can still muster advanced technology such as cyborgs and laser weapons), there are shameless steals from major post-apocalyptic/sci-fi hits of the time (such as Mad Max, Escape from New York, Blade Runner and The Terminator), the sets and effects are reminiscent of 1980s episodes of Doctor Who, and the dubbing is unintentionally hilarious. However, there is a certain resourcefulness and sense of wild abandon in the two films - coupled with some rather well-staged action - that makes for highly entertaining viewing. Hands of Steel is the lesser of the two as it doesn’t quite hit the same level of batshit-crazy, balls to the wall delirium as After the Fall of New York (which is also due to be released on Blu Ray by 88 Films near the end of March). That said there’s still a fair amount of daft fun to be had.
The opening credits are an example of how the film’s cheapness actually turns into an asset as we get the anglicised names of the mostly Italian cast and crew popping up over what looks like documentary footage of genuine 1980s blighted American city streets and homeless people, intercut with industrial chimneys billowing thick plumes of smoke. We then cut away to a street set (probably in Italy) with a mural of Arthur Moseley and the none-too-hopeful political slogan “There is no future”. It’s a low-budget but distinctively stark and subversive way of establishing the future depicted here.
Unfortunately after the effective opening the film bogs down in a series of somewhat repetitious scenes, with Turner’s men following up various leads or getting shot dead as “a price of failure”, Paco getting involved in arm-wrestling contests and other sundry “handbags at dawn” confrontations with the local bullies, as well as a blossoming semi-romance between him and Linda. In addition, there’s a particularly silly sequence where Paco is warned that he is heading into acid rain by a metal road sign. If only the rain in the UK always fell consistently in the same location as it seemingly does here. Thankfully things really cut loose in the final half-hour with a Blade Runner-style cyborg fight, a hotel shootout, a lengthy car/helicopter/semi-truck chase, and a final showdown involving a rather large laser gun. The action is thrillingly staged and tightly edited, and there are some superb wide angle and aerial shots taking in the sights of Arizona. As an unfortunate aside, one of the two helicopters involved in making the film crashed, killing actor Claudio Cassinelli and the pilot.
You can hardly say that Hands of Steel was unfairly snubbed by the 1986 Oscars. However, if you recently watched Turbo Kid (2015) and want to see the kind of film that inspired it, this will be right up your alley. Best watched with a few beers on hand.
Runtime: 94 mins
Dir: Sergio Martino
Script: Sergio Martino, Elisa Briganti, John Crowther, Lewis E. Ciannelli, Ernesto Gastaldi, Dardano Sacchetti, Saul Sasha
Starring: Daniel Greene, Janet Agren, John Saxon, Claudio Cassinelli, George Eastman, Franco Fantasia
The image is a little soft at times and ends up looking more DVD than Blu Ray. It was remastered from the original negative and there are distracting hairs in the gates of some shots (these could have been removed digitally but it seems the budget wasn’t available to do so). Still, some of the landscape shots are impressive with some rich blue sky and red-brown landscape.
Not so great - expect some crackle on the soundtrack during the opening credits. There’s not much one can do to improve the infamous Italian dubbed dialogue either.
Atomic Martino: An Interview with Sergio Martino
The director talks about Hands of Steel as well as his wider career and Italian genre cinema in general. We learn that the low budgets meant that films could turn guaranteed profits straight after being sold to American distributors, and that the industry was considered a bit of an “elephant’s graveyard” for fading Hollywood stars. This kind of Italian cinema faded out as the studios didn’t keep up with the digital effects technology that was being used in America - but on the plus side, its sizeable legacy of films underwent a critical re-evaluation after Quentin Tarantino admitted to being influenced by them.
Much of the interview is focussed on the death of actor Claudio Cassinelli, who was Martino’s friend. Apparently, he wasn’t needed for the ultimately fatal helicopter stunt (involving it flying close to a bridge) but pleaded to take part so as to make his son proud. The director admits that it was psychologically very tough to see through the final week of filming after the tragedy.
Although it’s the only extra here apart from the obligatory trailer and reversible sleeve it is a very worthwhile one - both revelatory and somewhat sad.
A rather enjoyable B movie if you can cope with the idea that one of the main actors died during the shoot. The accompanying interview is respectful and makes this a decent 88 Films release.