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  Steel and Lace Sexy cyborg set to kill
Year: 1991
Director: Ernest Farino
Stars: Claire Wren, Bruce Davison, Stacy Haiduk, David McNaughton, Michael Cerveris, Scott Burkholder, Paul Lieber, Brian Backer, John J. York, Nick Tate, David L. Lander, John DeMita, Brenda Swanson, Cindy Brooks, Hank Garrett
Genre: Sex, Thriller, Trash, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: After enduring a gang rape classical pianist Gaily Morton (Claire Wren) suffers the added injustice of seeing the perpetrator, yuppie scumbag Daniel Emerson (Michael Cerveris) acquitted in court. Thanks to the testimony of his four friends. A distraught Gaily flings herself off a rooftop leaving her devoted brother, brilliant scientist Albert (Bruce Davison), devastated. Five years later Danny and his pals are rich business partners forcing vulnerable people out of their homes to make way for more lucrative properties. One night a car breakdown leaves one of the group, Craig (John J. York), stranded until a sexy blonde (Cindy Brooks) in a tight blouse and pink miniskirt happens along offering him a ride. It is not long before they are fooling around at a motel room. Whereupon a robotic drill pops out from between the girl's breasts to eviscerate Craig. Right after she rips off her synthetic skin revealing herself as Gaily, revived by Albert as a murderous cyborg bent on revenge.

For some reason video rental stores in the early Nineties were inundated with 'sexy cyborg lady' B-movies. Set beside Eve of Destruction (1991) and the atrocious Robo-C.H.I.C. (1990), Steel and Lace stands out by virtue of some quirky flourishes, intriguing melancholy drama and sporadically stylish direction by Ernest Farino, a visual effects artist who worked on The Terminator (1984) and The Thing (1982). While not up to that standard the gory effects (including the aforementioned drill murder, and a victim drained to a withering husk during sex) are a lot of fun even if Gaily's cyborg super-powers seem somewhat inconsistent. Interestingly our semi-automated anti-heroine bears a name somewhat similar to 'Gally': the original moniker of the titular wide-eyed cyber-waif from the Japanese manga and anime Battle Angel Alita (1993), later remade as the live action Hollywood film Alita: Battle Angel (2019). Maybe creator Yukito Kishiro was a fan of this obscure American offering.

Co-produced by DTV staple David DeCoteau (who mercifully did not direct), Steel and Lace is essentially a sci-fi twist on a Seventies rape-revenge thriller. I Spit on Your Grave (1978) by way of Robocop (1987) if you will. Co-writers Joseph Dougherty (an accomplished playwright and veteran of film and television) and Dave Edison adopt a seduce-and-kill story structure evoking such varied Cornell Woolrich-inspired forerunners as Fran├žois Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black (1967) and Jess Franco's She Killed in Ecstasy (1970). However this story is enveloped by a secondary plot centered on Alison (Stacy Haiduk), a neurotic courtroom sketch artist turned amateur sleuth, and her efforts to unravel the murder mystery. Aided by her grouchy ex-boyfriend Detective Dunn played by An American Werewolf in London (1981) star David Naughton (whom Alison inexplicably nicknames: 'Clippy' (?)). Alison comes across as an unusually dispassionate heroine, a detail hard to discern as intentional or not. Her prosaic subplot regrettably saps momentum from the more compelling duo of beleaguered-obsessive mad scientist Albert and his tormented creation Gaily who grapples with an identity crisis.

While the filmmakers a knack for winningly weird set-ups with scenes that suggest Steel and Lace was intended to be at least partly satirical (e.g. various novelty deaths; a weirdly homoerotic encounter between informant Toby (Scott Burkholder) and an FBI agent (John DeMita) who sprouts breasts and morphs into Gaily; Danny's casual indifference during a moment of silence honoring Craig's death), other sequences are played for utmost solemnity. Clare Wren and Bruce Davison bring a pathos and conviction to their tragic roles that serve to elevate the fundamentally cheesy B-movie nature of the plot. Indeed the melancholy finale is downright affecting though it is still hard not to laugh when someone shouts "somebody get a doctor over here!" right after a man gets decapitated by a helicopter blade.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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