Color, 1991, 93 mins. 39 secs.
Directed by Ernest Farino
Starring Clare Wren, Bruce Davison, Stacy Haiduk, David Naughton, Michael Cerveris, Scott Burkholder, Brian Backer, Paul Lieber
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD)

A nice surprise for those Steel and Lacewho were brave enough to scour the wilds of direct-to-VHS genre titles Steel and Lacein the early '90s, Steel and Lace delivers an appealing fusion of several different trends including the cyber sci-fi craze that really hit in the early '90s, the rape-revenge film, gory splatter antics, and crime movie procedural. The film marked the lone feature film directorial effort for Ernest Farino, a visual effects artist with a slew of credits under his belt like The Thing, The Abyss, and Galaxy of Terror, and that experience comes in handy here with a body count movie of a different kind that packs in a few surprises for those who think they've seen it all.

Traumatized after being raped by evil yuppie developer Daniel Emerson (Cerveris), concert pianist Gaily Morton (Wren) kills herself by jumping off a courthouse building when he gets off scot free thanks to his scumbag buddies (including The Burning's Backer and Guru the Mad Monk's Paul Lieber). Five years later her enraged brother, cybernetics expert Albert (Willard's Davison), decides the best way to deal with the situation is building a robotic replica of Gaily with enough hidden implements of death to pull off an elaborate payback plan. Of course, once the mutilated bodies start piling up it attracts the attention of a cop named Dunn (An American Werewolf in London's Naughton) and his sketch artist girlfriend, Alison (Luther the Geek's Haiduk). While Emerson continues to pull off shady shenanigans to build the mini-mall of his dreams, the cyber-Gaily starts to have some qualms Steel and Laceabout Steel and Laceher mission as she adopts a number of disguises to lure evildoers into body-shredding traps all over town.

Released by Fries Entertainment and essentially sent straight to VHS in 1993, Steel and Lace is pure drive-in fun with a ridiculously pulpy premise that makes you wonder why nobody thought of it before. It's definitely in the same line of descent as films like The Terminator, Eve of Destruction, and Deadly Friend, but the revenge angle is handled in a fresh way here with lots of extremely splattery kill scenes and an interesting robotic character at its center. Of course, having Davison aboard (hot off his Oscar-nominated role in Longtime Companion!) is a big asset since he manages to imbue his mad scientist with more shading than the role probably required; in fact, everyone involved puts in enough effort to lift this well above the norm-- including a great and surprising roster of character actors including a fun little appearance by David Lander, a.k.a. Laverne & Shirley's Squiggy.

Like a lot of other Fries titles, this one has been a property of MGM for several years but mostly turned up on cable broadcast until the 2021 Blu-ray from Vinegar Steel and LaceSyndrome (with very Titane-esque new cover art). The new scan from the 35mm interpositive is presented Steel and Lacein two options, the commonly seen 1.33:1 version (as intended since it was going to head straight to video and cable anyway) and a matted 1.78:1 version that gives you a pretty good idea of how this would have looked as a theatrical release. The 1.33:1 one looks more comfortable with reasonable headroom throughout, but the matted one is kind of workable as well if you want to fill up your widescreen display. Quality-wise the film is in very good shape overall with nice detail and color apart from optical-heavy main titles, which inevitably look a generation or two lower in quality. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track sounds good for a fairly simple two-channel mix, including the score by John Massari (Killer Klowns from Outer Space). Farino appears for a very thorough new audio commentary going into the ins and outs of the production, from careful blocking to obscure troublesome billboards to the intricate makeup process that could sometimes wreak havoc on the actors. As usual for MGM, their legal department has likely gone to town on this one given the number of abrupt silent gaps that pop up. Then in "Iron, Carbon, Anger: The Elements of Steel and LaceSteel and Lace" (57m52s), Farino, Massari, Haiduk, Naughton, Lieber, producer John Schouweiler, co-writers John Dougherty and Dave Edison, cinematographer Thomas Steel and LaceCallaway, Massari, casting director Ira Belgrade, editor Christopher Roth, special effects artist Roy Knyrim, and actors John DeMita and Hank Garret (whew!) all cover just about every aspect of the film you can imagine, from the genesis as a script called Lady Lazarus through the creation of the various guises of Gaily 2.0, their respective relevant backgrounds, the casting process from Davison onward, the decision of how futuristic to push the feeling of the film, and the challenges of shooting lots of foam rubber. Finally the disc wraps with a lengthy 20m20s gallery featuring tons of promotional shots and rare reference and production photos, many from the director's own collection.

1.33:1 VERSION

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1.78:1 VERSION

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Reviewed on November 25, 2021.