Film Review: Hands of Steel (1986)

Also known as: Vendetta dal futuro (original Italian title), Atomic Cyborg (France), El destructor (Mexico), Hands of Stone (Netherlands), Arms of Steel (Norway), L’enfonceur (Canadian French title), Cyborg (Slovenia), Fists of Steel (UK), Destroyer (Spain)
Release Date: March 26th, 1986 (France)
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Sergio Martino, Sauro Scavolini, Elisa Livia Briganti, John Crowther
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Daniel Greene, Janet Argen, John Saxon

National Cinematografica, Dania Film, Medusa Distribuzione, 94 Minutes

Review:

“When I get through with you, you’ll have to wipe your ass with your nose” – Raul Morales

This film had more international titles than it had extras!

But this film can have as many titles as it wants, as it is a pretty badass and ridiculous flick that has a plot that’s all over the map but doesn’t suffer because its supposed to be a smorgasbord of everything that made ’80s action movies so much fun.

Let me summarize the insane premise: An evil CEO sends a cyborg to assassinate a scientist. The cyborg fails so the CEO sends his other cyborgs to take him out. The cyborg hides in a desert diner with a chick that’s horny for him. All the while he draws the ire of the tri-state arm wrestling champion that wants to prove he’s the strongest man in the desert. The evil CEO is John Saxon and he has a really big laser.

This motion picture is insanely enjoyable and one of the best Italian post-apocalyptic, “knock off everything under the sun” movies.

There’s even a scene where the good cyborg has to arm wrestler a guy that looks like Bear Hugger from Punch-Out!! The insane part about this scene is that the loser gets their hand trapped in a shackle while a diamondback rattler bites them to death.

Now this is just about everything you’d expect from an Italian Mad Max wannabe but then it’s so much more. It’s part Terminator, part RoboCop, part Over the Top and 100 percent toxic masculinity. Plus, this came out before RoboCop and Over the Top, so it’s like the writer/director Sergio Martino was psychic. I mean, he ripped off something that didn’t yet exist!

Speaking of Martino, he’s a guy that directed a lot of the top Italian schlock. You know, the type of schlock that gives schlock a good name and inspires people like myself to find endearing things within movies that the general populace could never tolerate. He’s done giallo, slashers, spaghetti westerns, other post-apocalyptic movies and pretty much something in every cool sub-genre that matters to fans of grindhouse, exploitation, horror and action films.

Hands of Steel is a hell of a ride. It has pretty good, albeit hokey effects. But considering this picture’s budget, it’s all passable and it works. In fact, the scene where the cyborg repairs his arm is pretty impressive.

While I’m sure that most people would dismiss this movie as absolute shit, the opinions and money of the regular moviegoer are why we keep getting subpar blockbusters, countless sequels, spinoffs, remakes and reboots. I’ll take Hands of Steel over some Harley Quinn dressed like a peacock movie.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Italian post-apocalyptic movies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Troll (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986
Directed by: John Carl Buechler
Written by: Ed Naha, Joanna Granillo (uncredited)
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Michael Moriarty, Shelley Hack, Jenny Beck, Sonny Bono, Phil Fondacaro, Brad Hall, Anne Lockhart, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gary Sandy, June Lockhart

Altar Productions, Empire Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“[looking for Wendy in the basement] Have you been playing with dead cats?” – Harry Potter Jr.

This is the first Harry Potter movie and it actually features two Harry Potters. But sadly, this is unrelated to the J.K. Rowling franchise.

This also isn’t related to its sequels, as those are two different movies that stole the Troll name to market themselves better. Which is actually quite odd, as this Troll was far from a success.

Like the real Harry Potter series, though, this is a fantasy movie that features magic and creepy little critters.

It also features Sonny Bono as a pervy swinger, a very young Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Moriarty from The Stuff, Atreyu from The NeverEnding Story and June Lockhart, who is pretty much a legend with close to 200 credits to her name. Also, Phil Fondacaro does double duty as the actual troll in the film, as well as playing a regular character. I love Fondacaro’s work and it’s cool seeing him get to be the centerpiece of a movie.

Now this motion picture is pretty damn bizarre. But it’s that ’80s, over the top, “What the fuck did I just watch?” kind of bizarre. The best of all forms of bizarre.

It’s humorous, baffling and amusing. You kind of just have to surrender yourself to the film and let it play out in all of its gloriousness.

Sure, critics hated it, as did most people. But this film’s audience is a small segment of society. And while it’s not a classic, even as far as weird movies go, it’s endearing and charming in an unexplainable way. I guess it’s like Howard the Duck or Ghoulies or Munchies or Garbage Pail Kids or C.H.U.D. II in how they are mostly bad films but they found a way to touch a enough of a certain type of people that they live on as cult favorites.

But above all else, it is the incredible performance by the young Jenny Beck that is the glue that holds this picture together. Almost immediately, she becomes possessed by the evil troll and man, she commits to the bit throughout the entire film. For a child actor without much experience, she was tremendous and has to go down as one of my favorite kids from an ’80s movie.

I love Troll. It is just one hearty spoonful of strange after another.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: it’s amusing but unrelated sequel and then any ’80s horror movie with little creatures.

Film Review: Conquest (1983)

Also known as: Mace the Outcast (working title), El Bárbaro (Mexico)
Release Date: June 2nd, 1983 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Gino Capone, Carlos Vasallo, Jose Antonio de la Loma Giovanni Di Clemente
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Jorge Rivero, Andrea Occhipinti, Conrado San Martin, Sabrina Siani

Clemi Cinematografica, Clesi Cinematografica, Conquest Productions, 88 Minutes

Review:

“When a man meets a man, you never know which one will die. But when an animal meets a man, it’s always the animal that dies. I’m on the animals’ side.” – Mace, “Isn’t this an animal you’re eating?” – Ilias, “[shrugs] I didn’t kill him.” – Mace, “That’s a pretty strange law.” – Ilias, “Not when you’re hungry.” – Mace

By the time 1983 rolled around, everyone was making sword and sorcery movies, especially the Europeans, who just wanted to make their own version of Conan the Barbarian. Since most of these movies were made in Italy and Spain, it seems natural that Lucio Fulci, mostly known for his horror pictures, would direct his own.

What’s interesting about Fulci doing one of these movies is that he got to tap into his horror skills, adding in some interesting monsters and a darker tone to this sword and sorcery tale.

For the time and the budget, the special effects are pretty decent. The evil sorceress’ henchmen are basically  barbarian werewolves, which was a neat idea. Granted, they look like the lovechild of Joe Dante’s werewolf from The Howling and Chewbacca but still, werewolf barbarians is a cool enough concept to carry its own movie.

On the downside, however, this is a very cheap film and it looks it. I like the practical effects but that’s something I personally have an appreciation for and if you share that sentiment, the hokiness of the production probably won’t bother you. But for most people, this picture won’t cut the mustard. It also doesn’t help that it’s dark, dreary and always looks foggy or as if there is a haze over the camera lens.

That being said, I think the visuals of this film will turn most people away, as it’s not pretty to look at, especially when compared to bigger budget sword and sorcery pictures from the same era, mainly the Schwarzenegger Conan films, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

I still like the movie though, but I have an affinity for these sorts of things. Plus, the one dude shoots light arrows, which is neat and reminds me of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, which is odd because this movie and that TV show came out in the same year.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Lucio Fulci movies, as well as other European sword and sorcery pictures from the early ’80s.

Film Review: Rome, 2072 A.D.: The New Gladiators (1984)

Also known as: I guerrieri dell’anno 2072 (original Italian title), Rome 2033: The Fighter Centurions (Belgium, Finland), Fighting Centurions (Norway, Germany), Gladiators of the Future (Portugal), Rome 2072 A.D., The New Gladiators, Warriors of the Year 2072 (alternative titles)
Release Date: January 28th, 1984 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Elisa Briganti, Cesare Frugoni, Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Jared Martin, Fred Williamson, Renato Rossini, Eleanora Brigliadori

Regency Productions, Troma Entertainment, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Take a good look at these contestants, because for these men violent death is just seconds away.” – Commentator

I’ve seen several Lucio Fulci films but I never knew of this one’s existence until I really started going down the rabbit hole of European Mad Max ripoffs.

Sadly, this picture is pretty dull.

It does have two saving graces, though. They are Fred Williamson and the third act of the film that sets things right and makes this turkey end on a pretty high note.

First off, there’s really no one noteworthy here except for Williamson. And fans of Williamson should already know that he spent a big portion of his career married to schlock. This is no different but he helps to elevate the schlock when he’s onscreen. He’s just a bonafide badass and his presence in this film is no different. He owns this shit and he’s pretty unapologetic about how fucking manly he is.

Additionally, the last half hour of this picture is pure adrenaline. Once we reach the third act, we see these manly men get put into a violent game show, ala The Running Man, but in this picture, our heroes are on motorcycles and using any means they can to kill their opponents in an effort to ensure their survival.

There are some strong similarities to this picture and the David Carradine starring Deathsport from six years earlier but this is a better movie with a presentation that looks a wee bit more polished. It also sprinkles in elements of Death Race 2000 in how it employs vehicular violence in a reality TV format in a post-apocalyptic future.

One thing that I liked about the movie, which most people probably won’t, was the use of miniatures and models to create a futuristic looking Rome. You can tell that these sequences are miniatures but it has this otherworldly and dreamlike appearance that sort of drew me in.

Fulci is a better filmmaker than what this movie shows. He’s made worse pictures than this, though. If you’re interested in seeing his best work, Four of the Apocalypse, Massacre Time and Zombi 2 are much better examples of what he’s capable of.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mad Max ripoffs: Battletruck, Metalstorm and Megaforce.

Film Review: Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983)

Also known as: Death Warriors (Europe English title)
Release Date: August 13th, 1983 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Carmineo
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti, Elisa Briganti, Jose Truchaso Reyes
Music by: Detto Mariano
Cast: Robert Iannucci, Alicia Moro, Eduardo Fajardo

2T Produzione Film, Globe Film, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Onward my merry mother-grabbers!” – Crazy Bull

I’ve been watching a lot of these Italian Mad Max ripoffs because I’m planning to write an article about them. But since there are several I haven’t seen, I’m trying to familiarize myself with as many of them as possible.

Exterminators of the Year 3000, also known as Death Warriors in some countries, is actually one of the better ones that I’ve seen.

Sure, like all of these films, this isn’t better or as good as an actual Mad Max movie but for something with next to no budget and quickly shot in a Spanish desert, this attempt at cashing in on post-apocalyptic vehicular carnage isn’t half bad.

I really like the hero in this because he just doesn’t give a shit about anything. He’s kind of a prick in the cool way but as the film rolls on, he meets a boy, a smart old astronaut dude and a girl he becomes smitten by. So he sort of becomes a big softy as he develops a family dynamic with these characters. Plus, his name is Alien because why not? And did I mention that the girl is named Trash?

Anyway, everyone in this film needs water and it’s the commodity they’re all fighting for. It’s like the need for gasoline in Mad Max but instead it’s fuel for the body and for plants to grow and make more food for the body.

The bad guys feel like they’re right out of Mad Max but they feel more like a small gang without the reach of the Toecutter or Lord Humongous. They feel like a squad to a larger group and while the characters are menacing and effective, they don’t feel as dangerous as the gangs from the Mad Max films.

What’s weird about this movie is that it takes place in the year 3000 and all of the vehicles are junky 1970s cars. Somehow they’re all able to run a thousand years from now yet in 2019, you don’t see these models on the streets anymore. But this isn’t the type of film where you should get hung up on stuff like accuracy.

I also like the cool twist in the film where you find out the kid is half cyborg. There’s a moment that comes off as pretty brutal where the evil gang ties both of the kid’s arms to motorcycles and then they hit the gas and rip one of the kid’s arms off. However, you soon notice that there’s no blood and there are wires hanging out of the kid’s shoulder. It was one of those, “No, they’re not actually going to do that?!” moments.

Anyway, I like this movie. Not to the point that I’ll rewatch it anytime soon but compared to similar pictures, this one is near the top of the heap.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Mad Max ripoffs, especially the European ones.

Film Review: Contamination (1980)

Also known as: Contamination – Alien arriva sulla Terra (Italy), Alien Contamination (US cut version title), Toxic Spawn (US video title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Luigi Cozzi
Written by: Luigi Cozzi
Music by: Goblin
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Mase, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn

Alex Cinematografica, Barthonia Film, Lisa-Film, Cannon Films, 95 Minutes, 84 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“Help! Let me out! There’s an egg!” – Colonel Stella Holmes

In Italy, at least back in the ’70s and ’80s, filmmakers didn’t give a crap about copyrights. So this was made as a “sequel” to Ridley Scott’s Alien, even though the only similarity it shares with that film is aliens. But these aliens are pretty much just slimy pods that look like inside out kiwis.

Overall, this isn’t a very good movie but for a 1980 horror picture from Italy, it fits that style and is actually better than a lot of the similar riffraff.

Luigi Cozzi wrote and directed this and it is one of his better films. I thought that the story was decent and I was at least engaged by it. There weren’t many dull moments and even if the aliens were bizarre and hokey, the film had an atmosphere that worked and made them haunting.

I think a lot of what makes this film work is the soundtrack by Goblin. I believe the band had a different lineup than when they worked on the Suspiria soundtrack but they still provide surrealist noise that sometimes has a melody but mostly just sets the tone, generating a sort of uneasiness in the viewer.

My favorite thing about this movie is the special effects. They’re practical, they’re cheap but when bodies start bursting from exposure to alien pods, it all comes off really damn good and it has stood the test of time. That opening scene where the scientists in hazmat suits are exploding all over the place is still effective.

Contamination is Italian horror schlock but it’s entertaining Italian horror schlock with a good amount of fun, explosive gore; the type of gore I like most because it’s not there to gross you out, it’s just there to shock you and catch you by surprise.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Luigi Cozzi horror films, as well as movies by Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava.

Film Review: Troll 2 (1990)

Also known as: Goblins, Trolls (working titles), Troll II (video box title), Monster Valley (Spain, Chile alternate title), The Return of Troll (Netherlands)
Release Date: October 3rd, 1990 (Germany)
Directed by: Claudio Fragasso
Written by: Claudio Fragasso, Rossella Drudi
Music by: Carlo Maria Cordio
Cast: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie McFarland, Deborah Reed, Jason Wright, Darren Ewing, Jason Steadman

Filmirage, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Nilbog! It’s goblin spelled backwards! This is their kingdom!” – Joshua

It’s no secret that Troll 2 is a bad movie. With that, it has a pretty large cult following. Many people, however, don’t seem to understand that this is also intended to be a comedy and it seems like it is pretty self-aware. I think a lot of people hate it without understanding it and the intent of its creators.

Personally, I think that Troll 2 accomplishes what it set out to do and exceeds what its intent was. I also think that it wouldn’t have grown into a weird phenomena if audiences didn’t initially misinterpret that intent and thought that this was a serious attempt at low budget horror.

What’s funny about the film, is that the script was written by a husband and wife team and it started out as the wife expressing her anger over all of her friends becoming vegetarians. I think she definitely found a very creative outlet with a lot of good tongue and cheek humor to exorcise that frustration. As a devout carnivore, I understand and empathize with her pain.

Everything about this movie is bad in the text book sense.

The special effects, all of which are mostly practical, physical effects, are bottom of the barrel schlock. But that stuff works within the context of this movie.

Also, the acting is literally laughably bad and I’m not misusing “literally” when I say that. I think some of the poor line delivery was definitely intentional. I’m not saying that their is hidden genius at work but I think that some of the scenes and specific moments give away that this was meant to play out the way it did. But honestly, I don’t know how the actors weren’t ruining takes by laughing out loud. But maybe they were.

The plot is weird, nuts and so far out there that there is no point in trying to take it seriously. You’ve got a crazy witch lady with a troll army that transforms into town folk, who feed you green goo that transforms you into a plant and then another type of green goo so that the trolls can devour your remains. Also, this film has supernatural popcorn and moles in the shape of cloverleafs.

Troll 2 is a much better experience than I thought it would be. I actually put off watching it for years but once I finally did, for the first time a while back, I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Yes, it is still a bad movie regardless of it intending to be and I can’t give it a great rating. However, it is an entertaining watch for those of us who love being entertained by bad movies. In a lot of ways this is to fantasy horror what Tommy Wiseau’s The Room was to romantic drama.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: ’80s little critter films like CrittersMunchies and Ghoulies.