Revenge movies have been a staple of horror films since almost the beginning of the genre itself, one could even say James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein had an element of revenge to its story, and today we will be looking at another type of “Frankenstein Monster” revenge tale, and this one that takes the premise of “What would happen if you crossed the movie Spit on Your Grave with The Terminator?”
The movie is set in the near future where a pioneer in the field of robotics, Albert Morton (Bruce Davison), takes time off from his career playing with robots to stand by his sister Gaily (Clare Wren) who had been raped and needs his emotional support during the trail. As one expects in this kind of film, the accused rapist Daniel Emerson (Michael Cerveris), who is a successful and clearly evil businessman, is found “not guilty” and this results in a horrified Gaily committing suicide by jumping off the courthouse roof. So yeah, this one gets off to a very dark start. The movie then jumps ahead five years where we find Emerson and his goons forcing old people out of their homes through murder and intimidation, just so he can build a new min-mall on the vacated properties. In case you weren’t paying attention, this guy is evil!
Unfortunately for Emerson, during those five years Albert Morton was not sitting idle as he spent that time resurrecting his dear sibling as a killer cyborg, as one would expect a robotics expert to do. Once completed he sends her out into the world to get revenge on Emerson and the men who lied to protect him. The concept of an android seeking revenge for its creator is not new but the movie takes it to a whole new level by adding the gore and violence that you’d find in your typical 80s slasher film. What makes this entry standout is that the android is not only programmed to seek revenge, which it is very good at, but it also seems to feel reluctant and conflicted about the killings and this aspect is definitely not part of the programming, making it a complex character, one that the audience can actually empathize with.
Sadly, the movie gets a little too bogged down with a subplot dealing with police Detective Dunn (David Naughton) and former Courtroom sketch artist Alison (Stacy Haiduk) who are on the trail of the killer cyborg for their own reasons. Dunn is tasked by the District Attorney’s office to keep a lid on the killings while they build a case against Emerson, meanwhile, Alison’s agent wants her to make a retrospective art book based on her old court drawings – don’t ask me if that is even a viable product – and while these two have some nice attempts at Tracy and Hepburn banter I’d say more time spent with Davison’s grief-stricken scientist would have benefited the script greatly.
• Daniel Emerson’s alibi for the time of the rape is provided by four of his friends, who also participated in the assault, so I’m not sure how that would work.
• Bruce Davison is no stranger to revenge tales as he got payback on those who wronged him in the movie Willard, via a horde of trained rats. I’ll say this, robots are definitely less on the “ick factor” than rats.
• Albert leaves his distraught sister alone in the courthouse stairwell while he goes to confront the press, which was not the best move and puts part of the blame for her death on him.
• The logo of Emerson’s real estate company is a giant hand clutching the Earth, which seems a little on the nose and is more fitting for someone like Blofeld or Doctor Evil.
• The idea of resurrecting someone as a cyborg had already been addressed in Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend, though in that case, the revenge motive wasn’t as cut and dry.
The movie has some impressive special effects, especially for a low-budget 80s flick, and the scenes where the robot transforms from its various disguises into “kill mode” were well executed. The acting is also surprisingly decent for a movie of this genre, with Clare Wren giving a strong performance as this revenge-fuelled robot, and while the supporting cast does a respectable job here, with David Naughton and Stacy Haiduk doing the the best they can with parts that are more than a tad cliche and unnecessary, which adds to the movie’s flaws. The plot is fairly predictable and most of the characters are not all that well fleshed out, certainly not helped out by a script that is plagued with truly some cheesy pieces of dialogue that might make some viewers either cringe or laugh, and while Bruce Davison does his best to portray a man who will do anything to get justice, he is overshadowed by his creation.
Steel and Lace is an entertaining science-fiction thriller that brings a surprising amount of pathos and depth that you don’t tend to find in this genre, and a special shout out to actor David Landers, known by most as Squiggy from Lavern & Shirley, as the overly enthusiastic police coroner who brings a nice amount of comedy to the proceedings. Overall, this movie may not be a masterpiece but it more than delivers on it premise, a fun revenge flick with sci-fi trappings, and this makes it an enjoyable ride for fans of the genre.
Steel and LAce (1991)
Movie Rank - 7/10
With Steel and Lace, director Ernest Farino took a rather promising premise, one that looked at the power of grief, and gave us a rather decent sci-fi revenge flick, one with a nice amount of gore, and while the trappings of the horror genre tended to undercut this theme at times the overall end result was a bleak and powerful impact.