Stars: Daniel Greene, Janet Agren, John Saxon, Claudio Cassinelli, Geroge Eastman, Roberto Bisacco, Andrea Coppola, Donald O’Brien, Amy Werba | Written by Sergio Martino, Elisa Briganti | Directed by Sergio Martino
As someone who grew up reading The Dark Side magazine I was privileged to be made aware of a myriad of genre films that, had I just stuck to the shelves of my local video store, I would never have heard of. Of course this was during a turbulent period in UK cinema history that, much like the video nasties era before it, saw horror films treated with disdain. Which meant that unlike today – where you can walk into HMV and buy former video nasty Anthropophagus on Blu-ray or order films from around the world online – it was a struggle to find a lot of the movies I read about. It’s not that I didn’t try, and thankfully I had a fantastic source of ex-rental VHS in a local flea market seller, but some films still eluded me. Like Sergio Martino’s Hands of Steel.
Skip forward 20+ years and now Hands of Steel is available on a gorgeous-looking Blu-ray from 88 Films who, despite the odd issue, have been killing it when it comes to releasing some of the most-requested, and highly sought after genre films to DVD and more specifically Blu-ray. The companies collaboration with longtime genre expert Calum Waddell has certainly paid off in spades. Funnily enough Waddell was a contributor to The Dark Side – the magazine that got me into these films in the first place!
It’s weird how films can predict the future, even a low-budget production like this! Here writer/director Sergio Martino seems to have predicted the rise of chip and pin/contactless debit cards – as seen in Janet Agren’s motel when a guest brings in a hooker and pays for a room for half a day on his card; she slots it into the card reader and doesn’t make him sign a carbon for it! But that’s about the only vision of the future Martino gets right here…
Set in 1997 (how quaint) and obviously “inspired” by The Terminator, Hands of Steel tells the story of Paco (Greene) a bionic man created by industrialist, Francis Turner (John Saxon) who is tasked with killing an experimental scientist who has found ecological ways around Turner’s business. Yet, despite being only 30% human, Paco still realises what he has been tasked with is wrong and is unable to fulfil his mission. On the run, Paco hides in a diner in a desert run by a woman who likes him (Janet Agren). However Paco crosses paths with the local truckers and arm wrestlers(!) lead by the beast himself, George Eastman. With the hunter now the hunted, Turner sends an army after his once prized creation, but it’s going to take more than soldiers to stop Paco.
Similar to Blastfighter (also released on Blu-ray by 88 Films), Hands of Steel is very heavily influenced by the American action movies of the time. Although, much like Lamberto Bava’s action flick, Martino wasn’t afraid to throw in some gore when needed – in this case it’s when Paco decides to fight back there are head crushes a-plenty. Sergio Martino even reveals that Daniel Greene was mainly cast because he looked like a “clone of Stallone”. That’s how much the Italians were mimicking the US. Then there’s just the Italians being “Italian”… If you’ve ever watched Italian genre cinema you know that their genre filmmakers weren’t afraid to throw crazy ideas into their films, and Martino is no different! Pre-dating Terminator 3 by over a decade – a film which saw Arnold Schwarzenengger take on Kristanna Loken’s female Terminator – Hands of Steel features a bizarre fight between Paco and a female cyborg with metal fingernails and who’s wearing what looks like a nappy! Only in Italian genre cinema will you see such delights.
Besides featuring a gorgeous, crisp print of the film (a new HD transfer from the original negative) 88 Films’ Hands of Steel Blu-ray includes a lengthy, and very informative, interview with director Sergio Martino, in which he discuss the influences on his film – including the aformentioned The Terminator – how and why Italian cinema flourished in the 70s and 80s, and what eventually killed off their low-budget riffs on big-budget American movies. It’s definitely a bonus feature that should not be missed.
Hands of Steel is available on Blu-ray now from 88 Films.