Color, 1983, 93m.
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Sam Pasco, Elvire Audray, George Eastman, Pamela Prati, Jacques Herlin, Danilo Mattei, William Berger
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
After switching gears from his run of accomplished gialli and cop films in the '70s to pulverizing viewers in the '80s with deranged fare like Cannibal Ferox, Eaten Alive!, Nightmare City, and the hilariously stupid Daughter of the Jungle, director Umberto Lenzi was truly impossible to predict. Where would he go next? An Indiana Jones rip-off like his fellow Italian directors? Or maybe a sci-fi film? Nope, instead he decided to cash in on the 1981 prehistoric drama Quest for Fire, trotting his cast and crew out to South Dakota's Custer State Park to put on lots of furry outfits and enact a primal story about how the primitive human race first discovered how to use weapons. The results are, to put it mildly, unforgettable.
In a tribe located at the base of a mountain range, new leader Ela (Pasco) is faced with a challenge when the cruel and ambitious Vood (Eastman) commits cold-blooded murder. Permanent exile seems to be the solution, but instead Vuud migrates near a volcano where the molten lava forges a sharp iron implement he can use as a weapon to kill a marauding lion. Now wearing the animal's head as a symbol of his superiority and determined to forge new weapons at any price, Vuud develops a lust for power and, after conquering his old tribe and generating more weapons, sets out to take over the entire region with only Ela hoping to stop him.
Though it doesn't have a single original bone in its body, Ironmaster still entertains mightily if you're in the right frame of mind thanks to a wild-eyed performance by Eastman (who could really plays villains like no one else), a fascinatingly unique setting that turns out to be wholly appropriate and convincing, some amusing costume choices, and a pounding, memorable score by the great Guido and Maurizio De Angelis that has yet to see the light of day in any format. Unfortunately there's a pretty big void at the center with obligatory blonde love interest Elvire Audray (girlfriend of the film's French co-financier) and especially Pasco, part of a peculiar trend of actors in gay hardcore productions turning up in Italian exploitation films (along with such examples as Zombie 4: Aftermath's Jeff Stryker and Eleven Days, Eleven Nights' Joshua McDonald). It's entirely up to Pasco's bodybuilder presence to carry his role since he rarely looks like he has any idea what's going on, and the rumors about his tragic demise before the decade was out add some mystique to what is now one of the odder one-shot leading roles in Italian cinema.
Long unavailable on home video after its first round on VHS from labels like Prism, Ironmaster came back to the public in 2017 in the U.S. from Code Red on Blu-ray. The new HD scan from the Italian negative (with what is advertised as considerable exclusive color correction) looks fine, and certainly a million miles better than the old tape versions, though it features some inherent softness and inconsistency that appears to be a deliberate artistic choice with an emphasis on filtered sunlight, frequently insufficient lighting, and handheld camera work. The English DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds quite impressive with the music in particular gaining quite a bit of heft. In addition to the English-language theatrical trailer (in dupey condition here with Turkish subtitles!), the disc also adds a trio of new interview featurettes staring with the 19-minute "One Million Years Ago" with Lenzi chatting about the script (in collaboration with producer Luciano Martino and Italian wild man auteur Alberto Cavallone of Blue Movie notoriety), Pasco's insufficiency for his role, the use of circus lions, and his dissatisfaction with the state of filmmaking today. It's a more informative (and far less self-aggrandizing) chat than usual from the filmmaker and well worth checking out. The 10-minute "Of Buffalos and Lions" has the always chatty Eastman in a sunny mood as he recalls his positive memories of working with Lenzi (apart from all the shouting), his fascination with Native American culture around the filming locations, and the logistics of those many, many buffalo scenes. Finally set designer Massimo Antonello Geleng explores the nature of creating a primitive culture on film in the 12-minute "Quest for Iron," also noting the issues with the two leads and the elaborate matte paintings that resulted in some striking shots including the volcano approach. The film also appeared on UK Blu-ray and DVD from 88 Films soon after; it's not available for review at this time but features a different Geleng interview and one with cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando. However, due to the BBFC's ongoing and frequently baffling edicts, several seconds had to be cut from the boar hunting sequence, which admittedly found Lenzi returning to his old Ferox tricks for a scene that could have (and should have) easily been faked.