Color, 1982, 104 mins. 53 secs.
Directed by Alberto Cavallone
Starring Sven Kruger, Sasha D'Arc, Viviana Maria Rispoli
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Around the same time he was co-writing the Umberto Lenzi sword and sorcery VHS-era favorite Ironmaster, director Alberto Cavallone, one of the most distinctive cinematic lunatics of the era, was also busy turning out a dusty prehistoric saga the helm himself: Il padrone del mondo or Master of the World, which also hit North American VHS as Conqueror of the World. Obviously intended to belatedly cash in 1981's international success Quest for Fire, this dialogue-free budget epic turned out to be something a lot gorier and weirder in the process.
As a narrator (the only speaking voice in the film) informs us, our remote ancestors stood in awe of the natural world and regarded the bear as a "messenger from God" sent as humanity's protector. Thus we're sent into a primitive world where territorial humans with long hair and animal skin outfits use combat to determine who can hold supremacy, often fighting with sharp sticks or any other implement that might be handy. In between generous bouts of animal stock footage, one of the younger and fitter men (Body Count's Kruger) decides to go for it as the new leader, which entails wielding the severed head of a bear, engaging in hand-to-hand ursine battles, and defeating any other contenders as violently as possible.
As you can probably tell, there isn't much plot here; instead Cavallone is more interested in showing the ins and outs of a primitive society where strength is drawn from consuming your opponent's smashed-open brains, a process shown in suitably icky detail. The film doesn't skimp on the gore in other areas either, including a very novel (and slow) decapitation process that has to be seen to be believed. That said, it's best to be aware of what you're in for going in as this is most definitely not a film for all tastes, especially with the insanely bloated 103-minute running time. It's all quite weird and amusing though if you're game, with the early '80s vibe accentuated by the dreamy electronic score by Alberto Baldan Bembo, who gave us some of Italian cinema's most fabulously funky scores like Lingua d'argento and the epic Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle.
Pretty much impossible to see outside of those early VHS editions, Master of the World emerged on Blu-ray in 2022 from Vinegar Syndrome as a region-free edition featuring a 4K scan from the 35mm original camera negative (and what must surely be the easiest English SDH job in history since they didn't even bother with Human Animals). Obviously this isn't always the prettiest film given the large amount of mismatched stock footage (some of it clearly shot way before the '80s), but the transfer itself looks terrific with excellent clarity and good color timing. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is also good with the music getting most of the support. In "Quest for Survival" (40m51s), assistant director Stefano Pomilia chats about getting into the business thanks to the influence of his father (who brought films like El Topo and Picnic at Hanging Rock to Italy), who worked with Cavallone on Man, Woman and Beast. He goes into this film quite a bit including the desire for more "scientific and anthropological accuracy" than Ironmaster, noting the various themes worked into the script and the whole process behind using a trained bear instead of wolves as originally written. In "200,000 Years Ago" (40m39s), Cavallone biographer Davide Pulici charts the filmmaker's progression to this, his penultimate film, through a career filled with provocation and surrealism as well as wild detours like the crackpot porn film Baby Sitter. He also goes into Cavallone's fascination with Quest for Fire and the Stone Age, as well as its ties to an unrealized project that could have been one of the wildest movies ever from the sound of it (involving two lesbian Danish scientists making improper use of Yeti sperm). The English theatrical trailer is also included.
Reviewed on February 5, 2022