Shitty Movie Sundays: Legion of Iron

Legion of Iron 1990 movie posterThere isn’t much information hurtling around in the tubes about Legion of Iron. There isn’t even a trailer anywhere I can find. The closest is a two-minute long video of this flick’s final scene, posted in multiple places. According to IMDb, this movie did get an actual release near the time it was made, on video, but there’s nothing out there about current ownership or who licenses it for streaming. Of the 26 listed cast members, only 4 have headshots. This appears to be a film that was well on the road to being forgotten, saved from oblivion by the fact streaming companies need content, and lots of it.

From way back in 1990, Legion of Iron comes to us via producer/director Yakov Bentsvi, working from a screenplay by Ruben Gordon. The film tells the tale of high school couple Billy and Alison (Kevin T. Walsh and Camille Carrigan). Billy is the star football player at his school and Alison is the lead cheerleader. One night after a game the two head up into the hills overlooking Yuma, Arizona, for some teenaged necking. There, they are kidnapped by two creepy men dressed as police and whisked off to a secret, underground bunker in the desert.

The bunker is run by the evil, sadistic, and insatiable Queen Diana (Erika Nann). There, she forces the men she has kidnapped to fight in a gladiatorial arena, with the unfortunate female kidnappees handed out as prizes to the victor. This is a business enterprise for Diana, as she makes a fortune betting on the fights with a cabal of like-minded Illuminati types.

Forcing slaves to fight is a tough proposition, so Diana sweetens the pie by promising freedom and riches for any slave who manages to win ten fights. It’s bullshit, and the slaves know it, but she has an iron grip on the bunker. The slaves are kept in locked cells with their prize women, and she keeps a staff of guards happy with lots of booze and opportunities for rape.

Billy wants nothing to do with the arrangement, especially after Alison is given as a prize to a muscly gladiator named Rex (Stefanos Miltsakakis). Billy vows to kill Rex in the arena, even though he weighs about 130 pounds soaking wet, and Rex is very much larger. But, hey, this is a movie, right?

While training for his revenge with fellow slave Lyle (Reggie De Morton) in the lamest montages one will see in a film like this, the two plot escape and rescue. The promised fight happens, the slaves make their big break as expected, and the final act is one long firefight followed by a last chase reminiscent of the worst of the Mad Max ripoffs I can’t seem to stop writing about.

Besides some limited outside shooting, most of this film takes place in the cells, the arena, and Diana’s chambers. If it wasn’t clear to a viewer early on that Bentsvi didn’t have much of a budget to work with, the small number of sets is a telltale sign. The arena is the most precious of the bunch. It’s an empty swimming pool. Bentsvi and company dressed it up some, but it’s definitely a swimming pool. The entire film was shot in Yuma, so if I had to guess, an empty YMCA or closed high school provided the location.

As noted above, there isn’t any star power in this movie, nor are there any performers with experience outside of b-movies or the occasional television guest appearance. The good news is, there aren’t many bad reads. Nann is over the top as Diana, as she should be. This is a gladiator b-movie and she’s the queen of the show. Subtlety is the last thing her performance should have had. De Morton was the most grounded in reality, while Carrigan’s was the most amateurish of the featured performers. Then there is the star. Walsh was an enthusiastic participant in this movie. His overacting was a direct challenge to Nann’s. The energy of his performance was great, especially during fight scenes, when he would bounce around like an excited ferret. We should all have so much fun during such hopeless circumstances.

As for the action, it’s…extensive. The training montages are crap, with Billy and Lyle standing in a room as small as a closet swinging dull swords back and forth. For a gladiator film, there are only a handful of fights in the arena, for all the time spent there. There’s a hint of the final act in an early escape attempt halfway in, but the real meat is during the big breakout. Bentsvi looks to have husbanded most of his resources for this final act. Everything and everyone gets shot up, leading to that ersatz Mad Max finale. It’s silly and stupid, but also the part of the film where one is least likely to succumb to distraction. For a mediocre watching experience up to that point, the finale delivers.

Of final note is the film’s tone. It sets itself up as a movie with lots of violence and lots of gratuitous nudity. Well, there’s one, but oddly, none of the other. Had this been an Italian production, say, I have no doubt it would be a drapes closed kind of movie. For some reason Bentsvi pulled back when it came time to show skin, despite there being very adult themes. I’m not saying that the circumstances the female characters face should be used for titillating the audience. I’m just pointing out that for the era, the restraint is odd. Is there a tasteful way to portray sex slaves in a b-movie. No. But b-movies get a pass on offensive content because they are just about the only place in film where excess and exploitation have a ready home. I can’t help but feel a more outrageous and more offensive movie would have also been a better movie.

In the end, Legion of Iron stinks. Like many shitty movies, it’s fading out of cinematic memory for a multitude of reasons. Here at Missile Test, that makes it worthy of preservation, if not outright admiration. It falls into the lower half of the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index, displacing On the Edge at #282.

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