Friday, September 09, 2016

097. Hands of Steel and 098. Chain Gang Women

Jump to Chain Gang Women (1971)

097. Hands of Steel aka Atomic Cyborg aka Vendetta dal futuro(1986)
Director: Sergio Martino
Writers: Sergio Martino, Elisa Briganti, John Crowther, Ernesto Gastaldi, Dardano Sacchetti, and Saul Sasha with additional dialogue by Lewis E. Ciannelli, from a story by Sergio Martino
From:Sci-Fi Invasion; Pure Terror

A cyborg dispatched to assassinate an ecologist defies his orders and ends up hiding out in an Arizona arm-wrestling bar.

We open with a montage of urban landscapes collapsing under the weight of industrialization, the homeless bent under the weight of their lives. Billboards and posters featuring the messianic environmentalist Rev. Mosley are everywhere with his hopeful rallying cry, “You have no future.” I'm sorry, but isn't the despotic, dystopian message supposed to be put forth by the villain? This is the first sign that the movie, if it's going to have a message, is going to muddle it completely.

Mosley is supposed to give a speech that night at a rally, but Paco Queruak (who not only looks nothing like a Paco, looks like he's never met anyone named Paco) breaks into Mosley's hotel room and punches the blind, wheelchair-bound leader in the stomach so hard that Mosley's spleen ruptures.

Paco escapes, driving through acid rain that literally eats through his car. He trades it in at a junkyard for one that gets him into Arizona before breaking down. Rather than abandon the car, Paco shoves it over a cliff where it flips countless times and then, of course, explodes. He walks to a bar he sees in the distance where he meets Linda, the owner. She tells him arm wrestling is popular in this area and sets him to work chopping wood out back.

Meanwhile, Turner (Jon Saxon! Hooray!), the villainous owner of a company that was often targeted for criticism by Mosley, has dispatched people to capture and kill Paco. Turner funded Paco's creation and so Paco's trainer finds the doctor that made Paco a cyborg and kills him. Then Turner's agent kills Paco's trainer and hooks up with a hitman to track Paco down.

At the bar, Paco gets into an altercation with Raul, a generic asshole, and beats him at arm wrestling. Raul then tries to fight Paco and Paco defeats everyone in the bar. The next day, Raul returns with the tri-state champion to challenge Paco to an arm-wrestling match, Indian style: the loser's hand is pressed into a box containing a rattlesnake. Paco agrees, but Raul sets him up to get beaten and stranded in the desert. Paco makes it to the match anyway, defeats the champ, and kills the rattler just before it's about to bite the guy.

The FBI figure out the assassin must have been a cyborg and start catching up to Paco, the hitmen find out exactly where he is, and Paco tells Linda that he was sent to kill Mosley but found the will not to. All the forces collide with Turner sending a female cyborg to kill Paco, Raul betrays Paco once more and gets killed, and Paco eventually kills all of Turner's men as well as Turner himself. As he emerges from the final battle, the FBI descends asking him to surrender and Linda tries to convince him he won't be harmed. He reveals a head wound to her that only shows circuitry and suggests that Paco never existed, that he's been a robot all along. The film ends with a title card saying this is the start of “the era of the cyborg.”

Does this help? This doesn't help.
I'd like to say this is a solid slice of 80's Italian cheese with Jon Saxon adding a side of ham, mostly because I think that phrase is clever. The movie never quite gets crazy enough, though. Raul's death, for instance, should be over-the-top and laughably bad. Instead, Paco squeezes Raul's head. No bulging eyes, no blood, no pop, just “squeeze. . . dead.” Likewise, Paco kills Turner by literally tearing his heart out, but we never see the heart or the hole. Commit to your silliness movie!

There are hints at the beginning that this will be some ham-fisted, post-apocalyptic message movie about the environment—you have a messianic environmentalist as the assassination target and then Paco drives through an area of acid rain that literally has a sign posted for it! All that disappears once we get to the bar and the movie becomes truckers arm wrestling. Finally we close with an extended action sequence that has some ambition—the female cyborg echoes Evil Dead nicely—but not much.

The movie's just relentlessly okay. It's never overtly bad or especially boring, but it never rises to the point of doing anything interesting either. This was featured on Best of the Worst #28, and they drill down to the best parts pretty nicely.

098. Chain Gang Women (1971)
Director: Lee Frost
Writers: Lee Frost and Wes Bishop
From: Cult Cinema

Billy Harris is assigned to the chain gang with just six months left on his sentence. When his fellow inmate decides to escape, Billy is, literally, dragged along, and has to manage the moods of the increasingly-dangerous Weed.

Billy Harris only has six months left on his marijuana charge but, due to bad luck, is taken off his job in the prison library and sent to the chain gang at the hard labor camp. He's chained to Mike Weed, a man doing life for having murdered a girl. When the other prisoners revolt, Weed forces Harris to escape with him since neither can go alone.

Harris' girlfriend lives in the nearby town so the pair meet up with her. Their first day there, Weed sends Harris to buy clothes and then rapes his girlfriend. She tries to help them escape into Atlanta, but they're turned back by a roadblock. Weed hunts down a ranch for them to lay low at and Harris sends his girlfriend away.

The ranch is owned by an old man and his child bride. They tie up the old man and Weed rapes the girl in front of him. The girl begs Harris to take her with them when they leave because she's essentially a prisoner of the old man.

The trio try to take back roads but run into another roadblock. They return to the ranch only to find that the old man has escaped. He sneaks up on Weed, chokes him to death, and then shoots Harris. The final scene is him telling his wife to go to bed and that, “Everything's going to be just like it always was.”

A title that promises disappointment and yet still manages to surprise with its lows. The movie starts out all right with Billy being put upon, but takes a hard turn at the first rape. PS. I just had to use the phrase “first rape” when discussing a movie. That could be the whole review.

The expectation from that starting point is that Billy is going to get away or, at least, that the story will be about him trying and failing to get away. He ends up taking a backseat, though, to Mike Raperson and his wacky misadventures. If that weren't enough, we then get the child bride situation that's literally set up with Weed and Harris looking at the old man through a window, describing the girl as his daughter, and then watching them have sex. It's revealed later that she's only 17. So, yeah, add a sprinkling of that to your movie.

The movie loses its way when it decides it wants to be edgy. Until then it's a slow, but alright escape flick. Twice, during the chase scenes, the screen splits into four parts that are sometimes showing different images, sometimes four copies of the same one. It's a nice, simple effect and I wish the rest of the movie had lived up to that one bit of cleverness. Definitely not a recommend.

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