Thursday, August 13, 2009
The flood of barbarian movies that stormed across movie screens in the early 80s was at best a mixed blessing. A direct result of the big box office of CONAN, the slew of rip-offs was inevitable as was the variable quality level from production to production. Barbarian movies don’t require much in the way of big budgets and if you’re fairly clever it is possible to create a moderately believable fantasy realm with sword wielding men and women saving oppressed people from evil warlords. If you want to include a wizard slinging around magic spells the price tag might go up a little (‘Find me a cheap FX man, now!’) but there were ways to make that pay off well if it made the film stand out from the crowd.
To be completely clear, none of these movies are classics of cinema. In fact, I would say that most of them are actually bad movies to varying degrees. But when you get the desire to see muscled non-actors swing swords and flatly toss out poorly scripted dialog about their beloved princesses and nefarious evil plans there is nothing you can do. You simply must watch a barbarian movie from the 1980s! The crazy costumes are a big plus as well with the evil characters often wearing objects that a lively audience can spend the film’s entire running time trying to identify.
Over the past few months I’ve finally caught up with the first three ATOR films and found them to be fairly dull affairs except for the bizarre third one that seemed to aspire to be Lynchian in its sparse, affected and obtuse approach to storytelling. This style was the result of an extremely low budget but its effect is still amazing viewed twenty years later in a post LOST HIGHWAY/MULHOLLAND DR. world. The movie is damned near an art film in barbarian dress! Granted, it would be hard to get a lot of folks to appreciate this fact, (much less the film itself) but what are you gonna do? A lot of people don’t like Lynch’s films either.
One of my favorites of the barbarian rip-off genre is Umberto Lenzi’s IRONMASTER. I picked up a copy of this little gem a few years ago and enjoyed it a lot but it wasn’t until this week I finally showed it to anyone else. I’m not sure why it took me so long because the reaction was everything I could have hoped for- stunned amusement coupled with giggling disbelief followed with a smile of pure joy. Perfect! Another IRONMASTER fan is born!
This film is a cut above the average of its type with a good story, some impressive South Dakota scenery and a good amount of well integrated stock footage of dangerous animals. The battle scenes are well done and usually believable in their harshness as the actors work hard to sell the physical nature of their characters. And only a group of mad Italians would have the audacity to conclude such a gory, violent movie with a call for non-violence and pacifism. Icing on the cake, says I.