IRON WARRIOR (1987)

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.

The mysterious “Iron Warrior” who is definitely NOT Darth Vader

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.

Phoedra gets cast into the Phantom Zone a la Zod in “Superman II”

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.

Our hero.

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.

Princess Janna lost in a moment of artsy moodiness

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.

To defeat Phoedra, Ator and Princess Janna must retrieve the mysterious plot-contrivance cube.

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.

Ator, chased Indiana Jones style by a giant boulder.

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.

Princess Janna for Covergirl.

Iron Warrior might not be for everyone, but if you’ve any appreciation at all for cheap 1980s Italian art-house fantasy…

BIOTANK UNIT X

Pietro felt around in the tank’s guts. With his arm fully extended through tangles of oozing hoses and pulsating clusters of bioengineered circuitries, his fingers barely reached a hard-plastic protrusion. It was the cap to the circulatory waste pan. He gripped it as best he could and gave it a twist. Nothing. Another twist and cap gave. Pietro turned it slowly; it popped loose and a burst of brown clotted blood spewed out.

Pietro cursed as he yanked his arm out of the access panel. He shook his arm to rid himself of the putrid chunks of rotten biomatter. He took a step back as the liquid oozed onto the floor and crept toward his feet.

Well, he thought, I guess I’ll go get the hose.

“Can it be fixed?”

Pietro flinched slightly, partially because he had forgotten the sergeant was behind him. However, it was mostly because the sergeant had a voice like a wheezing bicycle horn.

“Once I’ve got her cleaned out,” Pietro said, “I’ll be able to see how clogged up she is. Going by what I’m seeing here, I’m guessing you haven’t had her flushed in a while.”

The sergeant was a whisper thin lad, bald from radiation and sporting an expensive set of nu-arms named Higgs. Higgs rolled his eyes and snorted, “what I do with that tank and when I do it is my business, mechanic. Just fix it.”

Pietro pushed up the sleeves of his coveralls and went to the slop sink in the corner. Hands washed, he dried them with a ratty old towel. He looked at the sergeant, sized him up. He was the kind of runt, in the old days, Pietro would have put on latrine duty.

“I’ll have her running smooth by tomorrow,” he said, “I can show you how to check the waste levels when you pick her up.”

Higgs squared his shoulders in a pathetic attempt to make himself look larger. Pietro might have laughed had the young sergeant not had one of his titanium nu-hands resting on the handle of his shock pistol.

“Don’t worry sergeant,” Pietro said coolly, “she’ll be ready for you. I’ll forward the proper forms to your office.”

Sergeant Higgs relaxed, took his hand from his weapon and ran its metal fingers over his bald head as though he still had hair. Without a word, he turned from Pietro and stepped briskly through the open roll up door. He disappeared into the darkened streets. Pietro, sure that Higgs would not be coming back before morning, brought the door down and punched in the lock code.

A soft low groan emanated from the tank. The old machine was as much a patchwork of metal and plastic as it was flesh and blood. It had seen better days. He ran a hand palm along the rusted filter housing. This one, pitted and scarred by decades of heavy wear, looked like an original E26. If Pietro ignored the late-model blast shielding and top mounted gas launcher, this one was nearly identical to the one Pietro had commanded on the eastern borders. The crew had called her “Daphne” and considered the giant killing machine to be one of the team.

Where was it we lost her?

He exhaled, slow and deliberate to ease his nerves. He wished for a cigarette.

Pietro wondered at the jumbled memories of his war days. Years had passed since he and his crew lost their loyal tank somewhere along the Mississippi River. He felt the loss of Daphne as much as he did for any of his fallen comrades.

“Don’t worry old girl,” he said with a grin, “we’ll get you fixed up. Maybe charge that little turd Higgs double.”

The tank shifted slightly, settled, relaxed slightly on its treads.

Pietro lit a cigarette, a cherry flavored GMO hybrid of khat and marijuana, and wondered where he had left his flush out kit.

Someone banged on the rollup door. Pietro exhaled hard, grey smoke shooting from his nostrils like steam from a boiling kettle.

They banged again. The aluminum door’s squeaky rattle echoed through the garage.

“Hold on, I’m coming,” Pietro grumbled; his cigarette held tight between his lips and bobbed as he spoke, dropped ash on the floor.

He flipped open the locks and pulled up the door, ready to shout a few curses into the face of Sergeant Higgs. What the hell does he want now?

But it was not the smug young Sergeant Higgs. It was someone unknown to Pietro. He squinted, tried to make out the face. The face changed. What had appeared a middle-aged man became a young girl. It changed again and again, shifting faster than Pietro’s mind could process. A blur-mask?

Before he was able to fully process the implications of this, a searing pain spread through his chest. His legs failed him. Sprawled out on the floor, a warmth moved through his limbs. His mind was weightless. His vision darkened. He wondered if he’d see Daphne.