HANDS OF STEEL (1986) Blu-ray
Director: Sergio Martino (as Martin Dolman)
Code Red Releasing

Sergio Martino's HANDS OF STEEL punch their way onto Blu-ray courtesy of Code Red Releasing.

With the world on the brink of ecological collapse, Reverend Arthur Moseley (Franco Fantasia, MURDER MANSION) is a voice of hope for environmental activists, which also makes him a target for business interests. The police and the FBI have him under guard in his group's tenement headquarters but a near-fatal attempt is made on Moseley's life right under their noses by Paco Queruak (Daniel Green, ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK) under orders from sinister mentor Cooper (Roberto Bisacco, TORSO) but falters after an attack of conscience. Paco manages to escape and makes his getaway from the FBI as well as Cooper who ordered the hit under the direction of corrupt executive Turner (John Saxon, THE EVIL EYE). While Cooper is eager to discover what went wrong in Paco's conditioning, Turner is more concerned with getting rid of Paco before the FBI catch up to him. Cooper coerces insight out of former project head Professor Olster (Donald O'Brien, ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST) who suggests that something in Paco's childhood may have overridden his programming and that he is likely heading to Arizona where he grew up to recapture his past and rebuild his identity. After learning this however, Turner has Cooper killed by his henchman Ronny (Dean Ricca) and sends European hitman Howell (Claudio Cassinelli, THE GREAT ALLIGATOR) to complete the job. Paco takes up lodgings in exchange for work at a desert bar and motel belonging to Linda (Janet Agren, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) but quickly draws attention to himself when he takes on blowhard truck driver Raul (George Eastman, THE GRIM REAPER) and humiliates him in an arm-wrestling challenge. Raul's attempts at retaliation similarly end in humiliation until he finds an ally in Howell. Meanwhile, the FBI and scientist Dr. Peckinpah (Amy Werba, Cavani's FRANCESCO) are on Paco's trail after discovering the nature of the murdered Olster's experimental work with cyborg technology.

An oddball Italian science fiction effort that draws from THE TERMINATOR rather than much of the genre's ROAD WARRIOR borrowings, HANDS OF STEEL is set in a still recognizably modern world with the Arizona desert a picturesque backdrop rather than a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The futuristic aspects of the story are communicated early on mostly through dialogue with much of the laser weaponry held back until the final act full of car and helicopter chases, shootouts, explosions, laser blasts, head-ripping, and skull-crushing. The structure is somewhat lopsided due to the death of co-star Cassinelli in a helicopter crash, leading to a quick rewrite to turn his character into two separate ones and casting Bisacco for the as-yet-unfilmed earlier scenes in order to preserve Cassinelli's scenes in the final cut; as such, it feels as though the film has to take pains to draw out Howell's pursuit and the FBI investigation (which stops dead as they puzzle over the analysis of the fist-shaped weapon that attacked Moseley). Greene and Agren are relatively sympathetic leads who hold our interest along with flamboyant Eastman during the middle portion of the film, and the synth and sax score of Claudio Simonetti (MOTHER OF TEARS) adds to the film's emotional core. The credits are filled with more than the usual anglicized pseudonyms with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng (THE CHURCH) credited as "Audrey Bellows", Martino regular DP Giancarlo Ferrando (TORSO) as "John McFarland", and Martino himself as "Martin Dolman" as he was credited on a handful of eighties and early nineties films.

Given brief release by Almi Pictures (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE) and then on tape by Lighting Video in a dull-looking fullscreen transfer, HANDS OF STEEL – unlike other Dania Film productions during the heyday of DVD – remained unavailable on DVD apart from Mill Creek and Brentwood PD boxed sets that reproduced the tape transfer. Letterboxed transfers popped up overseas but the film did not make its legitimate digital debut stateside until Code Red's Blu-ray. Code Red's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen transfer does not exactly pop at first, but that has more to do with Ferrando's photography, as he uses diffusion on the lenses for the interiors and the polluted city exteriors early in the film. Things perk up considerably once the film moves to the wide open spaces of Arizona with bolder colors, warm, wide-angled landscapes, and sweaty porous close-ups. The enhanced resolution does no favors to the make-up effects of Sergio Stivaletti (DEMONS) but they are still interesting to assess. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track serves the dialogue, sound effects, and score nicely.

The film is presented on a BD50 with an impressive host of extras starting with an interview with actor Greene (30:50) who recalls being invited to a screening of RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II by Sylvester Stallone and being approached by Martino's wife to do the movie. Having just come off FALCON CREST, HANDS OF STEEL was not only Greene's introduction to action films but he first of five collaborations with Martino including AMERICAN RICKSHAW, THE OPPONENT, AFTER THE CONDOR, and BEYOND KILIMANJARO. He recalls working with Agren, Saxon, Eastman, and Cassinelli as well as his own brushes with the loose safety regulations for the effects and stunts before touching upon other notable titles in his filmography. The brief interview with Saxon (4:55) does not focus on the film so much as his experiences making films in Italy (with a brief aside about ENTER THE DRAGON).

In his interview (17:28), director Martino switches back and forth between broken English and subtitled Italian when trying to adequately convey his feelings about his career working with brother Luciano Martino and how it might have been different had he accepted jobs with other producers as well as the circumstances of Cassinelli's tragic death. In his interview (11:28), actor Eastman speaks warmly of Greene and Agren while giving some rather backhanded complements to "gentleman director" Martino with no real love of his work but spends most of the interview discussing his recollections of Cassinelli's death (which he blames on a hothead pilot rather than the downdraughts cited by Martino). Actor Bisacco's interview (14:35) focuses on how he transitioned from theater to cinema, touching upon major credits like Tinto Brass' DEADLY SWEET, Losey's MODESTY BLAISE, Zeferelli's ROMEO AND JULIET, before he met Martino on TORSO. He remembers little of HANDS OF STEEL other than being called to replace Cassinelli and "feeling like a bloodsucker" for taking over the part. The disc closes out with the film's theatrical trailer (2:21) from a tape source. (Eric Cotenas)