Director: Alfonso Brescia

Cast: Miles O'Keeffe, Savina Gersak, Elisabeth Kaza, Iris Peynado, Tim Lane, Tiziana Altieri, Frank Daddi, Josie Coppini, Malcolm Borg, Conrad Borg, Jon Rosser, et al.

Year Released: 1987

Country: Italy

AKA: Ator il guerriero di ferro/ Ator the Iron Warrior


The pending release of Hundra on DVD has reminded me just how woefully under-represented the barbarian slash sword-and-sorcery movie genre has been on DVD. There are so many cheesy CGI fantasy movies made today, usually released direct to video or on the Sci-Fi channel, that one easily forgets there ever was a simpler time when movies had to rely on their director's ingenuity to squeeze a bubblegum budget for all it was worth. Barbarian films are at the low end of the sword-and-sorcery genre and are best remembered for films with simple, yet effective, special effects. Movies with titles like The Barbarians, Beastmaster, Conan the Barbarian, Deathstalker, Gor, The Invincible Barbarian, Red Sonja, Sorceress (1982), Thor and the Amazon Women, and Throne of Fire.

Indeed there were numerous sword-wielding barbarians! Too, the genre included many movies that were so bad they were good. Alas these staples of the VHS rental age are all but absent on DVD. While obscure horror movies continue to fill retailers shelves releases of older sword-and-sorcery films are few and far between. And what could be more deserving of sharing with friends on bad movie night than. .

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Iron Warrior was the third, if unofficial, entry in the Ator sword-and-sorcery series. Other entries included Ator the Fighting Eagle (1983), The Blade Master (1984), and Quest For the Mighty Sword (1990); all by infamous director Joe D'Amato.

While there appear to have been no DVD or LD releases of this title it was released on Betamax and VHS. Known releases include a UK video bearing a 15 certificate rating, a German (?) release bearing a FSK 16 certificate, and possibly two versions; one R-rated and one PG-13; released to the U.S. video market. This review, and the screen caps accompanying it, are based on the full screen PG-13 version from Media.

THE MOVIE

Two young boys are running around in megalithic ruins playing catch with a ball made of pieces of fur. Suddenly a strange figure appears and grabs one of the boys, leaving the second running through the ruins alone calling for his friend/brother/who ever. Before you can blink the scene cuts to a fiery-haired old hag, whom we learn is Phaedra, a sorceress-witch and apparently the abductor of the aforementioned young boy. A young boy who, wouldn't you just know it, was supposed to be destined to become the protector of a princess in the future when he grows up.

But now? Phaedra has her own plans. Not that she's telling. When we meet her she's being interrogated by a mysterious council of weird women identified only as her "sisters" who, somehow off screen, have captured her. In fact they appear to have her bound inside one of those rotating hula-hoop circles within circles thing-a-ma-bobs seen in Superman II (1980). . .


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Remember the Kryptonian villains Ursa, Non, and General Zod? Well they were held captive within a hula-hoop contraption before being banished into the Phantom Zone. As was Phaedra. .

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Now you'd think, being captured and bound, that would mean the story is about the young boy and how he grows up to be the titular hero that fights on the side of good (the weird Sisters) against evil (AKA Phaedra). Well if that's what you were thinking you'd be totally wrong. I have no idea what the writer was thinking but what actually happens is:



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The villain is captured. Her powers are apparently neutralized by a group of powerful and mysterious women identified only as her "sisters" who seem to be very upset with Phaedra for abducting the boy. Yet rather than actually do anything about it they proceed to- believe it or not- interrogate her then, amidst much smoke and a nice dissolve, banish her to the "Underland" without the boy ever being returned.

Underland? If ever you needed proof being able to actually understand the English language is not required to dub movies into English there it is. One assumes they meant Underworld- as the similarity to the plot in Superman II with the Phantom Zone is purely coincidental- AKA Hades, or at least one of it's two divisions; Tarterus or Erebus. I can only assume something was lost in translation as none of that, nor indeed much of what follows, makes the least bit of sense.

To make matters worse there's not much of an attempt to explain anything. Why, if the boy is important, was Phaedra allowed to keep him? Who are the weird sisters? These questions go unanswered as the movie suddenly fast forwards 18 years into the future. Which just happens to coincide with when Phaedra's sentence in the Underland is up. Thus, after a bit of voice over narration. . .



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Phaedra is back, not that it ever felt like she was gone, and this time she's standing on a cliff jutting out above a sea with hands raised in sorcerous conjuration. A dark vessel appears. The narrator kindly informs us this is Trogar, the Iron Warrior, Leader of the Hordes of Hell. .



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Next we're treated to a zoom-in of a cliff high above a sea where, for reasons never made known, Ator (the young boy that wasn't taken captive now fully grown) is flexing his muscles while playing with his sword in front of a mirror. .

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I'm guessing that's supposed to be a statement about the narcissism of heroes. However I wont even hazard a guess about the meaning implied when a fuzzy ball of fur suddenly flies out of nowhere to smash into the mirror. After this Ator leaves his cliff top fortress of solitude and makes his way to a nearby castle, which is lucky because Phaedra just put in a appearance at Princess Janna's eighteenth birth/name day.

Phaedra put on a brief show magical legerdemain while making threats about regaining control of the kingdom before vanishing. Before you know it Trogar attacks, kills a bunch of guards, but luckily the Princess manages to escape. The remainder of the movie is Ator and Princess Janna running around getting into and out of trouble.

ANALYSIS

Iron Warrior is from a time long ago, a time when loincloth clad barbarians, legendary warriors with biceps larger than their intellect, and scantily clad dancing girls filled the screen. Sadly the dancing girls are all but absent from Iron Warrior. Yet, oddly, despite this being a PG-13 release there exists a smattering of semi-nudity. As there's a lot of diaphanous gowns and loose garments, yet the picture seems to abruptly cut away as if someone has edited out any overt shots of nudity, one gets the impression that scenes may be missing. Alas I have been unable to determine what cuts, if any, were made.

What I do know about Iron Warrior is I really like how it uses light and color. For a low budget sword-and-sorcery movie Iron Warrior has some amazing looking scenes. One might even call Iron Warrior "artsy". Say what you will about the sets, or lack thereof, the director has made the most of his budget by utilizing lighting and scenery. .

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The old tricks are the best tricks and many of them are on display here. If nothing else Iron Warrior demonstrates that you don't need fancy SFX or cheap CGI to make a sword-and-sorcery movie. Alas the editing, at least of the video version I have on tape, leaves much to be desired; as does the story.

That the weird sisters have the power to capture and imprison Phaedra, who is built up as the sum of all evil, yet do nothing to actually stop or overtly hinder her is bizarre. For that matter why didn't the weird sisters go after Trogar? They obviously had the power to capture and imprison Phaedra, so why were they not able to protect the boy? Were the bits explaining this left on the cutting room floor, never shot, or never written?

As I noted in my review of Star Odyssey, another film by the same director, that video release is most definitely a re-edit. As I'd classify Iron Master's editing as being a hack job I'm leaning toward suspecting the U.S. distributor is likely to blame. Alas until someone deigns to find the original elements and restore the movie to the Director's original vision (or find a shooting script) we may never know for sure.

The first time I watched my Media tape of Iron Warrior I was fairly baffled half the time. For instance it actually took a second viewing to piece the story together and figure out that the furball smashing into the mirror was meant to be a bit of foreshadowing/ warning to Ator that Trogar (the young boy abducted by Phaedra) is back. IOW: Danger! Danger! Will Robinson.

In fact mirrors are very important in Iron Warrior. . .

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They keep popping up. I'm just not sure why. Which leads us right to the main problem with Iron Warrior, the editing is just terrible. Alas as I've only got the PG-13 version I'm not sure who's at fault. Is the U.S. video distributor to blame for re-editing the movie or was the movie incomprehensible to begin with? I just don't know.

In short Iron Warrior is fairly typical action adventure fare with heavy emphasis on stunts and sword fights, which tend to be drawn out. Plot is minimal. However some of the effects are actually fairly interesting, like the one where a sword is balanced above Janna's bare throat as she is laid out like a lamb waiting slaughter on a sacrificial altar.

AVAILABILITY

Conflicting information exists as to whether a R-rated version was released on VHS. I can confirm purchasing a VHS pre-record years ago with box art listing it to be in SP mode and R-rated. Sadly the box turned out to actually contain a EP mode tape with the cut PG-13 version. While I can't be certain I vaguely recall seeing this on cable years ago and believe the PG-13 version contains cuts to the swimming sequence and that some minor editing may have been done elsewhere. Alas this was a very long time ago and my memories are based on a partial viewing from the middle on at best.

To further confuse matters my research turned up the existence of a Greek tape being peddled by certain gray market vendors that's advertised as being "uncut" and in letterbox format with all the "blood and nudity" intact. While information from such sources is to be taken with a grain of salt, at best, I also stumbled on online review of the German VCL release that appears to be in letterbox format:

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The differences are striking. Immediately one notices the color in the VCL release looks more vibrant. Alas the picture appears severely cropped at the top and bottom of the frame. Too, the clarity is unmistakably superior in the VCL release. As I have been unable to find any information indicating Iron Warrior ever had a letterbox release on U.S. home video it appears the U.S. tapes have poorer color and clarity. Yet the Media tape appears to offer far more picture information over the VCL release.

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Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

[This is an archived review. Originally posted here.]