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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.

Plot: alien lifeform rids the Earth of politicians, lawyers, and corporations.

I Am Here…. Now is the second of Neil Breen’s religious-patriotic-jingoistic supernatural thrillers and the one where all beloved Breenisms coagulated into their known form. As a faux-New Age spiritualist interpretation of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) it’s built around a Tuscarora Indian proverb and about as incomprehensible as Double Down (2005) before it. Just like the Robert Wise science fiction classic before it I Am Here…. Now too pushes an environmentalist agenda that promotes renewable energy and sustainability while simultaneously addressing more contemporary social problems as poverty, prostitution, and inner-city violence. Las Vegas’ own Christian geek green-Marxist, as Narnarland has lovingly dubbed him, is at it again and I Am Here…. Now is brilliant for all the wrong reasons. “I’m disappointed in your species,also sprach Neil Breen as he clubs the viewer over the head with heavy-handed, overt Christian symbolism. Where royalty-free stock footage goes, trashy braless women follow…

In the Nevada desert a meteor crashes and when the smoke clears a translucent glass paper weight is revealed. Materializing from the glass orb is The Being (Neil Breen) who takes human form and is clad in virgin white robes. Circuitry protrudes from his arms and chest, he bears stigmata on his hands and occassionally reverts back to his alien form. The Being is omnipotent and omniscient; ageless, and eternal – and he has created the Earth and everything on it as one of his “experiments.” Now, after countless thousands of years, he has returned to observe his creation. In the distance six crosses have been erected. The Being waggles across the desert landscape, passing disembodied doll heads until he comes across a skull. He picks it up saying, “I’m disappointed in your species,” after which he procures civilian clothing from a couple of heroin addicts (Ali Banks, and Tommie Vegas, as Tommie Lee Vasquez). Assuring them that, “it's only temporary,” he zaps them unconscious before imprisoning them in between dimensions. The Being takes the couple’s pick-up and heads for Las Vegas, a den of godlessness and vice. Humanity has fallen for the pursuit of material things and succumbed to greed. Capitalism is on the verge of depleting Earth’s resources and the natural environment is collapsing. The Being is the way, prepare for salvation…

On the sidewalks of Las Vegas Boulevard Cindy (Elizabeth Sekora) and her wild twin sister Amber (Joy Senn) (who looks nothing like her, but who has a similar fashion sense), both environmentalism activists, learn that they have been laid off by the renewable energies company they have been working for. “The poor economy” and “corporate corruption and greed” are to blame. Taking her baby out for a stroll Cindy and Amber discuss what they are to do. Amber suggests Cindy makes a living as a stripper and prostitute. Something which she has been doing all this time, apparently. Meanwhile a corporatist (George Gingerelli), politician (Jason Perrin), and lawyer (Ron Schoenewolf) are conspiring to keep renewable energy such as solar - and wind-turbine power from becoming legislated. On the other end of town Amber’s no-good boyfriend Aron (Med Jast) turns to petty theft and joining the local street gang to make ends meet. En route to their first escort job together Cindy and Amber run into the gang Aron wants to join. The Being helps a cancer-stricken, terminally ill senior citizen (Herbert Allen, as Hebert Allen) in realizing his dying wish: to see the “welcome to Las Vegas” street sign. On his way home wheelchair man runs into Cindy pushing her stroller. This prompts The Being to rejuvenate him so that he (Eduard Osipov) can be a family with a strange woman he met mere seconds before. Aron is summarily killed when he fails to pay his respects to his senior hoodlums.

Somewhere after Cindy’s descent into prostitution and before Aron being killed on the street Amber and The Being engage in a steamy affair. Amber feels that she has found the man that can tame her wild ways and make an honest woman out of her. The Being meanwhile has more pressing business to attend to. Business that doesn’t involve fondling women half his age. The Being has selected six corrupt One-Percenters to crucify in the Nevada desert. The crucified ones will act as a fair and final warning to humanity to redeem itself. The selected six One-Percenters represent the classes in cahoots with the drug cartel running cocaine across the Mexican border. The same cartel that operated a prostitution ring that employed Amber part-time. On his way across the desert The Being returns the two heroin addicts from whom he borrowed the ragged clothes. Amber, realizing that she has known The Being in lives past, desperately chases him across the desert begging to take her with him. Her tearful pleads fall on deaf ears as The Being reverts back to his alien form before returning to his translucent glass orb and departing for the stars from whence he came. If humanity fails to redeem itself now that the political –, corporate -, and financial class have been wiped out he will return to destroy Earth and everything on it once and for all.

When Mainland China pushes their environmentalist agenda of renewable energy they have the wisdom to cast models/hostesses as Frieda Hu Meng-Yuan (胡梦媛) or Miki Zhang Yi-Gui (张已桂) in productions as Angel Warriors (2013) or My Magic Girlfriend (2017), respectively. When Neil Breen does it, he casts complete unknowns. Breen is never in the habit of casting the same actress twice and unlike Rene Perez he doesn’t seem to have a muse. Perhaps Neil Breen uses his movies as preamble to meet beautiful women. Who knows? I Am Here…. Now is prescient in the casting of Joy Senn as she’s the embodiment of Breen’s ideal vision of feminine perfection. In that sense Senn is a precursor to Jennifer Autry, Victoria Viveiros, and Sara Meritt. Joy Senn and Elizabeth Sekora are average looking and not nearly as well-endowed as later Breen babes and their wardrobe consists of unbuttoned tank tops with spaghetti straps and short denim shorts exclusively. At one point both strip out of their tiny bikinis but immediately cover themselves up for modesty. Likewise is Tommie Vegas wasted on a glorified cameo appearance. Vegas is no Aria Song or Ginny You but she doesn’t exit without having her blue tank top fully unbuttoned and her breasts nearly falling out first. Of the entire cast only Tommie Vegas and Eduard Osipov have something resembling an actual career. Vegas would probably feel right at home with The Asylum, TomCat Films, or Rene Perez.

Breen’s disdain for the political – and corporate elite is well established by this point. While he’s highlighting a very real problem within global politics, namely corruption and greed, his solutions are usually quite drastic. In Double Down (2005) he caused the death of millions of innocents across a tri-state area by spiking the watersupply with anthrax. He also threatened mass civilian casualties if his character’s demands weren’t met. Here he resorts to similar draconic measures by advocating mass genocide for an entire class. Neil would take a similar stand in his magnum opus Fateful Findings (2013) where his character drove politicians and corporatists to commit mass suicide in public. Notably absent are the rock/mineral lending divine powers, and the lost Lenore that typically is central to driving the plot forward. That his alien resembles Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein from The Misfits is funny enough all by itself. The silicon messiah would resurface again in Pass Thru (2016) (where Breen ascends out of a drug-infested homeless commune) and he would play the titular twins in Twisted Pair (2018). Neil has never hidden his celestial pretensions, and doesn’t so here either. That Breen encounters a pair of heroin addicts in the desert foreshadows Pass Thru (2016).

That Breen is something of a crusader and a defender of the Christian faith was evident as early as Double Down (2005). I Am Here…. Now foregoes what little subtlety (that is to say, none) the past Breen feature had, and is littered with heavy-handed, overt symbolism. To wit, it begins with Breen literally coming off a wooden cross in white robes bearing (one-sided) stigmata; early on there’s a shot of six crosses on a desert stretch, probably meant to resemble mount Calvary; The Being has regenerative powers (he restores at least two clipped roses), and occassionally performs miracles such as healing/rejuvenating the terminally ill man in the wheelchair, which was probably meant to resemble the healing at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-16). Less subtle (but no less overt) is the fact that Amber has angel wings tattooed on her shoulder-blades; and acts as a sort of Mary Magdalene to Breen’s Christ figure. To really drive home the point I Am Here…. Now closes with a re-enactment of the touching the hand of God from the famous Michelangelo fresco The Creation of Adam. The entire thing is wrapped in oblique Native American and New Age mysticism, and the credits include the Tuscarora Indian proverb, “Man has responsibility, not power.” It’s probably meant to insinuate that Breen is concerned about the plight of America’s indigenous peoples, but there’s no hard evidence to substantiate that assertion.

That I Am Here…. Now was ripe for reimagining and expansion was a foregone conclusion. Breen would do exactly that with the double-whammy that was Pass Thru (2016) and Twisted Pair (2018). With his second feature Neil Breen evidenced that he wasn’t shy about recycling concepts and characters, and his apparent god complex wouldn’t diminish in light of his cult following as a fringe filmmaker. Instead of improving Breen seems to sink ever deeper in the throes of insanity. I Am Here…. Now offers no novel insights into the human condition and while the message it’s pushing is relevant enough, Breen fails to make much of a case for, well, basically anything. Neil Breen embodies some of the worst aspects of independent filmmaking. Neil Johnson he most certainly is not. Breen probably loves cinema judging by what he chooses to imitate, but he has no understanding of either cinematic language or any of its technical aspects. The lesser said about his writing the better. It makes you wonder whether there was even a screenplay. As always Breen’s supernatural thrillers are hardly ever thrilling and not nearly as “controversial” or “thought-provoking” as he probably imagines them to be. Not that Breen is any good at action direction either, as Twisted Pair (2018) would amply evince almost a decade down the line.