Color, 1986, 93m.
Directed by Sergio Martino
Starring Daniel Greene, Janet Agren, Claudio Cassinelli, John Saxon, George Eastman, Roberto Bisacco, Donald O'Brien
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Njuta Films (DVD) (Sweden R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1)
Though best known today for his classic run of gialli in the 1970s, director Sergio Martino also specialized in long runs of other cinematic strains like silly sex comedies. In 1982 he scored a sizable international hit with the futuristic sci-film After the Fall of New York, so it was only natural that he would return to the realm of an action-packed United States dystopia once again. The end product, Hands of Steel, turned out to be something of a surprise, a raucous action film and one of the great Italian "guy movies" that lifts openly from The Terminator but throws in more than enough unique twists of its own.
In the far-off dystopia of 1997, the America is a wasteland controlled by a totalitarian government with propaganda proclaiming "You Have No Future" everywhere in sight. Through the windy streets of Arizona roams muscular man of few words Paco Queruak (Greene), who's on a mission that involves boxing people over the head. We soon find out he's a scientifically engineered cyborg who's 70% biomechatronic with a mission to take out a scientist whose biological work is mucking up the profits of Turner (Saxon), an evil millionaire industrialist. However, that pesky remaining human percentage causes Paco to ignore his orders and spare his ethical target, which sends Turner's goons in hot pursuit as Paco contends with aerial and automotive chases and an arm wrestling challenge from local tough guy Raul (Anthropophagus' Eastman).
This film turned out to be a rousing star vehicle of sorts for Greene, who had been toiling in various one-shot TV roles and appearances in a couple of cable-ready indie comedies. The buff gym buddy of Sylvester Stallone was discovered at a screening of Rambo: First Blood Part II and quickly signed to star in this film, the first of five collaborations with Martino also including The Opponent, American Tiger, After the Condor, and Beyond Kilimanjaro, Across the River of Blood, as well as Enzo G. Castellari's Hammerhead. He's a fun leading man here with a knack for physical action scenes, and it's always fun seeing familiar faces like Janet Agren (City of the Living Dead) as the obligatory damsel in distress, regular scene stealer and endless sweat machine Eastman doing a riff on his similar character from Blastfighter, spaghetti western vet Donald O'Brien, and a decent baddie role for Claudio Cassinelli (Screamers) that was sadly curtailed when the actor was killed in a tragic helicopter accident during the shooting of this film. The film is a real blast for action fans with a wide array of bar fights, gun fights, truck and car demolition derbies, and other assorted mayhem that easily outstages the surprisingly restrained sci-fi elements (including a very Schwarzenegger-esque arm operation scene). Heck, the motel showdown between Paco and a badass blonde cyborg fighter with very odd fashion tastes is worth the admission price all by itself. The very busy Claudio Simonetti doesn't deliver one of his strongest scores here, but he's pretty much the only person involved who doesn't bring his all to the game.
After a legit DVD release in Sweden featuring a so-so non-anamorphic transfer, Hands of Steel saw nearly simultaneous Blu-ray releases between end of 2016 and start of 2017 in both the US and the UK, the latter also getting a DVD edition. Both appear to be from the same source, a fresh HD scan of the Italian negative that looks much, much better than the old Lightning Video VHS edition or the various gray market cheapie copies in multi-film DVD packs. Some variations in color correction and black levels occur with the Code Red appearing to get the edge consistency-wise. The film still looks pretty modest in appearance and a bit on the soft side (film grain is still evident but some shots have a vaguely waxy look). The DTS-HD MA English mono track sounds pretty sturdy and represents the ideal way to watch the film as almost all of the primary cast uses their original voices.
The UK 88 Films edition features a 40-minute interview with Martino, while the Code Red Blu-ray stacks things far more heavily with a batch of new interviews and a (really dupey-looking) trailer. The real treat here is a 31-minute chat with Greene, who went on to do several Farrelly Brothers comedies and apparently has a painting of himself aging in an attic somewhere. Martino appears for a 17-minute interview (alternating between English and subtitled Italian) chatting about his fondness for working with Greene and Saxon and being inspired by The Terminator, Saxon gets a 4-minute chat about his time in Italy and touches on how much he enjoyed working with Martino, and actor Roberto Bisacco (who also played Gaston in Camille 2000) gets a 14-minute interview about his busy career including his roles in Modesty Blaise, Romeo and Juliet, and Torso. He doesn't remember much about shooting this film except for his discomfort with essentially stepping in to replace Cassinelli for all of his scenes that hadn't been shot. Speaking of which, the most revealing piece here is an 11-minute interview with a very candid Eastman (real name Luigi Montefiori), who vividly recalls the fatal helicopter crash (in which he could have been involved) and lambasts the production for using a clearly unstable daredevil pilot.