Imagine the illegitimate child of Conan the Barbarian and Indiana Jones; throw in some Star Wars and Superman for flavor and you’ve got Alfonso Brescia’s Iron Warrior (original Italian title, “Ator il Guerriero di Ferro”). An inexplicable mash-up of everything that was cool in 1980’s fantasy-adventure, Iron Warrior manages to be compelling despite its unabashed lack of originality.
Iron Warrior opens on a scene straight from Superman II – complete with rotating hula hoops and disembodied heads – the malevolent Phoedra is put on trial by her fellow goddesses. Just as Zod before Jor-El in Superman II, Phoedra is unrepentant for her misdeeds and is likewise cast into another realm of existence. That other realm of course, is the world of mortals. Phoedra takes her banishment in stride, brushes off the loss of her ability to take life, and doubles down on her commitment to make life hell for everyone.
Her first move is to kidnap a child, the twin brother of the hero Ator. Played by Miles O’Keefe – playing Ator here for the third time – he is everything that a generic 80s fantasy hero should be. Muscles flexed and hair in a French-braid, he is a man of few words. We first meet Ator as he swings his sword in front of a mirror on a cliff. Oh yeah, he’s cool.
Despite Iron Warrior being the third in a series of four films, this installment requires no prior knowledge of the others. And really, this is the only one worth checking out. The direction by Brescia shifts the tone of the series to something of a surreal art-house project rather than the lame Conan clones that the first two were.
Overall, Iron Warrior’s plot revolves around Phoedra’s efforts to bring chaos and confusion to the world of mortals. Shapeshifting Loki-style, she makes life hell for Ator. Janna, cast out from her kingdom by a scenery-chewing Phoedra, seeks the protection and aid of Ator.
Together, Ator and the Princess are guided by the benevolent witch-goddess Deeva as they navigate a series of obstacles (most of which being “borrowed” from the Indiana Jones movies) to return the Princess to her home and free her father the King.. All the while, Phoedra is there with her mysterious sword wielding servant – the titular silver skull-faced Iron Warrior.
If not for a plot which revolves around illusion and deception, the surreal dream logic of Iron Warrior might leave the viewer feeling a bit confused. Not that the film isn’t confusing at times, but it at least feels deliberate and serves the overall themes. The hero Ator is continuously faced with trickery and deception and the audience is right there with him. The utter strangeness of the Iron Warrior is ultimately its saving grace. What could have been a predictable fairy tale ending is subverted nicely and the viewer is left with a conclusion that is ambiguous yet satisfying.
Iron Warrior might not be for everyone, but if you’ve any appreciation at all for cheap 1980s Italian art-house fantasy…