October Horrorshow: Steel and Lace

An injustice has been done in the shitfest that is Steel and Lace. A title like that, coupled with knowledge that this film is an early 1990s straight-to-video b-movie, raises all sorts of possibilities in the mind of the discerning shitty movie fan. There should be guns, gratuitous nudity, men wearing sport coats with shoulder pads (still a thing in 1991, when this film was released), business mullets, and statuesque women with big hair — something along the lines of a Shannon Tweed.

Yes, all of these things are present in Steel and Lace, which makes it a typical example of the ersatz noir that was being pumped out of Hollywood’s nether regions at the time. Crime flicks like this used to infest the shelves of video stores and the late-night schedules of premium cable channels. But, this is the October Horrorshow. Why does a crime flick make the cut? Read on.

Steel and Lace comes to us from director Ernest Farino. It was his first foray into directing, the bulk of his career in Hollywood spent in visual effects departments. Farino’s big break behind the camera follows Clare Wren as concert pianist Gaily Morton.

In a fit of nonsensical filmmaking that could have been fixed by consulting a lawyer, the movie opens with Daniel Emerson (Michael Cerveris) being tried for raping Gaily. In the fictional world of Steel and Lace, when someone is being tried for rape, the prosecuting attorney is the victim’s brother, in this case veteran That Guy Bruce Davison as Albert. Also in this bizarro courtroom, the victim of the crime sits at the prosecutor’s table, making the whole thing resemble a civil case rather than criminal. This courtroom scene is high, stinking cheese. The filmmakers made no effort at realism or believability, setting the tone for the rest of the film.

Emerson, after having his alibi confirmed by his best buddies, is acquitted of the charges. Distraught, Gaily climbs to the roof of the courthouse and flings herself off, leaving Albert devastated. As he should be. Since, you know, he’s not an assistant district attorney, but he just tried a felony rape case and lost.

Fast forward five years and Emerson now runs a successful business/criminal empire. He has made his best buds partners in the enterprise, as payback for providing him with a false alibi. But, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if these bad guys got away with what they did to Gaily.

It turns out that, besides being a would-be prosecutor, Albert is also a roboticist. He has used this knowledge to resurrect his sister, of sorts. What he has done is create a robotic killing machine that integrates Gaily’s looks and some of her personality. He sets it loose on Emerson and his buddies, in order to get some sweet payback. Now, after all that setup, this flick turns from crime, to horror.

Robot Gaily uses all the tricks in the book to fool and confuse those involved in the assault. Her robot skin lets her to wear different faces, allowing her to get close to her prey unaware.

Meanwhile, because this plot turned out to be a little thin for a 90-minute film, a police detective, Dunn (David Naughton), and a courtroom sketch artist, Alison (Stacy Haiduk), are set on Gaily’s trail.

The whole result is something pretty sleazy. It kind of had to be. After all, as much as this is a crime flick, and as much as the Gaily robot makes this a horror flick, it’s also a rape and revenge flick. There isn’t much room in this movie for redeeming qualities. Emerson and his boys, after what they did to Gaily, pollute every scene they’re in. Spending time with such unpleasant people makes their scenes somewhat of a chore to get through, but there’s no ambiguity in this one. They will get theirs. Just keep watching.

There was little chance that Farino and company were going to craft a good film, so anyone seeking this out must be into shitty movies. And this isn’t a terrible one, relatively speaking. It’s earnest enough that much of the shittiness has that quality of incompetence, rather than intention, that the bad movie fan looks for. But, being incompetent, that means the film walks hand in hand with tediousness. Farino was uneven when it came to the film’s pace. It just stops dead in spots.

But the main problem I had with the movie was its failure to go big where it needed to. I get that this film barely had a budget. But when one of the bad guys has his insides sucked out through his crotch, I expect a little more blood in that scene. It’s not like fake blood is a budget buster, after all.

The killings all have the promise of something really spectacular, but fall short of delivering in full. There was potential for showmanship in this film that would have elevated it…somewhat. It would still be a shitty movie, but at least it wouldn’t be so forgettable. Alien: Resurrection is a better movie than Steel and Lace.