(Italy - 1986)
Directed by Martin Dolman (Sergio Martino). Written by Elisabeth Parker, Jr., (Elisa Livia Briganti), Martin Dolman (Sergio Martino), Saul Saska (Dardano Sacchetti), John Crowther and Lewis E. Ciannelli. Cast: Daniel Greene, Janet Agren, John Saxon, Claudio Cassinelli, George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori), Amy Werba, Darwyn Swalve, Robert Ben (Roberto Bisucci), Pat Monti, Donald O'Brien, Frank Walden (Franco Fantasia), Sergio Testori, Bruno Bilotta, Alex Vitale. (R, 93 mins)
Arguably the silver screen's ultimate arm-wrestling cyborg movie, Sergio Martino's HANDS OF STEEL is a desert-set Italian TERMINATOR ripoff with elements of BLADE RUNNER and the yet-to-be-released OVER THE TOP. It was released in Europe in early 1986 and was acquired for US distribution by '80s exploitation outfit Almi Pictures (INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY), by then running on fumes with HANDS OF STEEL its only 1986 theatrical release and also its penultimate one: Almi folded after 1987's Richard Ramirez-inspired slasher film THE NIGHT STALKER. Despite its severe budgetary limitations, troubled production, and spotty release by a company that was on life support, HANDS OF STEEL found an audience during the VHS glory days to become one of the more revered Italian exploitation films of the era, and one of its last highlights as the golden era of Eurotrash was beginning to wind down.
Raoul (Luigi Montefiori/"George Eastman") and his posse of sub-literate rednecks, and taking the crown from local arm-wrestling champ Blanco (Darwyn Swalve), but earning his gratitude by saving him from a lethal snake. With Hallow and another Turner flunky (Sergio Testori) unable to pin down the head-crushing Paco, an impatient Turner sends in a female cyborg in no way modeled on Daryl Hannah's Pris from BLADE RUNNER and then decides to take matters into his own hands, and if loving the idea of John Saxon hoisting an over-the-shoulder laser bazooka is wrong, then I don't want to be right.
|Claudio Cassinelli (1938-1985)|
THE SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR, 1978's MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, 1979's ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN and THE GREAT ALLIGATOR, and 1982's THE SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS, and to the best of my knowledge, Martino hasn't discussed this tragedy in any interviews I've seen or read. Perhaps it's not a custom in Italian cinema the way it is in Hollywood movies, but considering their long working relationship and that he died making the film, the absence of a dedication to Cassinelli in the closing credits feels odd.
O'Brien, and Fantasia are no strangers to Eurocult fanatics, plus Bruno Bilotta/"Karl Landgren" and STRIKE COMMANDO's immortal Alex Vitale can be seen as Mosley security guards. The voices of dubbing regulars Ted Rusoff, Ed Mannix, Susan Spafford, and Frank Von Kuegelgen can be heard, and Claudio Simonetti composes a catchy score that recycles at least one major cue from his soundtrack for Ruggero Deodato's CUT AND RUN (1985). This was the first in a string of Italian B-movies for American TV actor Greene, a GENERAL HOSPITAL vet who had appeared in T&A comedies like THE ROSEBUD BEACH HOTEL (1984), STITCHES (1985), and WEEKEND WARRIORS (1986) and was just coming off a two-year run on the CBS series FALCON CREST (oddly, a show in which Saxon was just beginning a two-year stint around this time). After HANDS OF STEEL, Greene would go on to star in four more Martino films: THE OPPONENT (1987), AMERICAN TIGER (1990), BEYOND KILIMANJARO (1990), and AFTER THE CONDOR (1991), as well as Enzo G. Castellari's HAMMERHEAD (1987) and Pierluigi Ciriaci's SOLDIER OF FORTUNE (1990), in addition to playing Elvira's love interest in 1988's ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK. After his sojourn in Italy, Greene continued in TV and various bit parts but acts very sparingly these days, usually only in Farrelly Brothers comedies. The Farrellys--perhaps closet HANDS OF STEEL superfans?--have cast Greene in small parts in KINGPIN (1996), where he appeared as Woody Harrelson's dad, ME, MYSELF & IRENE (2000), SHALLOW HAL (2001), STUCK ON YOU (2003), FEVER PITCH (2005), and HALL PASS (2011). By no means an actor who had an Oscar in his future, Greene was beefy enough that he made a competent action hero, and even if tiny roles in Farrelly Brothers movies are what's keeping a roof over his head, he'll always be Paco Queruak for HANDS OF STEEL fans and disciples of classic '80s Italian Eurotrash ripoffs.
UPDATE: In February 2017, Code Red released a special edition Blu-ray of HANDS OF STEEL that features interviews with Greene, Saxon, Eastman, Martino, and Bisucci. Of the interviews, Saxon's is the least essential, basically a four-minute series of random recollections about working in the Italian film industry that have nothing specific to do with HANDS OF STEEL (Saxon on JOE KIDD co-star Clint Eastwood, who he's known since their 1950s Universal contract days: "Clint's done very well for himself"). Everyone else talks at length about the production, the location shooting, and Cassinelli's death, with Greene--a soft-spoken and immensely likable guy--describing witnessing the crash, calling it "one of the worst days of my life," and sharing fond recollections of working with Cassinelli and socializing with him off-set. Martino states "Ultimately, I'm responsible. Claudio was like a big kid and he wanted to fly in the helicopter so he could tell his son about it. He asked me if he could ride in it for the shot, and I should've told him no." Eastman's comments are a bit more extreme, calling the pilot an "asshole," a "hothead," and a "fanatic," painting him as an unstable Vietnam vet who was trying to show off, doing a U-turn inside the gorge, where a downdraft caused him to lose control and crash into the bridge. Eastman blames the entire production for Cassinelli's death, saying no one knew he was even on the helicopter except himself and an assistant director. When the crash happened, Eastman says he screamed "Claudio is inside!" and his entire account contradicts Greene's and Martino's recollections that Cassinelli was excited about the opportunity to ride in the helicopter.