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Retro Review: IRONMASTER (1983)

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IRONMASTER
(France/Italy - 1983)

Directed by Umberto Lenzi. Written by Alberto Cavallone, Dardano Sacchetti, Lea Martino and Gabriel Rossini. Cast: Sam Pasco, Elvire Audray, George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori), William Berger, Pamela Field (Pamela Prati), Jacques Herlin, Brian Redford (Danilo Mattei), Benito Stefanelli, Areno D'Adderio, Giovanni Cianfriglia, Walter Lucchini, Nello Pazzafini, Nico La Macchia. (Unrated, 93 mins)

"When warriors stop showing their power, it's the beginning of the end. We're only happy in battle! War is our reason for living! What's the use in having invincible weapons if you can't use them?" 

"But everyone hates us, Vuud."

This isn't to suggest that the makers of the 1983 Italian QUEST FOR FIRE-meets-CONAN THE BARBARIAN-with-a-bit-of-EXCALIBUR ripoff IRONMASTER saw a certain world leader's ascendance happening 34 years ahead of time, but the eagerness of Vuud (George Eastman), the film's villain, to use all the weapons at his disposal does draw comparison. Vuud's father Iksay (Benito Stefanelli), the aging leader of their caveman tribe, is eager to step down after the next hunt but is stalling because he doesn't think his son is capable. Vuud is next in line by right, but Iksay expresses concern to his council Rag (Jacques Herlin) over the bad-tempered, impulsive, Sonny Corleone-esque Vuud: "He's unable to control himself," Iksay says, adding "What would become of this tribe if it were led by someone so restless?" Rag assures him Vuud will mature into the job but Iksay is unconvinced: "I don't know. I just don't believe in him."






Sam Pasco as Ela
Iksay would rather hand control of his tribe off to the more well-liked and even-tempered Ela (Sam Pasco), but he never gets the chance since an impatient Vuud bashes in his father's skull, a vicious act witnessed by Ela. Ela outs Vuud as a murderer, to which Vuud naturally responds by attacking Ela in a violent rage, accidentally killing Rag when he tries to break up the scuffle. Vuud is banished to the surrounding desert, where he encounters the duplicitous Lith (Pamela Prati) and discovers iron in the shape of a sword in the aftermath of a stock footage volcanic eruption. Believing he has found a new form of weapon beyond their customary rocks and sticks, Vuud returns to the tribe and is hailed as a god, his first act to banish Ela to six days and nights crucified in the desert as he and Lith take charge, roaming the land, dominating and enslaving every peaceful tribe they encounter. The cave people are ordered to accept this as their new normal and anyone who objects is killed. Ela befriends Isa (Elvire Audray), the daughter of kindly tribe leader Mogo (William Berger), who assembles his people to help Ela take back his tribe and overthrow the despotic Vuud and the scheming, self-serving Lith, his chief source of encouragement and prodding.


George Eastman as Vuud
There was no shortage of CONAN THE BARBARIAN ripoffs flooding theaters and drive-ins throughout the early-to-mid '80s, and the Stone Age-set IRONMASTER, co-written by Alberto Cavalline (the 1978 coprophagia ode BLUE MOVIE) and frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator Dardano Sacchetti, and directed by Italian genre stalwart Umberto Lenzi (ALMOST HUMAN, CANNIBAL FEROX), is probably one of the weakest (hey, they can't all be YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE). It has some undeniable entertainment value for Eurotrash devotees and fans of Italian knockoffs, whether it's the presence of perennial Eurocult fixture Eastman, the familiar dubbing voices (almost all of them are here) or an amazing shot where Lith is jogging away and actress Prati is the victim of a gratuitous nip slip that Lenzi just left in the movie. One of its chief points of interest is that most of the exteriors were shot at some striking locations in Custer State Park in South Dakota, which gives the film a look and feel that's unique to this subgenre (and Lenzi and the producers were really fixated by a nearby herd of grazing buffalo, as nearly every cast member gets a scene running by them at one point). The other noteworthy aspect of IRONMASTER is that it's the sole mainstream film appearance of Pasco, an American bodybuilder better known as "Big Max," who appeared in numerous gay porn films at the time and was also a popular model for COLT, a leading producer of gay pornography and sex toys since 1967. Pasco is dubbed in IRONMASTER, and in an interview on Code Red's new Blu-ray, Lenzi dismisses him as "worthless" and "pathetic" as an actor as well as in action scenes, saying he didn't move in a "masculine" way. Pasco and his porn world monikers "Big Max" and "Mike Spanner" vanished and were never seen or heard from again after 1985, so it's generally assumed he died around that time, with several corroborating comments on a couple of different message boards mentioning he spent his final days doing private modeling gigs and hustling in NYC before succumbing to steroid-related liver failure in 1985.  Lenzi is also similarly unkind to Audray (THE SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS), who committed suicide in 2000 at the age of 40, saying she came along in a package deal with the French co-producer that she was dating at the time. The dull and slow-moving IRONMASTER is really only for the most die-hard Italian ripoff completist, but such people are out there (guilty as charged), and it's a small victory for children of the '80s to see these VHS staples getting such nice HD treatment decades down the line.


Sam Pasco, aka "Big Max," on the cover of a 1979 issue of COLT Men

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