Ironmaster (1983) Blu Ray & DVD (88 Films)
Ironmaster is an early 1980s Italian adventure set in the time of prehistoric humankind. When a tribe returns from a hunting trip they are attacked by a group of cavemen. During the frenzy the leader Iksay (Benito Stefanelli) is murdered by one of his own sons - the aggressive and power-hungry Vood (George Eastman), who is next in line for leadership. However Vood’s brother Ela (Sam Pasco) witnesses the act and, when they are back at the cave, asserts the right to lead in his place.
During Iksay’s funeral ceremony Vood kills tribal elder Rag (Jacques Herlin) and, before he can be stopped, manages to escape. During his flight he stumbles across a volcano which has started erupting. When the lava dies down, he notices a sharp, sword-like piece of metal that has formed when it cools. He then tests it out by fighting a lion, and finds he can defeat the creature by impaling it with this newfound weapon. He comes back to his old tribe and uses this sword to persuade the rest of them to accept Vood as their new leader. Only Ela refuses, resulting in his ruthless brother banishing and tying him up on a wooden cross. Vood subsequently starts preparing his subjects to head out and violently conquer the other tribes in the valley.
Ela breaks free from his bonds. Now on the run, he bumps into a young woman named Isa (Elvira Audray) who belongs to a pacifist tribe led by Mogo (William Berger). He realises that, sooner or later, Vood will subjugate them too. He decides to set out to save them.
Watch a trailer:
Umberto Lenzi’s Ironmaster is part of a cycle of Italian “muscular warrior in a loincloth” epics that came in the wake of the box office success of Conan the Barbarian (1981), although it also owes a considerable debt to Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest for Fire (1981). However, while some Italian genre cycles of this period yielded largely entertaining, if cheesy, results (e.g. the post-apocalyptic subgenre that included 1990: The Bronx Warriors, 2019: After the Fall of New York and Hands of Steel), these loincloth fables tended towards exercises in abject tedium (the Ator series, Conquest). Ironmaster is another case in point.
Despite containing plenty of violence it’s a surefire insomnia cure. Lenzi was rarely the most finessed of directors - in fact, he was a notorious hack - but his films were often entertainingly bonkers. This one, however, is severely lacking in inspiration. There’s a lot of action but it’s ruined by lots of shaky camerawork and near-identical shots shown over and over again. How many times do we need to see master shots of the actors dressed in scanty fur costumes running through what appears to be the same herd of buffalo or same patch of forest over and over again? How many times do we need to see uncannily similar-looking shots of actors advancing from the background then swinging their swords at extras in the foreground? How many times do we need to see Vood’s warriors raise their weapons in the air and chant his name? Nowhere near as many times as this movie seems to think.
There are a few unintentional laughs here, albeit not enough to turn the film into guilty pleasure material. Some of the dubbed dialogue is howl-inducing: at one point Vood attracts a female (clearly bad boy-seeking) admirer named Lith (Pamela Prati), who already knows his name because it was (in her words) “written in the stars”. The obvious plastic toy mammoths seen at the start are a hoot, as is Vood’s silly-looking headpiece supposedly fashioned out of the lion he killed early in the film. The fact that Ela’s love interest Isa looks like she’s just returned from a lengthy visit to the local beautician (there were so many of those in prehistoric times) is also quite amusing. The funniest thing here though is that the film tries to present itself as an anti-war parable. While well-meaning, the message is worked so heavy-handedly into a production that’s so unashamedly trashy, hence it falls completely flat.
It’s a shame because the movie does waste the occasional good element: it was partially shot in the picturesque landscape of Custer State National Park in South Dakota, the cinematography by Giancarlo Ferrando is attractive and the film’s main theme by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis is suitably sweeping, mixing the unmistakable pluck of a sitar with some grand spaghetti western influences. There is also the brief appearance by some zombie-like beings (who seem to have wandered in from Lenzi’s much more entertaining Nightmare City) and a few reasonably well-executed gory injury effects.
The back story of the film’s main star - Sam Pasco - is more interesting than the film itself. He was a bodybuilder, gay model and porn star who regularly used the pseudonym “Big Max”. Ironmaster is his only known non-porn movie credit, and it has been rumoured (although not verified; the porn industry is notoriously secretive) that he died in 1985, possibly as a result of overdosing on steroids. His co-star Elvire Audray also came to a sad, premature end as she committed suicide in the year 2000 at the age of 40.
Unless you are a die-hard fan of Italian exploitation, Ironmaster is best skipped.
Runtime: 98 mins
Dir: Umberto Lenzi
Script: Luciano Martino, Alberto Cavallone, Lea Martino, Dardano Sachetti, Gabriel Rossini, Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Sam Pasco, Elvire Audray, George Eastman, Pamela Prati, Jacques Herlin, Danilo Mattei, Benito Stefanelli, William Berger
There’s some noticeable flicker and colour fluctuation during the landscape shot-heavy opening credits sequence. Apart from that it’s not bad at all. There’s a sense of colour and vastness that only the Blu Ray format can do justice to. Facial detail is pretty good too. On the downside the level of detail does highlight the phonier aspects of the production, giving us a clear view of those cheap toy mammoths at the start.
The dubbed dialogue seems a little faint and tinny. The music, on the other hand, sounds rather rich and clear.
There is an enclosed leaflet with an essay entitled “Who is Sam Pasco and why is nobody talking about him?” written by Fred Andersson, co-creator of podcast The Human Centipod. Fred pieces together information about the man’s life and work as a gay porn star, cruising New York’s gay district, and the differing stories he heard through the grapevine about his sad and untimely death in the mid 1980s. It’s an affectionate tribute.
On the disc itself is the following:
Working with the Masters
A 24-minute interview with production designer Antonello Gelleng and cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando about the film. The first half of their discussion is focussed on Ironmaster. They mention that the buffalo scenes were shot in Yellowstone Park (although IMDB credits the location as Custer State National Park), and that other scenes were meant to be shot in Cappadocia, Turkey - but ended up being shot around Manziana near Rome. Lenzi was reportedly rather quarrelsome, and went ballistic once as Gelleng didn’t sort out footwear for some actors playing cavemen who had trouble walking on the rocky landscapes. In the end sandals were brought in and the cavemen wore them during the long shots.
The second half looks at 2019: After the Fall of New York which the duo also worked on during the same year. Gelleng (who covered similar ground in a separate interview on 88 Films’ disc of that film) talks about how he used fruit crates and newspapers to construct the maquettes of the wrecked New York landscape.
Finally, they talk about the reasons why Italian cast and crew members tended to be credited via anglicised pseudonyms on commercial films. It’s an enjoyable and relaxed discussion on the experience of working within the country’s film industry at this period in time.
There’s also a reversible sleeve displaying the original poster artwork. Incidentally, this artwork, while stylish in a Frank Frazetta sort of way, is rather misleading in that it contains elements nowhere to be seen in the final film: pterodactyls, a metal axe and a bare-breasted heroine amongst other things.
The film’s bad - and not really in a “so bad it’s good” way either. However, as with other 88 Films Italian Collection releases, the handful of extras is enjoyable for fans of this particular segment of cult cinema.