Shot in 1988 under circumstances that were far from optimal and due to legal wrangling and other misfortunes, Sons of Steel is one of those films you’ve probably heard of but never been able to actually find a copy of. Especially if you’re somewhere outside of its Australian homeland. And now writer/director Gary L. Keady’s post-apocalyptic time-travelling musical is finally getting a North American release via Phantom Pain Films Future Video label.
In the near future nations have been replaced with trading blocks, what was Australia is now part of Oceania, an authoritarian, but nuclear-free, state. That is about to change with the arrival of a nuclear sub into Sydney harbour.
Black Alice (Rob Hartley) is a rock star and the leader of The Octagon. No, not a clan of Ninjas out to get Chuck Norris, it’s an anti-nuclear movement that the government sees as a threat. So it has Honor (Dagmar Bláhová, Howling III, Nexus), Secta (Jeff Duff) and Dr. Kazkoff (Ralph Cotterill, Ultraman G, The Proposition) imprison him in a hologram.
Accidentally revived after Armageddon by barbarian warriors Djard (Elizabeth Richmond) and X (Wayne Snell), he discovers that it was a collision between an Octogon protest vessel and the sub that brought the end of the world about. He travels back to his present, which is now the past to try to prevent the future that is now his present.
Sons of Steel is one of the most insane, anarchic and downright mental films I have ever seen. It could as easily have been called The Rocky Horror End of the World Show. It’s filled with musical interludes, including an impressive version of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air”, and as many outrageous characters, including a Max Headroom-inspired talking face, as the budget could afford. And, being from Australia in the 80s you know it’s about as non-PC as you can get without being intentionally offensive.
Hartley is great as the activist rocker whose arms measure larger than his IQ. Watching him bounce through time with his little head calling the shots had me laughing my ass off. He also manages to show emotion in the scenes with Stained Class (Sharlie Wetherill) the one woman he actually cared about.
This might be a good time to point out that, despite being billed as a “heavy metal futuristic action-packed adventure”, Sons of Steel has a soundtrack that doesn’t even make it to hair metal heaviness. It’s more like a cross between hard rock and new wave. That isn’t an insult, the songs are, for the most part, better than most movie music, just don’t be expecting any metal.
This isn’t the most coherently plotted of films either. Sons of Steel feels like a loosely linked collection of scenes organized into three sections, Alice in the Present, Alice in the Future and Alice Returns to the Present. What Keady manages to fit within those sections may be a bit too anything goes at times, but it hits the mark more often than it misses with its mix of action and comedy. It can’t even resist getting a laugh out of the film’s high-stakes ending.
While Hartley would adopt the Black Alice moniker and continue his musical career, Keady never made another film. He has written several novels, including one that continues Alice’s adventures. But it’s too bad he never made another film because Sons of Steel is loads of insane fun and should be as well known as other Australian genre spoofs like Body Melt.
Phantom Pain Films will release Sons of Steel in a limited edition Blu-ray and VHS on October 5 through its Future Video label. You can get more information here.