Great Bad Movies: "Hands of Steel," aka "Atomic Cyborg" (1986)
HANDS OF STEEL (1986)
aka ATOMIC CYBORG, aka FISTS OF STEEL, aka RETURN OF THE TERMINATOR (among other titles)
Starring: Daniel Greene, Janet Agren, John Saxon, Claudio Cassinelli
Directed by: "Martin Dolman" (aka Sergio Martino)
Run Time: 95 minutes
**NOTE: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
One of my favorite things about the Internet is that it continues to broaden my trash-cinema horizons. Even after all these years of dwelling in the deepest, darkest trenches of the cinematic wasteland, the Net continues to help me discover forgotten and obscure films that I've never heard of - and which I then feel compelled to track down. My latest discovery was Hands of Steel, aka Atomic Cyborg (among a host of alternate titles) - an enjoyably silly 1986 Italian Terminator variant directed by Sergio Martino (of 2019: After the Fall of New York fame) under his Americanized alias of "Martin Dolman." I'm not sure how I missed out on this movie back in the day, but one look at the gun-toting, cybernetic-armed goombah (who resembles the love child of David Hasselhoff and Lou Ferrigno) on the film's eye-catching poster was all it took for me to say "Must! See! This! Movie!"
It's the "near future" of 1997 and Earth is in bad environmental shape. Pollution and acid rain (which apparently falls on a predictable enough basis to require "ACID RAIN ZONE" signs along road sides) have done a number on the atmosphere, so all the buildings have shiny silver air-filter hoses hanging all over them. Fortunately, an environmental activist (whose slogan, oddly enough, is "YOU HAVE NO FUTURE!") has apparently come up with a plan to save the planet, but before he can announce it to the world's media he's attacked by a cyborg hit man played by muscle bound American soap opera bit player Daniel Greene. The cyborg, who was sent by the evil corporation responsible for much of the Earth's polluting, turns out to be the film's hero, whom the screenwriters have saddled with the hilariously improbable name of "Paco Queruak." (??) Fortunately for Scientist Guy, Paco's human side kicks in at the last possible second, and he spares the man's life. Realizing that his corporate masters will soon be on their way to eliminate him for failing his mission, the cyborg goes on the run, looking for a place to hide out and get back in touch with the man he once was.
Eventually arriving in the American Southwest, Paco wanders into a run down roadside motel and bar run by a blonde hottie named Linda (Janet Agren of Eaten Alive! and City of the Living Dead). She takes an immediate liking to the muscular drifter and offers him a free place to stay in return for him doing some odd jobs around the place - because, y'know, attractive women who live alone in the middle of the desert would totally do that in real life. Meanwhile, the bad guys, led by industrialist scumbag Francis Turner (the always dependable John Saxon, appearing in yet another European B-Movie to make a quick mortgage payment) have sent out a hit squad to track Paco down.
Linda appreciates having Paco around - not only because he looks good with his shirt off and can chop firewood like it's going out of style, but also because she can certainly use the companionship. Her motel never seems to have any guests except at night time, when a bunch of hillbilly truck drivers arrive at the bar to drink her beer, sexually harass her, and get down to some seriously manly-man arm-wrestling competition. Yes, you read that right... arm wrestling!!
This new plot line is thrown in so randomly that I can only assume the writers of Hands of Steel must have heard about Sylvester Stallone's forthcoming arm-wrestling magnum opus Over the Top (which was released in 1987, a full year after this movie) and decided to try and beat it to the punch. The truckers are led by the odious Raoul (played by Italian genre film legend George Eastman of Anthropophagus and 1990: The Bronx Warriors) who naturally takes notice of the hulking newcomer and forces him to defend Linda's honor in a bout of wrist rasslin'. Paco's cybernetic embellishments obviously give him a distinct advantage over the beer-bellied rednecks, who don't take kindly to being humiliated. Some major ass-kicking ensues and the truckers depart, swearing revenge (of course). When the smoke clears, Paco explains to the awestruck Linda that he's the product of a top secret experiment which made him "70% cyborg and 30% human," and of course she swoons, because again, that's totally what would happen in real life.
The "arm wrestling truckers" sub plot takes up so much of the film's midsection that it almost feels like the filmmakers forgot what movie they were working on…until they suddenly said, "Oh, yeah, riiiight.Terminator. Sorry!" and get back to the action. Turner and his hit men finally track Paco down at Linda's motel, and that's when bullets start flyin' and things start blowin' up. Soon Paco and Linda are attacked by a female cyborg (foreseeing the events of Terminator 3, perhaps?) and then they're pursued thru the desert by the scenery-chewing Saxon and his bully boys in a fairly thrilling helicopter/car chase sequence before the final showdown at some sort of abandoned factory. Paco naturally kicks the ass of every mercenary that Turner throws his way (in the film's biggest money shot, he fatally punches some helmeted stormtrooper-type dudes right through their visors in gleefully gory detail!) until Turner runs out of men and has to try and do the job himself with a hilariously gigantic shoulder-mounted laser gun. When all the bad guys are finally eliminated, Janet proclaims her love for Paco and then a typically Italian non-ending ensues as we freeze frame on a block of awkward-English text that reads "IT WAS A DAY IN OUR NEAR FUTURE... THE ERA OF THE CYBORG HAD BEGUN" before the credits start rolling. Um...what?
Badass cyborg-on-cyborg action!
Obviously Hands of Steel is not a particularly good movie, but it certainly is a ton of silly fun. Italian B-Movies have a weird flavor all their own, and this one is no exception. European schlock-meisters obviously love American movies and want to make their films look and feel as "American" as possible, but something almost always feels like it got lost in the translation - even when they use American actors and film in U.S. locations, like they did here. Daniel Greene displays all the acting chops of a plank of wood, but I guess that works in this case because he's playing a machine anyway. Janet Agren performs the typical damsel-in-distress role about as well as can be expected, and George Eastman can't even lose his thick-as-Ragu accent even when he's playing an American roughneck! John Saxon, of course, puts in a typically stern performance even though he's obviously just picking up a quick paycheck. All of this ultra-macho spaghetti sci-fi action comes wrapped in a wonderfully cheesy, propulsive, so-'80s-it-hurts synthesizer soundtrack (think "Miami Vice") by the great Claudio Simonetti of Goblin fame.
So Where Can I See It?
Hands Of Steel is a fairly obscure film, even by Italian Z-Movie standards. I sincerely doubt it got much more than a token theatrical release, if indeed it got any at all, in the U.S. before it hit video store shelves (on the beloved low-rent "Lightning Video" label) back in the late '80s. As of this writing, Hands of Steel is only available on DVD as a poor quality print in a bargain-priced box set of 50 low-budget sci fi movies, but a decent copy is fairly easy to find online, as long as you know where to look (cough cough YOUTUBE cough cough!). Vintage VHS tapes, as you might imagine, command collectible prices on the second-hand market. Happy hunting.
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© 2015 Keith Abt