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Ironmaster
(1983)

Director: Umberto Lenzi
Cast:
Sam Pasco, Elvire Audray, George Eastman, William Berger


Sometimes when I am very bored and have time to let my thoughts wander around to a great extent, I like to think about all the achievements mankind has made up to this present point of time. I don't just think about the achievements themselves, from the Internet to skyscrapers that go thousands of feet into the sky, I also think about the progress mankind has had to go through in order to reach those achievements. The more and more I think about, I start to wonder not only how mankind kept pushing itself to do better with an idea and make it as grand as possible, but also how the first seed of an idea managed to form in the first place. Sometimes interesting theories of the long-ago genesis of an idea have been done in movies. For example, there is the question as to how fire was first introduced to our ancient ancestors, and how they learned not only how to tame it, but to make it at will. There was a whole movie concerning this - Quest For Fire - and I thought it to be an interesting and compelling movie despite the fact that it was made with Canadian involvement. But there were a few questions in the movie that simply were not answered. The movie didn't explain how tribes originally got their first taste of fire, nor did it explain how mankind first got the idea of making fire by rubbing two sticks together. So I have had to think about those questions myself to come up with possible theories. I guess man got the first taste of fire from either a volcanic eruption, or from a forest fire. But the more I think about it, more questions come along about fire. How did mankind manage to learn more about fire and how to control it? I guess it had to be a step by step process, but what motivated or inspired primitive man to take those first steps? We will probably never know.

I could go on about the mystery of fire in ancient times, but I don't really want to focus my talk about that. There is some other type of discovery accomplished by man that has long made me wonder how it was done. What specifically I am thinking of is the invention of weapons. Like with fire, the theory of the invention of weapons in ancient times has been looked at in movies, most famously with the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. In that movie, it was shown how an early version of man determined that a bone could be used as a weapon. Probably something like that did happen thousands of years ago. However, I often wonder how man managed to progress with weapons technology beyond that point. I guess I can see how some of it was done; for example, I am sure that man saw how sharp rocks can be, or can be with a little work done to them. And early man probably threw enough sticks to eventually inspire him to make spears. But beyond such basic things like that, the big leap in weapons technology seems to be mysterious. What on earth inspired man to first get the idea of the sling, let alone make him realize that with it, he could throw rocks at targets with great accuracy? How did man get inspired to go to all the trouble to make the bow and arrow, let alone determine that the best way to construct the arrows would be to give one end of the arrows fletchings and nocks? For that matter, what was man doing at the time that made him stumble on the concept of a blowgun, let alone come with the idea of putting deadly projectiles inside it to be used on animals or enemies?

I think I would like answers to those questions because it would help me understand how the human mind works. Though I am human, there's still a lot about my species I find fascinating and mysterious. While the promise of getting some possible answers to those weapons questions was Ironmasterone reason why hearing about the plot for Ironmaster intrigued me enough to see the movie, I must admit that its Italian pedigree also interested me. Some good old exploitation promised to make the movie additionally entertaining. The movie takes place, of course, thousands of years ago in what I assume to be Europe (though much of the movie was actually filmed in South Dakota). The focus is on a stone age tribe lead by the aging Iksay (Benito Stefanelli, A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die). Although the weight of being leader weighs heavily on Iksay, he is reluctant to pass down the role of leader to his son Vood (George Eastman, Detective School Dropouts), because he considered Vood to be both too impulsive and too violent in his actions. This is eventually confirmed when Vood gets into a rage after feeling that the much more even-tempered tribe member Ela (Sam Pasco) has a good shot of becoming the tribe's leader, and in his rage Vood manages to kill both his father and another tribesman. Vood is promptly banished by his tribe into the wasteland, but as Vood is struggling to stay alive alone, he comes across a volcanic eruption. In the aftermath of the volcanic eruption, Vood comes across a long chunk of cooled iron. It doesn't take long for Vood to see that it can be used as a weapon, and it also doesn't take him long for him to be considered some sort of god when he returns to his tribe with his crude sword. Vood promptly banishes Ela and not only takes control of the tribe, he gets the tribe to make more swords and start taking control of neighboring tribes by any means necessary. Ela meanwhile has the support of a friendly neighboring tribe, but realizes that Vood must be stopped before he can take over all of mankind.

In his career, Ironmaster's director Umberto Lenzi certainly put out his fair share of exploitation movies, including the notorious Cannibal Ferox. So it may come as somewhat of a disappointment that Ironmaster seems pretty tame stuff compared to some of Lenzi's other movies. We get a couple of brief moments when a breast peeks out of a running cavewoman's leather top, but that's it when it comes to sex and nudity. As for blood and gore, we do get some sequences with that stuff, but for the most part it's just small tricklings There's one pleasing moment when the top of a man's head is smashed off, but on the other hand there is a scene with a boar where it's clear it has been speared for real by one of the cavemen. The action sequences that produce that limited bloodshed are also pretty much of a disappointment. A significant amount of the "action" is just the characters running around in the wilderness, which quickly becomes tiring. While there are eventually stabbings, slashes, clubbings, and other forms of violence, there isn't any real feeling of passion or excitement about them; at its best it's just mediocre and mechanical mayhem. There also doesn't seem to be much interest in beefing up the feel in the non-action sequences as well. The special effects, from the matte paintings to miniatures run hot and cold (well, the hot not being that hot.) However, some effort was put into constructing huts and other man-made elements in the cavemen's villages, I admit. Also, some of the South Dakota countryside does look interesting, but for the most part Lenzi stages the events of the movie in really uninteresting locations. The parts of the movie that take place in the forests, for example, all look like they were filmed in a suburban neighborhood that has a small wooded area within it; you can feel modern civilization not being very far away.

Somewhat compensating for the lack of passion and imagination behind the camera are some unintentional laughs. The dialogue has some howlers with characters saying things like "succulent squirrels" and someone saying to Iksay, "Vood is the son of your woman" (wouldn't Iksay know this already?) Some of this hilarity is easy to find, but you do have to think to find some other silly stuff, such as why a tribeswoman (played by Elvire Audray) is several days journey away from her village with no tools or anything else to help her. For that matter, Vood soon gets a female companion (Pamela Prati, The Adventures Of Hercules) who not only just shows up out of nowhere with the lamest excuse, but pretty much adds nothing to the narrative. William Berger (Keoma) plays the chief of another tribe who is ostensibly is there to give support, but when he's killed off, you'll realize that his only purpose in the movie was to get killed off and add a little star power to the movie's cast. While speaking of the players, the two main characters in the movie, Ela and Vood, certainly don't get much boost by the actors playing them. As Ela, Sam Pasco may look muscular, but he doesn't get to show off a great range of emotion, keeping the same neutral look on his face through most of his scenes. George Eastman as Vood, on the other hand, does do a little better, though it's mainly due to his somewhat creepy charisma that he has shown repeatedly in other Italian productions. But even he can only do so much. One reason for their weak performances may be because both actors get little chance to interact their night and day characters with each other. If you add up all of the minutes of screen time when they're thrust together, it's probably not more than three or four minutes.

Another reason for the substandard acting by the leads is that when they are on the screen, there are a lot of things about them that are not explained. Why is Vood at the beginning of the movie considered too hotheaded to rule? Barely a few minutes later, we see him kill his father and another tribesman, but we haven't been given enough motive to know exactly why he does all that. Why is Ela considered by Iksay to be the right person to rule the tribe? There's no explanation for that, and we don't get to see him rule the tribe in the short time he's given. Surely the five writers who worked on the story and screenplay could have given us more depth. Actually, maybe not, considering all the dumb situations that happen throughout. For example, Vood figures out how to forge (complete with bellows and moulds) not only more swords, but swords in medieval style all in just a few hours. And earlier, when Vood took over the tribe, he and his world conquest plans are instantly welcomed by all the tribespeople (Ela must have really sucked in his few hours of rule after Iksay died.) Such lunacy does generate some chuckles, but after a while the writers seemed to have been at a loss not only to create more outlandish moments, but more actual story. There is a considerable stretch starting a little after halfway through the running time where there is no real advancement in the story until near the very end. For the longest time, there's just recycling elements we saw earlier in the movie (Vood and his men slaughtering people, Ela trying to keep himself and his allies safe), etc.) This and the other problems in Ironmaster may make it sound like it's a movie to avoid, but you may be surprised that I would say not really, at least to a select few. All these bad elements somehow combine together to make something kinda, sorta, vaguely watchable, just like when the poisons sodium and chloride combine to make the safe and welcome salt. I'm not saying that the movie is genuinely good or even all that unintentionally hilarious. Yet all those bad elements put together somehow make the movie, well, interesting to a degree. Not interesting to everybody, but those with a very very very deep interest in Italian genre cinema should find something here, though at the same time I wouldn't say to go out of your way to find it. Let it come to you instead, preferably for free, and then watch it when you are in a very very very mellow mood.

(Posted June 2, 2024)

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See also: Ator The Fighting Eagle, Quest For The Mighty Sword, Sinbad Of The Seven Seas

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