Directed by: Sergio Martino
Category: Trash Cinema
I am so glad I saw this. This was one of those films I always remember seeing at my local mom and pop video stores back in the 80's. You know, the really small ones that rarely had any of the big budget releases, instead catering to the more low budget direct-to-video stuff. This was one of those titles, as was a film I reviewed here a few days ago, Never Too Young To Die. That one I actually remember seeing a poster of on the wall at the video store. Ah, fond memories.
So anyways, I remember seeing this there, but I never got it. I do remember the cover being freakin' badass though! I mean, look at it! So I will say, the poster is a little misleading, but not by much. I mean, there's no exploding tanker truck falling over the edge of a cliff and there's no lazers being shot out of helicopters. And besides, what Italian Trash Cinema film from the 1980's isn't, right? The posters were always so much cooler than the actual movie, but whatever.
Hands of Steel aka Atomic Cyborg is about a half man, half cyborg named Paco Queruak. Weird name, I know. He's assigned (or programmed might be a better term) to assassinate a scientist who is also some kind of environmentalist "and" a cult leader figure who's slogan is "You Have No Future". He apparently holds the key to humanity, or something to that effect because he tells Paco when he arrives to kill him that even though he kills him, his legacy will live on because he can't stop the progress of what he's started. But Paco doesn't kill him after all, having somehow discovered a conscious in his 70% cyborg body. Realizing what he was programmed to do is wrong, he flees in a pretty cool chase sequence and hides out in a small Arizona desert town. Meanwhile, the guy that created him, here played by the awesome John Saxon, wants him destroyed at whatever cost. I think it has something to do with investors in the cyborg company and the government and just being afraid of him and his company looking bad because of this rogue cyborg.
So while Paco is trying to lay low in this desert town, he shacks up in this bar/hotel and works for the lady that runs the place all by herself as a handyman kinda guy doing whatever she needs him to do. In return, he gets a place to sleep and a meal to eat. Of course though he undoubtedly attracts attention because 1.) the guy is a huge hulk of a man, and 2.) he just always seems to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and the truckers that roll into the bar frequently don't like him and a "lot" of trouble ensues.
And this is where the film gets kinda strange because during this whole section of the movie when he's in this Arizona desert town, it somehow shockingly turns into Over the Top (you remember, that Sly Stallone arm wrestling flick from 1987), but with a cyborg on a small budget. For real people! Apparently arm wrestling is a big thing in this bar/hotel that he stays in and outta nowhere he's arm wrestling thugs and truckers and whenever there's a dispute about something, they settle it with an arm wrestling match. I shit you not. But it's brilliant because it's the last fuckin' thing you'd expect to see in an Italian Trash Cinema flick from 1986. Over the Top hadn't even come out yet! Not for another year anyway. Kinda weird when you think about it too. Two arm wrestling flicks in a span of a year.
So anyway, this is where the film starts to lose some steam and you actually start to wonder, "is this really a movie about arm wrestling?". Because it had a really promising start going full force into this whole assassination attempt thing. But then when it gets the entire middle section of the flick it turns into a low-budget version of Over the Top and it almost stops dead in it's tracks. But! Right about the time when you start to think that it starts to feel a little boring and why aren't there any gun fights or anything remotely resembling anything from the poster, the film kicks into high gear, more like going into overdrive as it spends the next 30 minutes making up for the lackluster midsection and saves this sucker from being another lame Italian 80's Terminator ripoff. And let me tell you people, this last section of the film, roughly 30 minutes or so, are so fucking badass and Italian Trash Cinema at it's finest that you forget about all that arm wrestling shit because it turns into one of the best examples of Badass Cinema I've seen in a really long time. I had such a blast watching this, even after that scare in the middle, because when the action kicks in it's so utterly ridiculous and chaotic and so full of testosterone that it's bloody brilliant.
Italian Trash Cinema was "huge" in the 80's. Whenever any big sci-fi movie came out you could be sure that the Italian's were gonna make there own version, complete with bad dubbing, bad script, bad acting and very bad special effects. And Hands of Steel is no exception. It rips off The Terminator in so many ways either directly or indirectly that you laugh out loud whenever you see a reference. And trust me, you'll laugh a lot!
So this is an Italian production, which means most of the actors here are Italian except for a few like Daniel Greene (Paco/cyborg) and John Saxon and a few other smaller roles. But it's all dubbed anyway. Greene, Saxon and the other American's clearly dub there own voices but the other ones are laughably horrible. And don't even get me started on the sets. To make this look like the future, they really just put a bunch of ventilation ducks and tubing all over the walls of whatever room they might be in, like in Terry Gilliam's Brazil but only much cheaper and crappier looking. Daniel Greene does an alright job as the cyborg. The guy is big and since he's playing a cyborg, he's stiff and wooden, obviously taking his cue from Schwarzenegger. But even then he's not bad at all. I don't think I've ever seen him in anything else except in that Elvira: Mistress of the Dark movie a few years later, which is hilarious by the way! In that he played the dumb beefcake guy that Elvira was obsessed with. So weird to see him play that kind of character in a comedy and see him in this too. But he looks familiar though so i'm sure I've seen him in other stuff. None of it comes to mind though. Saxon has a relatively small part, but when he does show up he's so good at being evil. And let's face it, the guy can practically phone it in cuz hey, he was in Enter the Dragon. So that automatically makes him a badass for life.
For some reason this film is known with 3 different titles. Hands of Steel as it's known now, but it's also known as Atomic Cyborg elsewhere. And I remember it being called Fists of Steel when it first came out too. I don't know, they're all cool names anyway so I don't really care what it's called. Director Sergio Martino (here billed as Martin Dolman) made a lot of these kind of flicks in the 80's. Another one of his more popular ones was 2019: After the Fall of New York. But here in the states it was known simply as After the Fall of New York, which I will be reviewing shortly on here, so be on the lookout for it.
One thing that does stand out right from the beginning is the music. It's so badass and dead on for this kind of flick and I kept thinking to myself how awesome the constant theme was that played throughout. And then when things picked up it got even more awesome. Well now I know why. Doing some research I come to find out that the guy who did the music is Claudio Simonetti, who was the keyboardist for the fucking awesome Italian band Goblin, who scored a number of films for Dario Argento including one of my favorites from his filmography and my favorite film score Deep Red. It's hard to think of one word that describes there sound, but groovy comes to mind. And he doesn't disappoint in Hands of Steel. They might not have had a badass budget, badass script or badass actors, but damn it had badass music. I wonder if the soundtrack is available anywhere? I'll have to try and track that info down.
Bottom line, Hands of Steel is such an awesome futuristic-low budget-arm wrestling-cyborg in a post apocalyptic land-film and if you ever get the chance, get this film! Own it! Unfortunately, as with most of these kinds of films, it's never been officially released on DVD in the U.S.
I did find it elsewhere, but you'd need a region free DVD player to watch it. Or just watch a good ol' VHS. This film delivers and when it's firing on all cylinders, it's the best example of Italian Trash Cinema to ever come out of the 1980's.