Having successfully (at least by the rather loose definition of that term we subscribe to around here) ripped off Escape From New York with his legendary (again, by our standards) 1983 offering 2019 : After The Fall Of New York, veteran Italian exploitation director Sergio Martino next turned his attention to milking the premise of James Cameron’s The Terminator for all it was worth and, in 1986, unleashed on an unsuspecting public the remarkably bizarre Hands Of Steel (or, as it was titled in its country of origin Vendetta Dal Futruro — you may also have seen it on VHS as either Atomic Cyborg or Fists Of Steel) , a “starring” vehicle for supposedly-up-and-coming action hero-wannabe Daniel Greene that sees him taking on the perfect role for a man of his near-to-non-existent acting talent — a cyborg. And a cyborg named Paco, at that.
The creation of evil industrialist Francis Turner (the legendary by anyone’s standards John Saxon), Paco is sent out to kill a kind-hearted ecologist/rival political faction leader out to blow the lid off Turner’s mass-pollutin’ ways but finds he can’t do the job because he’s still part-human — and apparently part good-guy human, to boot. So, he does what any confused half-robot in his position would do and tries to drop out of sight, fleeing to Arizona where he sets up shop in a local watering hole and takes on all comers (mostly truck drivers) in arm-wrestling matches that he always wins thanks to, of course, his titular hands of steel.
As we’ve all come to learn by now, though, it’s not so easy to fall completely off the map in future (the “future” in this case being 1997) dystopian societies ruled by scheming corporate overlords, so it’s only a matter of time before Paco’s proficiency at slamming his opponent’s arm through a table gets him noticed, both by a fetching young lady (Janet Agren) who takes a shine to his stoic nature, and by the minions of the evil creator he’s supposedly trying to avoid. A battle for the fate of the word itself is bound to ensue at some point, of course, but the action-packed first and third acts of Martino’s little opus are sandwiched around a second act that is a pretty slow-burn affair more notable for its bizarre dialogue translations and oscillating over-and under-acting than anything else. It’s all good fun, of course, especially with spaghetti-flick stalwarts like George Eastman and Claudio Cassinelli (more on him in a moment) on board, and it featuring a terrifically rhythmic musical score by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin fame, but if you zone out at various points here and there in the middle, I can’t really say that I’m prepared to hold that against you.
A couple of points worth noting here : Paco’s character is actually a weird amalgamation of both Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese and Ah-nuld’s Terminator characters in Cameron’s flick, in that he’s a cybernetic killer who’s also a would-be worlds-saver, and therefore accurately presages the more “heroic” Terminator of the second and third films; and John Saxon wins our “real hero of the picture” award for steadfastly refusing to perform in any of the scenes Martino (here working under the pseudonym of Martin Dolman) shot in the US because he was a loyal SAG member and this was a non-union production, so he’d only go in front of the cameras in Italy. What did Saxon get for his steadfast union loyalty? How about his life! A helicopter crash during filming in Arizona killed co-star Cassinelli, and Saxon would have been on board with him if he’d agreed to participate in the scab-labor scenes done here in the States. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, union-busters!
All told, then, it’s fair to say that Hands Of Steel is a movie with an interesting — and frankly tragic — back-story, that certainly never achieves the soaring heights of absurdity that 2019 does, but is nevertheless pretty fun, especially when Martino goes for a note-for-note copy of one of The Terminator‘s most famous scenes and misses the mark by a mile. If you’re into cheesy Italian sci-fi knock-offs you’ll probably find this flick to be right up your alley, and given that it’s available for streaming on The Movies And Music Network (as well as on DVD from an outfit called Future Films that I know nothing about — I’ve heard the disc looks pretty good, but that it’s full-frame and has no extras to speak of), our friends there have, as is their custom, generously made it available for all TFG readers to watch for free by following the link at the top of this review. I humbly suggest you do so, as you have literally nothing to lose.
And speaking of The Movie And Music Network, I would be remiss in not mentioning their latest venture, The 99 Cent Network, which launches tomorrow. You can buy — either for yourself, or as a gift — any three films in their ever-expanding lineup (the site launches with their “Terror Channel” library) for (just) under a buck, or any ten for just $1.99! This is, needless to say, a great deal and requires no further obligation whatsoever on the part of the buyer, so it’s as close to a “can’t miss” proposition as you’re likely to find in this frightening new digital age of ours. Give it a look and tell ’em Trash Film Guru sent you!