Steel and Lace (1991)

Steel & Lace…A Deadly Combination.

Cover image for 1991's Steel and Lace

After the man who raped her is set free based on fraudulent courtroom testimony provided by his cronies, Gaily Morton (Clare Wren) commits suicide…but 5 years later, she returns from the grave to make them pay for their crimes. Well, she kind of returns, but it’s certainly not from the grave. Her brother Albert (Bruce Davison) has put his background in Artificial Intelligence technology to good use and built a robot in her exact image, outfitted with numerous disguises, equipped with cutting edge murder weapons, and programmed to kill.

With a concept as fantastical as this, STEEL AND LACE ought to be a lot of goofy fun. And indeed parts of it are, including the over-the-top violence and gore scenes, but too often it gets caught up in the more down-to-earth procedural side, when really we just want more sexy robo-vigilante action. Is that too much to ask? In this movie, it really shouldn’t be.

STEEL AND LACE is an early 90s sci-fi spin on the rape-and-revenge genre that was most prevalent in prior decades. The exploitation element that is commonly found in those films is significantly downplayed here, however. The movie opens at the trial, well after the rape has occurred, and that scene is only played briefly in flashback. Contrast this with the content of the Big Mamas of the rape-revenge films, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and you’ll understand that STEEL AND LACE had loftier aspirations.

That’s not to say that the filmmakers skip on all the naughty bits. The rape scene may play out tastefully (comparatively speaking), but there are gruesome scenes of violence that rush right in to fill the void. There’s a particularly juicy death scene where a man has a massive hole drilled through his chest during a romantic embrace; and another less-juicy one where a man is left looking like a dehydrated husk after all his bodily fluids are sucked out of him. One guess where robo-Gaily sucked the fluids out from (off camera, of course).

Rapist Daniel Emerson (Michael Cerveris) and his four cronies are the prototypical Yuppie Scum. They represent the dark side of the 1980s, and the greedy and immoral menace that so frightens and fascinates artists in retrospect—see AMERICAN PSYCHO and television series PROFIT, among others. But their outrageous behavior seems so exaggerated that they come off as caricatures, or more accurately cartoons. Coupled with the absurd premise, this gives the proceedings the feeling of being an adaptation of a comic book that doesn’t exist. Like DARKMAN, but somewhat less effective and entertaining.

Finger zap scene from 1991's Steel and Lace

Robo-Gaily may have Come Hither eyes, but they’re actually miniature cameras that broadcast her activities back to homebase, where Albert watches on. Albert getting his voyeuristic kicks while watching and directing the violence is kinky enough on its own, but the fact that Gaily typically seduces her victims first—also watched and directed by Albert—brings it up to a whole new level. One probably doesn’t want to think too deeply about the incestuous implications at work here.

Overall, STEEL AND LACE is quite a bit of fun when it isn’t getting bogged down in the procedural side-story that has police detective Dunn (David Naughton) investigating the murders with the assistance of his ex-girlfriend and courtroom sketch artist (of all things) Alison (Stacy Haiduk). It’s difficult to care about these two people or their troubled romantic history when we know what’s happening elsewhere in the film. We simply want more time with sick puppy Albert and his robotic hitwoman sex toy, and any time away feels like we’re being deprived of the zaniness that we’re here to see.

STEEL AND LACE was written by Joseph Dougherty and Dave Edison. Dougherty went on to find success on television shows and TV movies, including THIRTYSOMETHING (1988-1991), CAST A DEADLY SPELL (1991), ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN (1993), RAVENSWOOD (2013-2014), and PRETTY LITTLE LIARS (2010-), while Edison would become an editor.

Directing duties went to Ernest D. Farino, whose only other credits in this capacity are a few episodes of MONSTERS (1988-1991), LAND OF THE LOST (1991-1992), and two entries in the JOSH KIRBY…TIME WARRIOR franchise for Charles Band (1995, 1996). He is otherwise known for various capacities in visual effects, with a filmography that includes THE THING (1982), THE TERMINATOR (1984), TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990), and miniseries FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (1998), among many others.

Bruce Davison from 1991's Steel and Lace

As for the cast, many of them will be recognizable by genre fans. Our anti-heroes: Clare Wren can be found in crime drama NO MAN’S LAND (1987) and thrillers SEASON OF FEAR (1988) and MIDNIGHT EDITION (1993), as well as western series THE YOUNG RIDERS (1992-1993). Bruce Davison was of course in WILLARD (1971), prison flick SHORT EYES (1977), X-MEN (2000) and X-MEN 2 (2003), Stephen King miniseries KINGDOM HOSPITAL (2004), Rob Zombie’s THE LORDS OF SALEM (2012), and literally hundreds of others.

Our heroes: Stacy Haiduk got her first major movie role in LUTHER THE GEEK (1990) and also appears in the TV series SUPERBOY (1988-1992), SKETCH ARTIST (1992), vampire series KINDRED: THE EMBRACED (1996), and many more, but found success in the soapier side of things with MELROSE PLACE (1997), ALL MY CHILDREN (2007-2008), DAYS OF OUR LIVES (2010), and THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS (2009-2016). David Naughton may be most well known for his role in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), but he can also be found in THE SLEEPING CAR (1990), AMITYVILLE: A NEW GENERATION (1993), anthology horror BODY BAGS (1993), ICE CREAM MAN (1995), and more up to this day.

Our villains: Michael Cerveris pops up in the misguided sequel ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL FOREVER (1991), CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT (2009), STAKE LAND (2010), and television series FRINGE (2008-2013) where he played The Observer, the most memorable role of his career thus far. Scott Burkholder (Toby) can also be seen in HOUSE IV (1992) and SKETCH ARTIST II: HANDS THAT SEE (1995). Paul Lieber (Oscar) showed up in GURU THE MAD MONK (1970) and KING OF CALIFORNIA (2007). Brian Backer (Norman) appeared in THE BURNING (1981) and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982). And John J. York (Craig) is best remembered for his starring turn in television series WEREWOLF (1987-1988).

The supporting players here put in some strong performances—in some cases more memorable than our leads! Nick Tate (Duncan) played Alan Carter in sci-fi series SPACE: 1999 (1975-1977), while David L. Lander (Schumann) will forever be known as Squiggy from LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY (1976-1983).

Too bad for us that the Fonz never showed up. He may have kept STEEL AND LACE from jumping the damn shark.


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