In a Time of Barbarians, These Brothers are Here to Pump you up!
DIRECTED BY RUGGERO DEODATO/1987
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: DECEMBER 1, 2020/SCORPION RELEASING (VIA KINO LORBER)
It’s the Dark Ages and no one’s rear end is safe. Nor are any fully covered, for that matter.
Blasting back via Cannon Films, all the way from 1987- that inexplicably fondly remembered time of overblown everything- is the frivolously fun action-adventure yarn The Barbarians. The movie is nothing if not directly descriptive- what you see is what you get. The most upfront of its many surface-level attributes is the fact that The Barbarians stars a duo actually known as the Barbarian Brothers. (Actually, twins Peter and David Paul).
You may remember this pumped-up pair from an episode of Knight Rider… or not. While acting might’ve landed several entries lower on their list of priorities than, say, pumping iron, no one could accuse the Barbarian Brothers of taking themselves too seriously. These beefy, loinclothed leads may not win any thespianic praise or even register as all that coherent, but they fully understand the fun tone of this particular movie.
Notorious Cannibal Holocaust filmmaker Ruggero Deodato obviously decided to put his better-known and still controversial extreme ways aside for this one. The result is a surprisingly well-designed (kinda Road Warrior-esque) low-budget actioner, competently directed with no shortage of forward momentum. (Though the editing is frequently over-choppy). It’s like watching fantasy painter Frank Frazetta play with Masters of the Universe action figures; as dynamic as it is impersonal. The swords are big, the muscles are bigger. Everyone wears some combination of fur, shiny metal, leather, and little else. The heroes, shirtless, shaggy, and perpetually glistening, are so built up that they literally cannot rest their arms at their sides. In the Schwarzenegger-crazed 1980s, that kind of problem landed movie deals.
The Brothers Barbarian (née Paul) play Kutchek and Gore, twin carnival performers who are captured and separated at a young age during a raid on their traveling company. Eventually they grow into duplicate, massive slave workers, toiling away presumably in two separate but identical quarry pits. Much is made of the fact that after so many years apart, Kutchek and Gore have forgotten one another. That dramatic plot point lasts all of ten seconds, as the jig is up for their captors the minute the guys recognize one another during forced combat. They’re immediately outta there, bickering and irritating each other just like old times. (Seriously, the humor of the Barbarian Brothers registers on the level of “attention-starved fourteen-year-old boy”. Reoccurring verbal jackass honks are punchlines).
A dopey quest ensues. The goal? Recover an all-important magic stone- the very one that originally harnessed and granted the joyful power of the performing arts unto humanity. Once recovered, an unknown female keeper will be recognized by how perfectly the gem fits into her bellybutton. But first, the brothers must hack and chop their way to finding the thing. This involves squaring off with a goofy-looking homemade dragon puppet (charming fun, actually), an eeeeevil cloaked Richard Lynch, and a cartload of over-the-top reaction shots from horror icon Michael Berryman (Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes). Most importantly, it also involves teaming up with a refreshingly self-reliant wisecracking criminal named Ismena played by Eva La Rue (CSI: Miami). Together, they make their way to the literal belly of the beast. (Yuck)
This new Blu-ray edition from Scorpion Releasing via Kino Lorber (Or vice versa? So hard to tell) of The Barbarians (a Golan-Globus Production, no less!) packs a surprise wallop, looking and sounding terrifically vibrant. Seriously, for an obscure relic of the VHS era that this critic had previously never even heard of, this presentation is rather stunning. Consider it a nice “in memoriam” for David Paul, who died in March of 2020.
The disc also offers an audio commentary by film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. These guys are experts on this sort of thing, a delineation within film scholarship that isn’t nearly as nonsensical as it might sound. Their knowledge of this film and its history comes through well as they contextualize it as both a Cannon Films offering (a niche of increased interest in the past decade, thanks to a couple of documentaries and whatnot) and an interesting bit of “Euro-cult” cinema.
To be clear, The Barbarians is no masterpiece. Deodato’s Wikipedia page doesn’t even bother to give it any specific attention beyond simply listing it among everything else he’s ever directed. In the same period, he also helmed two far more edgy and violent films, 1985’s Cut and Run and another film from 1987, Body Count. The Barbarians must’ve come to him as something of a reprieve from that confrontational sensibility. Not only does the film barely register as R-rated (a severed hand here, fleeting background boobies there… that’s about it), it has a decent score by the great Italian composer Pino Donaggio. The Blu-ray does it all justice and should leave fans of such spirited sword and sorcery pablum quite pumped.