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Plot: primeval colossus wreaks havoc upon metropolitan Toronto…

When Dino de Laurentiis released his 1976 remake of King Kong (1933) its impact was profound and immediate. England has responded to Japan’s allegory for certain nuclear annihilation Godzilla (1954) with its own amiable big monster epic in the form of Gorgo (1961) and Denmark had done the same with the Ib Melchior penned Reptilicus (1961) as had South Korea with Yongary, Monster from the Deep (1967). Usually these big monster romps acted as a metaphor (or stand-in) for the supposedly malefic influence of foreign nations or whatever the threat of the day, whether they be nuclear or anti-capitalist in nature, happened to be. Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century (released back at home in Italy as Yeti, il gigante del ventesimo secolo and for once accurately translated for the international market) is mostly remembered for not being remembered at all. Both an anomaly in the career of director Gianfranco Parolini and leading star Antonella Interlenghi Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century is Italian pulp filmed in Canada for the international market. The most memorable thing about Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century is that they were able to get away with using a folk rendition of ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana as the main theme.

For director Gianfranco Parolini Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century was something else. As a specialist of spaghetti western, peplum, krimi and Eurowar Parolini etched his name into annals of cult cinema history with the five-part Kommissar X (1966-1968) saga, 3 Supermen (1967) and the Sabata (1968-1971) trilogy. Alleged Yeti sightings and sensationalist newspaper articles had been making the rounds since the 1920s and intensified during the mid-fifties. The simian-like creature purported to inhabit the Himalayan mountain range in Asia spoke to the imagination of everyone. Spanish horror pillar Paul Naschy even had an El Hombre Lobo episode where his Waldemar Daninsky faced off against the Abominable Snowman with The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975). Also not unimportant was that the Dino de Laurentiis produced John Guillermin directed remake did big business at the Italian box office. Parolini envisioned a low budget imitation with the working title Yeti Big Foot that was meant to catapult him into the mainstream. De Laurentiis had the means to afford special effects master Carlo Rambaldi whereas producers Nicolò Pomilia and Wolfranco Coccia had to content themselves with Germano Natali, Augusto Possanza, and Fabio Traversari for Parolini’s Yeti feature. Some controversy arose when writer Giorgio Moser (who was attached, or at least in run, to write the proposed de Laurentiis Yeti feature) claimed that Parolini had stolen his idea after talking to him for months on the Yeti. As these things tend to go the case was settled in court and de Laurentiis shelved his plans for a Yeti monster romp. This is probably the only big monster movie where the Yeti looks like Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees on a peculiar rough morning. And what better excuse to suffer through this than the always ravishing Antonella Interlenghi?

When a tsunami shakes the Arctic bringing to surface the only known and living specimen of the Yeti encased in a block of ice Canadian industrialist Morgan Hunnicut (Edoardo Faieta, as Eddy Fay) sees it as an opportunity to diversify the products and services of his multi-faceted business empire. He lures away his paleontologist friend Prof. Henry Wassermann (John Stacy) from whatever retirement he had planned with promises of immeasurable fame and fortune. The frozen colossus is flown to Toronto where he’s to be thawed by Hunnicut employees and scientists. Among the spectators are Hunnicut’s orphaned nephews, nubile Jane (Antonella Interlenghi, as Phoenix Grant) and mute Herbie (Matteo Zoffoli, as jim Sullivan) as well as ambitious and cutthroat Hunnicut underling Cliff Chandler (Luciano Stella, as Tony Kendall). Once thawed Hunnicut scientists rush to study the creature as Morgan intends to bombard it to the company mascot to commodify it as product and maximize profit. The Yeti (Mimmo Crao) takes a liking to young and desirable Jane and the plight of little Herbie and an unlikely friendship between the creature and the kids is formed. Things go haywire when Chandler tries to take advantage of Jane and the Yeti wreaks havoc upon the Hunnicut conglomerate and metropolitan Toronto in retaliation.

Antonella was (and is) the daughter of Franco Interlenghi, the romantic leading man of Neopolitan cinema and one-time rival of Marcello Mastrioanni. Unlike Mastrioanni, Interlenghi never was able to build a career internationally. Around these parts Interlenghi the elder is mostly remembered for his appearance in Tinto Brass’ ode to Serena Grandi‘s formidable form (but mostly her massive ass) Miranda (1985). Interlenghi the fairer had a modest if quaint theatrical triple-decade career that spanned continents, budgets, and genres taking her across Italy, Spain, México and France and saw her working with directors such as José Bénazéraf, René Cardona, Jr, Lucio Fulci, and Carlo Vanzina. Her arrival in 1977 heralded the end of the doe-eyed, innocuous starlet made iconic by the likes of Femi Benussi, Agostina Belli, Laura Antonelli and Barbara Magnolfi as well as minor goddesses as Jenny Tamburi, Daniela Giordano, and Sonia Viviani. While la Antonella could be seen in everything from Mexican thriller Panic Dealers (1980) to lighthearted comedies as Christmas Vacation (1983) and Vacation in America (1984) (widely regarded as the first Italian chick flick) she forever etched her name into our black heart in her mostly decorative role as the doomed Emily Robbins in the Lucio Fulci gore epic City of the Living Dead (1980).

As for the rest of the cast, that isn’t too shabby either with Parolini regulars Tony Kendall, Aldo Canti, and Giuseppe Mattei as well as reliable second stringers as Donald O'Brien, Stelio Candelli, and Claudio Zucchet in prominent supporting roles. Kendall was active in Italy as well as Spain and could be seen in The Whip and the Body (1963), Siege of Terror (1972), Crucified Girls of San Ramon (1973), The Loreley's Grasp (1973), The Off-Road Girl (1973) as well as the second Blind Dead episode Attack of the Blind Dead (1973). Candelli debuted in The Nights of Lucretia Borgia (1959) and from there appeared in a number of Italian cult classics as well as not-so-classic exploits including, but not limited to, Mario Bava’s hallmark science fiction epic Planet Of the Vampires (1965), Luigi Batzella's psychotronic gothic horror masterpiece Nude For Satan (1974) and during the eighties he was in Luigi Cozzi’s equally delirious Hercules (1983) and Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985). Zucchet was a stuntman who occasionally acted. His many credits include, among many others, Malabimba, That Malicious Whore (1978), Star Odyssey (1979), The Beast In Space (1980) and Burial Ground (1981). Donald O’Brien came out of spaghetti western and Eurowar but found steady employment in sleaze of various stripe including, but not limited to, Sex Of the Witch (1973), Images In a Convent (1979), Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1979), Zombie Holocaust (1980), Warriors of the Year 2072 (1984), and the The Terminator (1984) imitation Hands Of Steel (1986). The real showstoppers, however, are not so much the talent in front of the camera but the special effects by Germano Natali and Ermando Biamonte and their men of the hour Augusto Possanza and Fabio Traversari.

Over the years Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century has caught an incredible amount of flak for its primitive, rudimentary effects work. It’s de rigueur for critics to pile on Natali and Biamonte but considering the time, place, and budget this was made on – are they really that worthy of derision? Well, no. Sure, nobody is going to confuse Germano Natali with Carlo Rambaldi, Antonio Molina, Giannetto De Rossi or, say, Maurizio Trani but the blue screen composition, the animatronics, forced perspective as well as miniatures and models are not nearly as terrible as they are often made out to be. In truth Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century is far from the worst offender on that front. Which doesn’t take away from how charming the effects are in their primitiveness. Compare Natali’s work to that of Aldo Frollini in Alfonso Brescia’s infamous space opera quadrilogy following Star Wars (1977) or South Korea’s APE (1976) and witness how truly abysmal special effects can get. While nobody is going to mistake Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century for a Hollywood production there’s something about it that makes it surprisingly endearing, either in its naiveté or otherwise. Whatever the case Hong Kong did the whole big monster bonanza plain better with The Mighty Peking Man (1977) (which at least had the decency of putting Evelyn Kraft in a tiny fur bikini). And as beautiful as Kraft was, la bella Antonella was in a class all her own.

Let’s not mince words here. Gianfranco Parolini was a director in the twilight of his career. It speaks to his level of delusion that he convinced himself (and tried to convince others) that Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century would catapult him into Hollywood. Nothing could be further from the truth. His next (and final) directorial effort would only arrive a full decade later in the form of the Raiders Of the Lost Ark (1981) informed jungle adventure The Secret of the Incas' Empire (1987). It’s not the kind of end to wish upon anybody, especially not someone like Parolini who arguably had a classic or two to his name. Likewise it’s a small miracle that Antonella Interlenghi was able to get away from this unscathed and build a modest but respectable career for herself. Most surprisingly does Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century not only boast la Antonella but also pushes an admirable anti-capitalist, environmentalist message that’s absolutely germane to Italian productions of this decade. In the decade of garish excess, in the decade of the giallo and gothic horror revivalism here was a family movie (or at least something aimed squarely at a younger audience) offering a voice of dissent. If for nothing else (except la Antonella) Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century should be considered a classic. Thankfully, Antonella would go on to bigger and better things.

Plot: cyborg flees into the desert after ignoring his programming.

Hands Of Steel (released domestically as Vendetta dal Futuro, and in France as Atomic Cyborg) answers the question that nobody asked: what if The Terminator (1984) ignored his programming, fled into the Arizona desert and took up armwrestling in some remote divebar instead? It’s the kind of movie that only the Italians could and would make. Who else could come up with a cross between The Terminator (1984) and Over the Top (1987) on the budget of the average Filipino action movie? Hands Of Steel often feels as if it’s three movies mashed crudely into one. It bounces between a pedestrian sports movie, a dystopian science-fiction thriller low on intelligence and production values, and a brass-knuckles actioner without crunch. It’s emblematic of mid-to-late 1980s Italian action. The concept and ideas are far too ambitious for the meager budget it was alotted. 6 credited screenwriters, a seventh for additional dialog. Not a coherent line anywhere – and Swedish minx Janet Ågren, sadly, keeps her clothes on. Never before were Blade Runner (1982) and The Terminator (1984) pilfered so expertly. At least not until Bruno Mattei’s craptacular Shocking Dark (1989) and the 2010 Mainland China exploitation boom almost twenty years later.

The Italian shlock movie industry took a heavy blow in the eighties when wide theatrical releases for cheap, imported titles in North America, once their biggest market and sure-fire way to turn a profit, became scarce. The nascent home video market became the new home of exploitation and shlock of various stripe. This unfortunately also meant that belts were tightened and producers/directors no longer were able to commandeer the kind of budgets and resources that they once had in prior decades. Hands Of Steel is not 2019 – After the Fall Of New York (1983), it’s barely above Giuseppe Vari’s post-nuke swansong Urban Warriors (1987), where bit players Bruno Bilotta and Alex Vitale would land their own feature, but that is faint praise. Hands Of Steel wishes it was half as good and action-packed as The Raiders Of Atlantis (1983). Unfortunately it is anything but. Not even John Saxon and Janet Ågren can save it from relentless drudgery. Hands Of Steel is painfully glorious and gloriously painful.

Sergio Martino was a director who dabbled in every genre under the sun. Among other things, he launched the career of French model-turned-actress Edwige Fenech through a series of bubbly commedia sexy all’italiana and stylish gialli. Fenech had just completed a string of German comedies, including the bubbly The Sweet Pussycats (1969). Earlier in the year Top Sensation (1969) had launched Edy as the hottest and most in-demand starlet in Italian genre cinema. In his storied four decade career Martino directed offerings as diverse as Arizona Colt, Hired Gun (1970), The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1970), All Colors Of the Dark (1972), Torso (1973), Mountain Of the Cannibal God (1978), Cream Puffs (1981), 2019 – After the Fall Of New York (1983), and Beyond Kilimanjaro, Across the River of Blood (1990). Whoever thought it was a good idea to let comedy specialist Martino direct a sci-fi/action romp clearly had no clue what his forté was. It’s probably the same skewed and random decisionmaking that led to Marino Girolami directing Zombie Holocaust (1980). Hands Of Steel isn’t Martino’s finest moment, but it’s more or less on the same level as the action-adventure dross Antonio Margheriti and Enzo G. Castellari were churning out around this time.

In the far-flung future past of 1997 pollution has ravaged the Earth and made it nigh on uninhabitable. Turner Corporation CEO Francis Turner (John Saxon) sees his bottom line threatened by the preachings of blind wheelchair-bound environmentalist guru Reverend Arthur Moseley (Franco Fantasia). He sends out cyborg soldier Paco Queruak (Daniel Greene), the most efficient and reliable in his product line, to quell the rebellion by taking out its leader. Upon reaching his target Queruak is plagued by memories of the past, only wounding the Reverend and fleeing into the nearby Arizona desert. At the local motel he meets Linda (Janet Ågren), who is in need of a handyman. Linda’s abode is the gathering spot for local armwrestlers, truckers and general troublemakers. Linda’s tavern is decorated with pictures from wrestlers Bruno Sammartino, Hillbilly Jim, Magnum TA and Dory Funk, Jr. One day working for Linda, Queruak draws the ire of perrennally sweaty Méxican no-good trucker Raul Morales (Luigi Montefiori, as George Eastman) and Tri-State arm-wrestling champion Anatolo Blanco (Darwyn Swalve). Queruak’s creator Professor Olster (Donald O’Brien) is paid a visit by Turner’s mercenaries Peter Howell (Claudio Cassinelli) and Hunt (Sergio Testori) – and when he fails to stop them, Linda is threatened at gunpoint by cyborg assassins Eddie (Andrea Coppola, as Andrew Louis Coppola) and Susie (Daria Nicolodi). Paco intervenes and things come to a violent, fiery clash. The fate of mankind will not be decided by some apocalyptic nuclear war, but in a fierce close-quarters confrontation.

The main portion of Hands Of Steel concerns itself with Queruak’s travails in and around the desert motel, his conflict with Raul Morales and his relationship with Janet Ågren’s Linda. Janet Ågren had come off Eaten Alive! (1980), City Of the Living Dead (1981) and Red Sonja (1985) and apparently this wasn’t enough to forward her starpower beyond redundant impoverished genre exercises like this. Hands Of Steel also features that other Italian low-budget action star of the 80s, Bruno Bilotta (popularly known as Karl Landgren) as one of the Reverend’s security detail. Other notables include the late, great John Saxon and an uncredited Daria Nicolodi as a rival cyborg assassin. Hands Of Steel is a typical example of the genre were it not that it anticipates Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987), Universal Soldier (1992), and Albert Pyun’s Nemesis (1992) as its conflicted cyborg protagonist struggles with his programming and what is left of his humanity. Likewise does it pre-date the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling epic Over the Top (1987) by a single year. Martino films the whole with detached bemused disinterest as this is clearly not his wheelhouse. Hands Of Steel would’ve been blissfully forgotten were it not that Claudio Cassinelli was killed in an on-set helicopter crash during filming, necessitating the third-act disposing of his character. In between there’s enough techno-babble and arm-wrestling for everybody.

The nominal star of Hands Of Steel is Daniel Greene. Greene was an American television actor that somehow ended up in Italian exploitation trash as Hammerhead (1987), Soldier of Fortune (1990), and Condor (1990). In the late nineties he had his scenes deleted in the Farrelly brothers comedy There's Something About Mary (1998). Greene later had parts in other Farrelly brothers comedies as Me, Myself & Irene (2000), Shallow Hall (2001), and Stuck On You (2003). Janet Ågren was a Swedish model whose Nordic beauty sparked a quarter-century long career. Ågren debuted in The Two Crusaders (1968) and was a fixture in commedia sexy all’Italiana for several years. Somehow she escaped the fate that befell Christina Lindberg, Solveig Andersson, and Marie Forså. In the eighties Janet found herself in Eaten Alive! (1980), City Of the Living Dead (1980) and the considerably more high-profile Red Sonja (1985), but also in a Filipino The Karate Kid (1984) knockoff called The Boy With the Golden Kimono (1987). Suffice to say Ågren was no Gloria Guida, Barbara Bouchet, Sabrina Siani, Mónica Zanchi, or Cinzia Monreale. No, Ågren was far too classy and much too pretty for grubby exploitation and she never allowed herself to suffer the sordid degradation and assorted indignities that some of her contemporaries subjected themselves to.

The odds were certainly stacked against Hands Of Steel. Elisa Briganti (as Elisabeth Parker Jr.), Dardano Sacchetti, and Ernesto Gastaldi all contributed to the script – but 6 writers do not a decent script make. Production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng had worked on Eaten Alive! (1980), City Of the Living Dead (1981), 2019 - After the Fall Of New York (1983), Hercules (1983) and its sequel The Adventures Of Hercules (1985) as well as The Ark Of the Sun God (1984) and Dellamorte Dellamore (1994). Clearly Geleng couldn’t make more of what little he had been given. Director of photography Giancarlo Ferrando (as John McFerrand) lensed a lot of commedia sexy all’Italiana and he’s clearly out of his element here. Sadly, he would go on to work with Alfonso Brescia on Cross Mission (1988) where the only ray of light was one-time wonder Brigitte Porsche.

Spaghetti western and peplum monument Franco Fantasia is wasted as Reverend Arthur Moseley, a role that gives him nothing to do. He clearly was a long way from Kriminal (1966), Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972), Murder Mansion (1972), Mountain Of the Cannibal God (1978), Zombie (1979), and Eaten Alive! (1980). Decades prior he was in big budget Hollywood peplums as Ben-Hur (1959), and Quo Vadis (1951). Donald O’Brien was a regular in Italian schlock and can be seen in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977), the original The Inglorious Bastards (1978), Zombie Holocaust (1980), 2020 Texas Gladiators (1983), and Warriors of the Year 2072 (1984). In short, Hands Of Steel is nobody’s finest hour. Except maybe that of George Eastman, whose excursions seldom ventured beyond trash auteur Joe D’Amato and his assorted ilk. Sadly, it never gets quite as absurd as The Raiders Of Atlantis (1983).

Hands Of Steel is one of those cynical pastiches from the once-flourishing Italian exploitation industry that were becoming a dying breed at that point. Over the course of the same decade were birthed Contamination (1980), Nightmare City (1980), and Alien 2: On Earth (1980) to name some of the most infamous. Hands Of Steel dared answer the question that James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) never asked: what if the Terminator struggled with his programming and instead of protecting his target took up menial work and armwrestling instead?

It’s the sort of question that Mainland China would provide plenty of possible answers for in the 2010s, but Italy got there first. Hands Of Steel might not be Sergio Martino’s best work, or anybody's for that matter, really. The Terminator (1984) spawned exactly one good sequel that did not dilute from its original vision. It did begat a slew of canonical sequels that have done irreparable harm to the brand. It’s difficult to hold a grudge against something innocent as this when the Hollywood machine does so much damage all by itself.