The Barbarians (1987)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Golden Voyage of Sinbad

Hawk the Slayer

The Last Days of Pompeii

The Barbarians

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

Texas implements a new method
of execution.
The Barbarians, which – according to its irresistible video cover – stars "The Barbarian Brothers," is yet another Italian rip-off of a successful Hollywood movie, in this case Conan the Barbarian. But if Conan was a big hit with just one beefy, verbally-challenged budding actor in it, a movie starring two beefy, verbally-challenged budding actors would have to be an even bigger hit, right? Give this film a rent and you'll see just how wrong you are.

The movie is set in a world of magic and wonder, as portrayed by some desolate part of Italy populated by extras who look as though they escaped from a Mad Max film – set at a Renaissance festival. The only fun to be had in this world comes in the form of the Ragniks, traveling performers whose creativity is empowered by the magic of a powerful ruby. The Ragnik Queen wears the ruby in her navel, which is why this artifact of immeasurable power is called the "belly stone" for most of the movie. We're told that the ruby was paid for with a mountain of gold, but considering that the Ragniks ended up a bunch of poorly-dressed Cirque de Soleil refugees, it hardly seems worth a mountain of gold, or even a hill of beans.

It's like looking in a really
sweaty mirror.
Despite narration that explains that the Ragniks were welcomed everywhere and given "right of passage" in every kingdom, they are attacked by warriors in the employ of a bad guy named Kadar (Richard Lynch, who must have traded hairstyling tips with Jane Child). After several incredibly gory deaths, the Ragniks are all captured, including Queen Canary (Virginia Bryant) and the twin orphans Kutchek and Gor. Before her capture, Canary managed to dispatch someone to hide the ruby, which was Kadar's objective. Several times Kadar states that "the power of the ruby will be mine." Given the ruby's magical effects on the Ragniks, we are forced to assume that Kadar just wants to leave medieval tyranny behind and start a career as a street mime. Canary promises to be Kadar's concubine if he will spare the two boys' lives. (They deserve death, naturally, because one of the twins bit a few of Kadar's fingers clear off his hand.) Kadar promises they will not die by his hand, or by the hand of any of his subjects.

Years pass, and Kadar embarks on a plan so needlessly complex it rivals the grandest dreams of Doctor Doom. We think this is to compensate for the simplicity of the rest of Kadar's kingdom: he has a witch, who is referred to as "Sorceress." Kadar's main flunkie is a wild-eyed sadist known as "The Dirtmaster" (Michael Berryman!) – presumably because the one thing Kadar's kingdom has is dirt, so they may as well master it. And the prison to which Kutchek and Gor are consigned is called, unimaginatively, "The Pit."

During their time in The Pit, Kutchek and Gor are separated and trained to hate their punishers, who wear distinctive helmets. Then all Kadar has to do is sit back and wait, say, fifteen years, put the different helmets on each brother, and pit the two (now grown-up) brothers against one another in a death match. Kadar must be quite feared indeed, because nobody ever mentions that the same results could have been achieved without breaking the promise by simply throwing the twins to wild tigers, or giving them to the next kingdom over or something.

Needless to say, Kutchek and Gor (now played by the obscenely muscular David and Peter Paul) undo Kadar's decades-long plan in a moment when they knock the helmets off. After a brief scuffle that illustrates the dangers of death-match spectatorship, the twins escape by pushing over several of the flimsy scaffolding structures that guard the Pit and flee, leaving the audience to wonder why they didn't just do that years ago.

"Is Mike Piazza available for
another commercial?"
After the complicated setup, the movie bogs down into a series of largely unconnected scenes that fit the usual quest structure of movies of both the classic and modern sword-and-sandal movies. The brothers need weapons, so they team up with a thief (Eva LaRue) and go to see a weapons dealer at a bar. A huge fight erupts, and the weapons are forgotten. Then the brothers somehow figure out that they can sneak into Kadar's harem and see Canary, so they do this. Canary tells them to get weapons from the tomb of the Ancient Kings and kill the dragon guarding the ruby, so they do that. The dragon is a unique creation portrayed by alternately a full-sized model and a hand puppet. (It looks like ALF turned inside out.) And then there's the profoundly disappointing final showdown with Kadar, in which Kadar's downfall has almost nothing to do with Kutchek or Gor 's fighting skills, but everything to do with the fact that Kadar carries a weapon he can't use due to missing body parts. What, did he forget?

The new Vidal Sassoon spokesman.
This could have been a completely forgettable sword-and-sandal film, were it not for a handful of features. Director Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust, Phantom of Death) contributes some decent cinematography and a liberal helping of gore, although even these things can only slightly mitigate the campy script and campier acting. Michael Berryman wigs out in his wild-eyed way a couple of times, which is amusing enough, but hardly the stuff upon which to hang ninety minutes of entertainment. Chief among the Ragniks is a horse-faced clown named Ibar (Franco Pistoni) who looks like nothing so much as Paul Reubens after a few days of torture on the rack. Seriously, this guy could do that bit from Army of Darkness wherein Bruce Campbell's face stretches – without the makeup. Whether or not you find him as gruesomely fascinating as we do, it's tough to wipe his visage from your mind.

"Today's secret word is 'transvestite.'"
The "Barbarian Brothers" themselves are certainly memorable, but only for their idiocy. These are the boys for whom the term "knucklehead" was invented. We like to imagine that the first part of the film is autobiographical, and that they really were raised in a pit for the first twenty years of their lives. It would explain the weird honking noise one of the brothers makes when excited. The interplay between the Paul brothers is almost entirely on the level of two six-year-old children, with nearly every conversation ending in a squabble. ("I want the sword!") If you think watching two full-grown musclemen acting like first graders is the height of comedy, The Barbarians may be for you. You may also want to check out your local video store's ample collection of movies about dogs and chimps playing professional sports.

Review date: 03/07/2003

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