Steel and Lace (1991)

Third review in a week? That’s right! This is one of those years where we get a regular B-Movie Enema review, followed by a Halloween special review, and then, just a couple days later, it’s back to the regular Friday release day!

For this first Friday in November, it’s time to start digging into some of the backlog I’ve accumulated. Most of what’s coming for the rest of 2022 will be made up of movies that I’ve been wanting to get around to, watch, or just write about for some time. So we start by one of the many movies I’ve bought from one of the regular Vinegar Syndrome sales that occur each year, 1991’s Steel and Lace.

I knew nothing about this movie. So why did I want to buy it? Why did I take one look at this cover below and want to spend hard earned money on it?

There’s a lot to unpack here that will explain it. First, that drawing of lead actress Clare Wren is gorgeous. I honestly thought, at first, that was Debbie Harry. Even though it isn’t, it’s still got a sultry look to it. The blood splattered on her face means she’s dangerous too. Hot and dangerous? Oh man, you had me right there, beautiful! But also, the pink hues and sky blue against the stark black background on the box is just aesthetically pleasing. That’s box art completely and totally designed to sell units.

Clare Wren, our lead, wasn’t in a whole lot. She’s not been in anything since an episode of JAG in 2005. However, early on, she did have parts in some recognizable movies. She was in the 1986 Farrah Fawcett vehicle Extremities. She was in No Man’s Land starring Charlie Sheen and written by Law & Order creator Dick Wolf. Then she was in a bunch of TV shows, but never really rose to a prominent leading lady type of role.

On the other hand, Steel and Lace has a couple guys in this movie that are very recognizable. First, Bruce Davison had just recently been nominated for an Oscar for the movie Longtime Companion. Naturally, people of my persuasion know Davison for playing Senator Kelly in the first two X-Men movies. He also played the title character in 1971’s Willard. So yeah, Davison has been in some pretty decent stuff over the decades. The other guy is David Naughton best known for An American Werewolf in London and Ice Cream Man.

Another interesting player in this movie is Stacy Haiduk. At the time of this movie being released in early 1991, Haiduk was playing Lana Lang on the Superboy TV show. Later on, she would appear on SeaQuest 2032, Melrose Place, The Young and the Restless, and Heroes. However, none of this stuff is nearly as interesting as some controversy she got embroiled in on something kind of silly. Sometime in the mid 2010s, Haiduk was the focus of a classic online boycott campaign over a complete and utter mistake that got blown WAY out of proportion. Her character on The Young and Restless had a taxidermy cat that her character believed was still alive. She took the prop of that cat with her to the Daytime Emmy Awards. Someone online went absolutely NUTS and claimed that she was wearing a real cat that was stuffed and turned into a purse. That was NOT the case whatsoever. It’s just classic internet buffoonery. I guarantee there are people who were in favor of the petition campaign to boycott her who were presented with the actual context and facts, and STILL think she needs to be punished for some reason. My point is that people should just take a fuckin’ second to think before becoming an idiot reactionary.

Okay, so with that, let’s have you read me reacting to a movie that I’ve never heard of, already prejudged as awesome, and use the next few thousand words to describe it from top to bottom!

The movie begins with Gaily Morton awaiting the verdict from the jury in the trial of Gaily’s brutal rape after her triumphant piano concert. One of the men present at the rape was played by Brian Backer from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He is also one of four friends of the accused, Danny Emerson, who ended up being allowed to testify to say that Danny was elsewhere the night of the rape. Morton’s brother, Albert (Davison), has been by her side throughout the ordeal. He works in NASA’s AI division. Or, I should say he used to because he quit to help his sister.

I have to believe this movie kind of owes its existence less to the 70s and 80s rape revenge movies and maybe more to The Accused that won Jodie Foster her first Oscar. That movie helped show an unfortunate reality of how utterly difficult it was to prove rape and win criminal cases against an attacker without the person who was raped getting some blowback.

Gaily, absolutely distraught over the verdict, goes to the roof of the courthouse and considers jumping. Albert goes after her and finds her looking over the edge of the building. She is crying and confused. She says that Albert promised her they would be put away. Yet, here he is, free and out there somewhere. Albert tries to say that he will keep them away from her as he tries to coax her away from the edge of the building.

Just as she is seemingly going to take his hand, she decides to fall backwards off the building and to her death. Albert cries out in sorrow after seeing his sister kill herself.

Five years go by and we find out that Danny Emerson is a ruthless land developer. He forces old people out of their homes to build mini malls. Now, this is a classic example of over the top, upper class villains. Apparently, the first offer was $60,000 for this old man’s home. The offer they settled on is significantly less. On top of that? It is heavily implied Emerson and his cronies are responsible for the old man’s wife’s “accidental” death.

These guys are cartoons.

I mean, the fact that a guy with a ponytailed mullet who gets away with rape should be enough to make you dislike these turds. I don’t think you have to go all the way over to killing old ladies to build mini malls to make them unlikable. What do I know?

One of the guys in the picture above, the guy with the douchy white jacket is driving Mustang away from the old man’s house and his car starts to fuck up. He pulls over and looks under the hood and finds the battery has melted. A car that apparently followed the guy parks and a hot girl gets out. He asks her if she knows anything about cars and she says that she recognizes a fucktoy when she sees one. She then says it must have been a “power surge” and puts the moves on the guy.

So the girl takes the guy to a theme motel that is obviously used specifically for fucking. He has told her that he works for a friend and does “things” for him. She says she’s a bookkeeper. She likes to keep things in balance.

They start making out and she asks him if he’s so willing to do so many things for his friend, would he die for him? He says yeah. She says great! Then she tears her face off and it’s Gaily underneath. She hugs him tight and soon, the guy finds that he’s getting screwed big time… by a drill… coming out of Gaily’s torso. Holy shit.

Okay, so, admittedly, I knew she was going to become a robot. I mean the Vinegar Syndrome cover, and most marketing materials for this movie makes that very clear. I really didn’t expect for her to 1) be played by someone else for a few minutes (it was Cindy Brooks, a 1985 Playboy Playmate, who was in the car) and 2) I really didn’t expect for her to be Inspector Gadget. I’m not ever going to be able to look at that cartoon ever again without having a weirdo boner for a rape revenge babe robot.

I hate that I wrote that sentence.

Yeah! So less than 20 minutes in, and we’ve got a revenge killing down and it was done in a rather surprising way. I do have a question that I guess will have to be answered later. Is Gaily still Gaily? Or is she just Bruce Davison’s instrument of revenge against the douchebags who led his sister to kill herself? I suppose it’s possible this is kind of like a Marvel Comics situation with the Vision where he is an advanced Artificial Intelligence based on someone’s brain patterns and augmented memories. We’ll find out.

Elsewhere, we have Alison (Haiduk). She’s an artist and was a court sketch artist in the first scene. She was particularly disappointed in the verdict that let the rich asshole off from his rape wrap. She’s talking to her agent. She’s pitched the idea of submitting sketches of children, but she’s gone a little too overboard with depicting the kids with guns, in gangs, and having sex. He suggests that she do a book about those people she used to do courtroom sketches of and see how they’ve changed over the years.

At the motel, a friend of Alison’s, Detective Dunn (Naughton), is brought in to look at the dead body. At Evil Douchebag Inc., Danny is going on about the regular business of the day, despite the wishes of the other partners in the company to do something for their friend’s murder. Now, here’s one thing I’m already struggling a bit with in terms of this movie. Take a look at this picture of the logo of Emerson’s Evil Douchebag Inc.

That is utterly ridiculous. It’s like a James Bond villain’s logo or the arch enemy of the, I dunno, Fantastic Four or something. It’s playing these guys so over the top, so arch, so wildly unlikable and irredeemable that you are being clubbed over the head by them. We saw the cops earlier and David Naughton CANNOT be in a movie without cracking wise constantly to the point of nearly destroying every scene he’s ever in. Also, the coroner is played by Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley. So the cop side of the movie is almost played for laughs. The story about the poor raped girl who committed suicide and her brother clearly building a robot of her or something, is the real story of this movie. It’s tragic and has enough juicy meat to it that I care the most about that.

These are three VERY different types of movies and characters meshing together into a movie that I think is supposed to be kind of a more action-y exploitation thriller and we’re left with people playing their roles as if they are supposed to all be in a different movie.

Dunn is called into the captain’s office. There is a woman from the District Attorney’s office there to speak to the captain and Dunn. She’s building a case against Emerson. She wants him to be careful with how he proceeds because they want to move on Emerson, but they can’t have his partners running scared before they can make their move.

Alison goes to see “Clippy” Dunn to find those people in her old cases. They used to be in a relationship, but it appears to be over for some time now. She comments that she knows who this Semple guy was that got his insides drilled out of him. She makes mention that he was a character witness at the Danny Emerson trial. Her re-emergence in Dunn’s life makes things a little difficult for him – especially because the captain wants Dunn to stay close to Alison to prevent her from getting close to Emerson and messing everything up.

I guess. I dunno. Like I kind of alluded to, every character in this movie is in a different one. Naughton is in a buddy cop action comedy, but he doesn’t have a partner. Alison is in a crusading journalist movie, but she’s not a journalist.

Remember the rape revenge robot movie? What happened to that?

Anyway, one of the other partners, is talking to an FBI agent in a bar about testifying against Danny Emerson. He admits that he’s participated in illegal activities. He needs protection from Danny and the agent agrees. The agent wants the partner to wear a wire to get Emerson on record of doing something illegal. The partner gets the attention of a curious brunette.

Over in the B-plot, Alison and Dunn are seemingly reconnecting. Nobody has had more time on screen in the first 40 minutes of his movie than Stacy Haiduk. She’s had at least three or four times the amount of time on screen than Clare Wren and about ten times the screen time than Bruce Davison. David Naughton is catching up fast on her. I guess he’s going to benefit from having to be directly involved with Haiduk throughout the movie.

Again, these two characters are also very different styles of characters. As I mentioned previously, Naughton is cracking wise like he’s a transplant from a Lethal Weapon movie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen David Naughton in a movie in which he is playing it 100% straight. He’s always having to be snide or sarcastic, etc. Meanwhile, Haiduk’s Alison is a chain smoking, free spirit, artist type. She’s giving off sensual vibes. She’s wearing loose clothing that shows off shoulder or wearing leggings that stay tight to her legs and butt. She talks in very flowery language about the purpose of life, or her drive, or what she hopes to accomplish with her talent. She draws herself nude as if she’s a centerfold in Playboy.

These two people should not like each other. Trust me. I’m a David Naughton type of asshole. I like girls like the Stacy Haiduk character. I am dreadfully single and have been for more than half my miserable existence. Do you know why? I’m a David Naughton type of asshole and I like the girls who want things I either cannot provide, cannot set my mind to, or they do not see in me. This movie is…

This movie is reopening old wounds.

Back at the bar, we have some seriously unexpected misdirection. The FBI agent this partner, Toby, was talking to? It’s the rape revenge robot Gaily! He wires up Toby, he asks what it’s like for a guy like him to change allegiances so quickly and easily. Then, he opens his shirt, grows a pair of tits and does a thing with his hands and light breaks out of his face and reveals hers. She throttles Toby and burns her hand through his neck and decapitators him.

Dunn gets paged and goes to where Toby Worth was killed. She transfers the address he wrote down on her pad of paper and realizes that it’s two of Danny Emerson’s friends killed in two days. Dunn gets pissed and tells her that she cannot officially know what she saw or it could mean real bad trouble for her. He sends her home.

We finally see Bruce Davison again. Rape revenge robot Gaily returns to his lab for some touch up work. It appears that Gaily has some sort of goo brain. It’s like how you might get a container of Nickelodeon Slime or Gak or something.

Something kind of interesting is going on here. After Gaily killed Toby, she seemed to almost glitch a little bit. Albert likes reviewing her murders of these guys and it seems to really bother her. He keeps wanting to see the footage over and over. He even likes seeing it in slow motion. She’s definitely not enjoying having it replayed over and over.

The remaining partners at Evil Douchebag Inc. are starting to get a little worried about what has been happening. Alison is going to talk to Albert Morton so she can get some access to some of the case files for her book project. Dunn is interviewing one of the surviving partners, Oscar. Alison asks Albert how he feels about these witnesses in his sister’s trial against Emerson being murdered, but he says he hasn’t felt anything in a long time. She says she thinks she knows who committed the murders. She says she thinks it is Emerson himself who are killing his partners. Albert asks her to leave and leave his sister’s memory alone.

So it’s time for the next kill to happen. This one is gonna take a second to explain. Oscar, the third guy to testify, and the guy who Alison wants to go talk to because of her book and her intimate knowledge of who testified when and who’s been killed since, has taken notice of one of the secretaries from the secretary pool at Evil Douchebag Inc. She’s this tall, curly haired brunette that has been going around and taking up a collection for flowers for the murdered partners’ funerals. Well, she decides to take Oscar up on a drink, and to go to a board room where she and he can get their fuckin’ on. It should be no surprise that she’s actually rape revenge robot coming to exact revenge.

But… How?

No, I really mean it – how? She was JUST at Albert’s place when Alison and her publisher/agent guy were both JUST there themselves. They went straight from Albert’s to the offices of Evil Douchebag Inc. Dunn was there earlier in the same day and that secretary was there as well. Does Albert know how to warp space and time to make it possible for rape revenge robot to be in multiple places at once? Is there more than one robot? This movie is weird man.

Those are aggressive curls.

She tells the guy that she wants something of his as a souvenir. It’s implied he cums. It’s implied she cut his dick off. Before Gaily leaves, she spots that Alison is poking around. She might be getting a little too close. Alison does find Oscar’s body and, yeah, it looks like she cut his dick off and it looks like she also drained the lifeforce from him.

Speaking of too close, Alison’s agent/publisher recognizes Gaily. He calls her name after first saying he thought he recognized her. When Alison gets back out to the garage where he was, she sees a group of people collected around his dead body.

Albert, reviewing the footage, gets upset when he sees Alison.

Dunn begs Alison to stop pursuing this whole thing. He doesn’t believe her that Emerson is behind the killings. He also puts it in no uncertain terms that she put her publisher in harm’s way and he’s dead. She needs to stop before she ends up like him.

Back at Rape Revenge Central, Gaily is playing the piano. Albert tells her that what she played was beautiful. Gaily doesn’t exactly agree. She says something is missing. There’s an absence she can’t account for or define. She just feels there’s something wrong. Albert tells her that she shouldn’t worry about it. Her performance is perfect.

Gaily says that maybe that’s what’s wrong with it.

She begins to ask Albert about Alison. She doesn’t understand who she is. She really doesn’t understand why her presence upsets Albert. He finally relents that Alison was at the trial. She was part of the past. She was not Gaily’s Friend. She asks Albert if she ever actually had any friends.

It’s a great scene. What’s missing? A soul and real feeling. Was Alison a friend of Gaily? Maybe not, but she was definitely an ally of Gaily’s. Why was Albert upset with her? Well, it’s clear Albert is extremely protective of his sister. It starts to show the cracks in the reason why she exists and what Albert’s goals are and who those are serving.

Norman (Brian Backer) has a chat with Emerson. Emerson, in very clear terms, demands that he not leave the country or speak to the feds, or, really, anyone or else. Alison goes to meet with Norman. She says she has a proposition for him. If he comes with her, in 20 minutes, he will tell the police everything he knows about Danny Emerson.

Unfortunately, Danny is standing right behind her. He tells her that nobody can touch him and there’s nothing she can do about it. He has Norman go outside. A guy tries to stop him from “going near that helicopter” that he apparently is going to take off in. He refuses, but it doesn’t really matter. Rape revenge robot comes up behind the guy blocking the way and throws him out of the way. She approaches Norman and lifts him up into the blades of the helicopter.

And then there was one to go – Danny.

Alison goes outside and sees Gaily. She even says her name. Albert has Gaily return to the van that he’s in. But in order to do so, she goes up to the roof to basically lose Alison. She surprises Alison and it almost makes her fall off the roof. She ends up saving her from falling by grabbing her by the head. Albert tells Gaily to let her fall. When Alison says her name again, she doesn’t drop her.

By the time Dunn arrives on the scene, Alison’s nowhere to be found. She’s being held captive by Albert and Gaily. They arrive at Evil Douchebag Inc. Outside, Alison expresses her frustration at Albert for twisting Gaily into this instrument of murder. Albert only says that Gaily was dead and Emerson and his friends were alive. He tells Gaily that after tonight, there will be no more killing. He’ll write her a new program. She is glad that this will be the last time she’ll be asked to kill.

Danny Emerson is holed up in Evil Douchebag Inc.’s board room with a shotgun and a bunch of booze. Gaily comes in and says that she thought he’d be some sort of terrible monster, but he’s just so small and pathetic. He shoots her a few times which does damage her robot body, but it also kind of pisses her off. He leaves the board room and she follows. Outside in the van, Alison is able to get free and knocks Albert out.

Interestingly, knocking Albert out also causes Gaily to glitch a little bit and she has to guide herself to wherever she needs to go to find Emerson. Alison, able to see this all play out with Albert’s equipment knows where to go to to find Gaily and Danny. Somehow, Dunn knows to show up at Evil Douchebag Inc. HQ.

So everyone is at the same location. Emerson grabs Alison and holds a gun to her. He won’t release Alison so she asks Albert what to do. He shows up to tell her to kill them both. She refuses but is able to at least get Alison free from Emerson so she can light him on fire with robot lightning.

And then he falls off the building and turns into a dummy that is still on fire.

As for Alison, well, she’s not out of the clear yet. Albert still wants to kill her. I’d say he wants to kill her because she knows the truth about what’s going on, but I dunno. It kind of just seems like he wants to kill her for funsies at this point. When Dunn shows up, Albert shoots at him and the other cops, so Dunn wings him. He tells Gaily they need to go and find a safe place. Gaily, just as she did before she committed suicide, says there is only one safe place. She leads Albert to the edge of the building and jumps. They crash to the ground and the movie just ends.

That’s all, folks! No resolution to how Alison is going to get her book made with no subject matter or publisher guy. No way to find out if Dunn is able to pass all this crazy shit off to his captain in the piles of paperwork he probably has to do now.

But don’t worry, in the nearly one-hour making of featurette on the Blu Ray from Vinegar Syndrome, a guy talks about how he wrote his own sequel just to see what happened after the movie. It involves all the characters returning in some way. A new Gaily is made in Albert’s lab. Alison’s there. There’s a plummeting satellite. It’s bonkers.

And that’s a great way to sum up this movie – it’s bonkers. I’m not kidding, there may not be any more than two actors participating in the same movie at the same time in any given scene. It’s wildly inconsistent with tone and with its narrative. I mean it, there are three different movies happening here with each of the plots. For much of the movie, no more than two of the subplots interact with each other. It’s not until the third act that all three come together perfectly and remain interlocked to the very end where, yes, every character with a speaking line up to this point that isn’t already dead, arrive at the rooftop to witness how this ends.

But, is it a bad movie? No. There’s decent craftsmanship going on here. I really liked David Naughton in this movie, even if he’s not really participating in a rape revenge robot movie. I love Stacy Haiduk. She is intensely watchable in this movie and really the star of the movie. The kills are great and quite well done on an effects level. So, it’s really watchable. I’d watch Stacy Haiduk in 20 more movies. She’s gorgeous. She’s spunky. She’s giving this bizarrely sensual performance that just freakin’ works.

All that said, I think a good way to sum up this movie (besides the “it’s bonkers” thing I already said) is to say the sum of the parts is not equal to its parts. All those parts I listed above? Fantastic. When it all comes together, it does feel disjointed, but there are far worse ways to spend 93 minutes of your life.

Next week, we have another rape revenge exploitation film, but, this time, from the 80s and definitely much more straightforward. It’s the classic, Linda Blair-led flick Savage Streets. So be back here in seven days and, hey, before you go, check out the little icons on the top of the right-hand sidebar and follow B-Movie Enema at the various socials and media sites like YouTube, Vimeo and add the Roku app for all those episodes of B-Movie Enema: The Series!

By the way, I want to know if this art prop exists because I want it.

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