The importance of the Italian contribution to Shitty Movie Sundays cannot be overstated. Many of the most outrageous and joyfully incompetent films featured in the Watchability Index hail from that land of ancient art and culture. I’m sure that way back in the day, before the miracle that is recorded media, there were countless shitty penny operas and circuses for the masses to enjoy. For all we know Verdi had a secret passion for sleaze. My point is, shitty Italian cinema didn’t just come from nowhere. The DNA had to be there already. For every master filmmaker such as Federico Fellini, there has been an Enzo G. Castellari. For every Lina Wertmuller, a Bruno Mattei. And for every Bernardo Bertolucci, there has been a Sergio Martino.
From 1986, Hands of Steel is one of the plethora of Italian sci-fi ripoffs that was shot in the United States. This one is a ripoff, somewhat, of The Terminator. It’s not a ripoff of the story, but it cribs elements from Terminator, such as a cyborg carrying out maintenance on its forearm. It also steals from Blade Runner and the Mad Max movies, so, yeah. It’s pretty typical shitty Italian sci-fi.
It’s the future! Rampant environmental destruction is wreaking havoc in the good ole USA. Whole regions have been rendered uninhabitable by toxic rains.
The cyborg in this flick is Paco Queruak (Daniel Greene). Paco was a soldier until the majority of his body was replaced with robotic components by the GOVERNMENT. Now, he’s a relentless assassin, programmed like a computer. Only, as he approaches his first target, a radical environmentalist reverend by the name of Arthur Mosely (Franco Fantasia), Paco reasserts his free will, and only injures the reverend instead of killing him. He then flees the scene. The FBI, represented by Agent Bakey (Frank Walden, possibly — the internet hasn’t been clear on this and the film’s credits were no help), tries to track Paco down, but they are baffled. They have no further relevancy until the end of the film.
That’s because there’s some arm wrestlin’ to be done first.
Paco flees into the Arizona desert, finding refuge at a small desert inn and bar run by a character named Linda (Janet Agren). Movie fans will know the scenario, here. Tough guy on the run is taken in by tough gal on her own. The only thing missing in this flick is tough gal’s 13-year-old son. That character must not have been in the budget.
While helping out around the place, Paco gets into a dick-measuring contest with truck driver Raul Morales (George Eastman, who was made for roles like this), in the form of arm wrestling. It’s a big deal in middle-of-nowhere, Arizona, in the dystopian future. Paco beats Raul and now has to take on the champ, Anatola Blanco (Darvyn Swalve). Seriously, this is where the plot has gone! The whole cyborg killer angle is nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile, back in the movie, there are still people hunting Paco down. The FBI is still a non-entity, but now the organization that built Paco has its own agents on his trail. Paco is a defective piece of hardware, and he needs to be taken out. These hunters, played by Claudio Cassinelli and Sergio Testori, are much more competent than the FBI, but everyone manages to come together in the final act for a shoot ’em up finale. There’s even some cyborg on cyborg violence.
This was a very satisfying shitty movie watch. This is an action film that takes all the tropes that so many other action films do well, and does them poorly, instead. The cast, with the exception of shitty movie legend John Saxon, was bad, bad, bad. Daniel Greene, bless his heart, managed to put together a performance to rival Arnold Schwarzenegger, from the time when Arnold could barely speak English. Of course, with all the dubbing, it’s harder to tell how bad the reads really were. But if one were to judge an actor’s range solely on facial expressions, then Paco could best be described as…stoic. At least he gets to kick some ass.
Paco kicks ass in the bar. He kicks ass in the bar some more. And then he kicks ass at the Domes. It’s not the best ass-kicking one will see in shitty cinema, but it makes up for an almost criminal lack of explosions. Martino and company even threw in some lasers at the end.
Hands of Steel is silly and stupid. But that’s what I like about it. It doesn’t have any pretensions. It isn’t trying to be art. It’s a cheap sci-fi ripoff designed to make a quick buck. Maybe that means the filmmakers didn’t have the best of intentions, but neither do drug dealers or casinos, and who doesn’t like them?
Hands of Steel shoots into the top half of the Index, taking over the #72 spot from Piranha.