Though made possible by the post-Conan fantasy boom, and marketed as such, this 1983 entry from Umberto Lenzi is really more a pre-historic adventure.
For the film eschews overt manifestations of magic and the supernatural, as seen in the otherwise comparable likes of Ator and Conquest, in favour of a more naturalistic, quasi-anthropological approach in which the only monsters present are less-evolved Neanderthal and ape-man tribes.
A decidedly misleading, if audience-attracting, poster for the French release of the film
At the heart of the story is the rivalry between two stone-age tribesmen, Vood and Ela, who might be summarised as the Cain and Abel or Shiva and Vishnu of the piece.
Vood’s father is chief of the tribe, but surmises, correctly as it turns out, that his son is more concerned with his own glory than the well-being of the tribe as a whole. Accordingly he expresses his preference that Ela should succeed him.
This prompts Vood to murder his father and proclaim himself chief. But Ela, who was witness to the murder but powerless to prevent it, refuses to accept this and challenges Vood to ritual combat for the leadership of the tribe. He wins, assumes the mantle of chief and duly banishes Vood into exile.
While wandering in the volcanic mountains – not, perhaps, the kind of thing a normal person would do, but something that makes sense in this context, along with allowing for some suitable Promethean connotations – Vood then happens upon a natural furnace and a piece of iron in the shape of a sword.
The value of this new weapon is demonstrated as he kills a lion, whose skin he fashions into a headdress, and is persuaded by Lith, who had watched the battle with the beast, to accompany her back to her tribe to take power.
Vood with sword and headdress
With this duly accomplished, Vood equips his warriors with iron swords and turns his attention towards the other tribes in the area, including his own former one...
As might be Lenzi does not shy away from gore in Ironmaster. In the case of the human on human violence this is perfectly justifiable given the 2001-esque black monolith qualities of the furnace and sword: Progress comes from violence and killing rather than peace, as is most forcefully made when a pacifist agrarian tribe is compelled to change its ways in order to survive the onslaught of Vood’s armies.
The inclusion of a boar being speared and gutted cannot however be justified. A quasi-anthropological excuse, that this is what these people would have done for food, is effectively negated by the decidedly unrealistic fright wigs and fur bikinis worn by the cast.
With the film having been shot in the Custer State Park in Dakota it is also noticeable that no buffalo are subjected to a similar fate. One presumes this was either because they were protected or simply too expensive to make for a cheap special effect.
Cast-wise, George Eastman has a suitably imposing villainous presence as Vood, whilst William Berger’s hippie associations are also useful in relation to his casting as leader of the pacifist, vegetarian tribe. Female leads Pamela Prati as Lith and Elvire Audray are attractive, if decidedly unconvincing as authentic tribeswomen. Unfortunately, with the exception of a bit of nipple slippage from Prati’s fur bikini, neither gets their kit off. Sam Pasco, who plays Ela, was a bodybuilder type. That this was to be his only film role tells you all you need to know.
Pasco and Audray, plus Prati's back
The De Angelis brothers provide a decent, if not terribly memorable, primitive score.