ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sean grew up watching Chiller Theater from Pittsburgh and has been a drive-in enthusiast for the last six years. Sean enjoys all genres but has become interested in Italian horror, thriller and action movies most recently.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of Sam’s favorite movies to write about. As such, it’s appeared on the site before, first appearing on June 24, 2018, and then again as part of our Mill Creek Pure Terror Month on November 5, 2019.
Hands of Steel (1986) is the tale of two films divided by the sad death of actor Claudio Cassinelli. By 1986, the copycat Italian film industry was in full swing. A major influence was Terminator spawning many sci-fi actioners. Hands of Steel was directed by Sergio Martino and produced by his brother Luciano Martino under Dania Film. To capture American audiences the Martino brothers were credited under pseudonyms – directed by Martin Dolman and produced by Frank Cook. A major sign of the schizophrenic nature of the script is that Hands of Steel had 7 credited screenwriters. The budget was largely spent on location shooting and stuntwork.
So first the story: Hands of Steel begins in a dystopian future New York City, shades of Soylent Green. Daniel Greene in one of his first starring film roles, after many TV appearances, portrays a cyborg assassin sent to kill a leading pollical candidate. Greene begins to feel emotions and flees the city. Big corporate bad John Saxon sics his top agent portrayed by Robert Bisacco after the cyborg. Here the film shifts to location shooting in a sparse Arizona setting.
After failing to capture Greene’s cyborg, John Saxon orders Bisacco’s assassin “fired” (killed) and new corporate hunter played by Claudio Cassinelli is now sent out to kill the cyborg. Along the way Greene becomes entangled with a bar owner played by Janet Agren which further awakens his emotions and memories. In addition to being chased by a corporate assassin, Greene runs afoul of George Eastman’s evil truck driver. After Cassellini fails to kill Greene’s cyborg, John Saxon’s character comes to Arizona to “fire” Cassellini and take care of the cyborg himself. A tense showdown with many chases and explosions eventually leads to the film’s final showdown between Greene’s cyborg and Saxon’s big bad. Admirably, Martino ends with an unresolved situation between Greene’s cyborg and Agren’s bar owner.
So what happened? Due to scheduling and/or budgeting, the outdoor and action set-pieces were shot first on location in Arizona. Tragically, Claudio Castellini and his Helicopter Pilot were killed during filming the stunt of flying their helicopter under a high-span bridge. Their craft hit the steel span of the bridge and plummeted over 500 feet into the Colorado River below. The Pilot was never recovered but prescribed drug (appetite suppressant) was found in his room. Controversial to this day, is why Cassellini was in the aircraft. Director Sergio Martino insists Cassellini wanted to impress his son. Whereas actors George Eastman and Daniel Greene challenged the need for Cassellini to be in the helicopter for such a long shot.
Castellini’s death left all the early New York City scenes unfilmed. It led to Martino and the 7 screenwriters to overhaul the script by creating the Bisacco corporate assassin first, have him replaced by Castellini, and then have John Saxon take over for the conclusion. Sharp observers will note the rapid cutting of the medium shot of Cassellini’s “firing” with an apparent double. Hands of Steel makes the most of its low budget with some decent action set pieces. Sadly, Claudio Castellini didn’t live to finish the film and go on to continued success. Daniel Greene went on to a prosperous career in action films, many more with Director Sergio Martino. In a surprising turnabout, Hands of Steel may have influenced an American film in return. Universal Soldier (1992) anyone?