Friday, February 17, 2012

Hands of Steel

Hands of Steel
Sergio Martino

One of the signature elements of Italian b-cinema, especially throughout the late 70’s and most of the 80’s was to take whatever film was popular at the time and mine it for everything it was worth, even going so far to title their films as unofficial sequels.  ‘Hands of Steel’ is an Italian science-fiction action film that throws as many popular genres as it possibly can into one giant film mash-up in hopes making something stick. Thankfully quite a bit does, and although it may not be the most tonally or narratively coherent film ever made, it never fails to entertain.

In the grim future of 1997, the world is on the verge of collapse thanks to vague environmental factors that threaten to end the world. Thankfully Professor Olster (Donald O’Brien), the leader of a cult of environmentalists, has the key to fixing the world. Unfortunately, Francis Turner (John Saxon), head of an evil corporation, wants him dead for reasons that about as vague as the problem. Francis sends karate chopping cyborg Paco Queruak (Daniel Greene), to kill the professor. Paco has a crisis of conscience at the last moment and pulls his punch, only wounding the cult leader. Paco then runs off to Rage, Arizona to hide out in a dumpy motel and get caught up in arm wrestling contests, which he easily wins because…well, he’s a cyborg.  Soon enough the corporation is on it’s way to blow him up with a bazooka laser once and for all.

The weirdest thing about ‘Hands of Steel’ is that you can probably guess every plot point as go along, but you never really see the shifts in genre or tone of story coming at all. First it’s a post-apocalyptic action film, then it’s a chase movie, then it’s a fugitive on the run movie, then it’s an arm wrestling movie, then it’s an action movie again.  It goes from grim to silly, to melodrama straight into a final half hour that is pure action, and without such much as a single warning. It has the effect of making everything familiar yet engaging at the same time.

Save for John Saxon and George Eastman (playing Raul Morales), the acting uniformly wooden. The music is a delightful mix of trashy 80’s pop and Italian synthesizer music. The action is surprisingly well choreographed and shot. There are numerous fights, crashes and helicopter battles all of which are exciting.  The arm wrestling scenes fall a bit flat, because there is no conceivable way that Paco could lose. Even throwing in some rattlesnakes, doesn’t really up the drama of arm wrestling very much, although that scene has an unexpected payoff later in the film.

‘Hands of Steel’ is a trash masterpiece. It joyously rips off, ‘Mad Max’ (1979) and ‘The Terminator’ (1984) and feels like a crazed video game when the action really gets underway. When it’s not being exciting, it’s being unintentionally funny. Well worth your time to hunt down, although it has never received an official DVD release.

Edit - Mitch of The Video Vacuum points out there is a DVD version available on a couple of Mill Creek sets including Sci-Fi Invasion.


  1. Yes! I love this one. Over the Top meets Mad Max meets Terminator. Great review man!

    This is actually on one of those Mill Creek 50 Movie packs, but I don't know if that counts as an "official" release.

    --Mitch, The Video Vacuum

    1. Good point, I forgot all about that one and I'm staring at the set as I type this.

  2. Great review! Will definitely will be watching this soon for the site.