The Sword Of The Barbarians

Director: Michele Massimo Tarantini   
Pietro Torrisi, Yvonne Fraschetti, Mario Novelli

Ever since I started The Unknown Movies, I have strived to keep a balance when it comes to the genres of movies I review. I want every visitor to this web site to be able to find at least some small thing that catches their interest, which will increase the possibility Despite this policy of mine, I must admit that I am more attracted to certain genres, and that I would probably exclusively review movies in these genres all the time if I didn't have that specific piece of common sense in my mind that has me review a wide variety of movies. I think you know that I love the western genre, especially those westerns that are spaghetti westerns. But I also have another movie genre that I love, one that I don't think that I have mentioned before. That movie genre happens to be the sword and sorcery genre. I have loved movies in this genre for ages. I can remember my first introduction to the sword and sorcery genre, though it wasn't from a movie. Years ago, when I still had some growing up to do, I used to frequent a certain book store every Saturday. I frequented this certain book store because they had a wide variety of reading material, and the owner would not tell me to stop freely (in both sense of the word) reading the stuff there. (I was a cheap bastard even back then.) I would read Fangoria magazine, always amazed that they would get away with showing especially gory stuff on its cover. And there was also Starlog, Mad, and Cracked. Then one day, I came across one of Marvel Comics' Conan magazines. The cover looked intriguing, so I opened it up and started reading.

Now, I had heard of Conan before, but I had never read the original Robert E. Howard stories or seen the movies. But as I started to read, I soon started to realize what I had been missing. The magazine was full of violence, magic, and even a little sexy material. After I finished reading it, I patiently waited for the next issue to come out, and then the next ones after it. Though I knew these were new Conan stories and not Howard originals, I somehow knew that this was how Howard's creation was like, and I realized I had been missing much from ignoring the sword and sorcery genre. From that point on, when I got a chance to indulge in the genre, I took it. I watched the two Schwarzenegger Conan movies; while I liked the first one, I thought that the second one (aside from its score) was a disappointment. I got a pirated copy of the Conan computer game for the Apple II, though I didn't think it was "real" Conan, because the Conan in this game had a boomerang sword and would flip somersaults in the air when he jumped. Later, I saw an animated Conan TV series, but it was so watered down I didn't consider it true Conan as well. Then there was the live-action Conan TV series, but it was also watered down and I gave up after a few episodes. Later, I made a new friend who had the original Howard stories in paperback. I read some of them, and saw that what I had thought to be "true" Conan was correct. When I couldn't get a Conan fix over the years, I would watch sword and sorcery movies without him. Movies like The Sword And The Sorcerer, The Barbarians, Deathstalker, The Warrior And The Sorceress, and the Miles O'Keeffe Ator movies.

By now I think that a question has formed in the mind of many long-time readers of The Unknown Movies. That question being, "If you love the sword and sorcery genre so much, why on earth haven't you reviewed more movies from the genre?" A valid question. Looking at my past reviews, I have only reviewed three examples: Hearts And Armour, Quest For The Mighty Sword, and Sinbad Of The Seven Seas. Why is this? The answer is pretty simple. When I started this web site, even back then, those older sword and sorcery movies were being removed by video stores to fit in newer and different movies. Plus, after the '80s and up to now, few sword and sorcery movies have been made, and almost all of those I would not consider "unknown movies". I have been without a fix of sword and sorcery for years. But recently, thanks to a telecast by Canada's equivalent of the American Sci-Fi network, I not only got a sword and sorcery movie to review, but one I had not seen before, The Sword Of The Barbarians. It takes place in an ancient age, where we are introduced to Sangraal (Torrisi, Violent City), a barbarian king who is leading his people to find a new land to settle in. After they save some of the inhabitants of a new land they enter from the murderous followers of the fire god Rani, they are invited to settle with the inhabitants. But Rani is angry, and she gets her warrior follower Nanuk (Novelli, The New Gladiators) to attack the village. All are slaughtered, except for Sangraal and the village chief's daughter Aki. Sangraal swears vengeance, and followed by Aki as well as the wandering warrior Li Wo Twan (Hal Yamanouchi, Hearts And Armour), he sets off on his quest.

Whenever your mind stops wandering around and focuses on the sword and sorcery genre, what are the first things that come to your mind? Some of you might think of stuff like impossibly sexy women (often warriors) with breasts the size of melons. I admit that's one of the first things I think of, but as for the very first thing I think of, I think of the striking environment that most of these sword and sorcery stories take place in. Mention "sword and sorcery" to me, and the first thing I think of are stuff like forests thick with tall trees, snow-capped gigantic mountains in the background (sometimes in the foreground as well), hot desert plains, and gigantic caves. In short, a majestic environment that compliments the typically epic stories of this genre. But in the case of The Sword Of The Barbarians, we don't get such a stunning backdrop. I will admit that the filmmakers did manage to find some bona fide caves for the two cavern locations Sangraal and his companions come across during their quest, and that these caves look okay to the eye. And there is one sequence that actually takes place in a forest, though it looks like the filmmakers didn't actually travel very far from civilization to reach it due to its somewhat sparse look. But the rest of the chosen locations look very shabby. The desert plains that Sangraal and his companions briefly come across while traveling cross-country? If you ask me, it looks very much like a gravel pit. The bulk of the movie is actually filmed on hilly grasslands covered with bushes and large rocks. This unspectacular landscape all looks to have been shot in the same small area, despite the heroes' long cross-country trip.

It quickly becomes very clear that the filmmakers didn't have the money to beef up the look of their movie. This is not limited to the locations that were chosen, but also to what the filmmakers were able to bring to these locations - which wasn't much. There are the huts in Sangraal's village (few in number and look hastily constructed), a brief glimpse of some kind of primitive construction in what's supposed to be the home of the savage tribe in the forest, a few props in the cave where Rani the fire god pops up now and then, and... well... that about it for production values. Most scenes go by where the actors have little to work with other than the costumes they are wearing. A top-notch cast playing memorable character may have found it a challenge, but with the cast chosen for this movie and for the particular characters they are playing, the filmmakers should have seen it as a hopeless task. As the central hero Sangraal, Pietro Torrisi is not a very imposing figure. For starters, Conan would probably laugh as his physique, which isn't very much larger for what would be considered skinny. His character is pretty one-note once the action starts, doing and saying nothing that would make him more colorful. As Sangraal's enemy, Nanuk shouts a lot, but doesn't actually do that much. Li Wo Twan, at least in this English dub, speaks with an insulting "so solly" tone. As the woman who follows him on his quest, the character of Aki actually doesn't try to seduce Sangraal along the way, but this cliché may have been welcome, since about the only thing of significance this character gets to do is have her breasts exposed.

And as for Rani the fire god, even though she is on top of Sangraal's hit list, I think she only appears three times in the entire movie. And in each of those times, she appears for less than a minute, not exactly giving this character enough time to make a real impression. Granted, she is topless during all of those appearances, but like the character of Aki, she is surprisingly lacking melon-sized breasts. I will admit that this gratuitous nudity did give me one or two chuckles, and there are a few other laughs to be found in The Sword Of The Barbarians. The biggest laugh I got was the scene when the band of heroes finds themselves being swept down a river. This may not sound funny, but when you see that the river is only a few inches deep and they have to roll over and over to give the impression that the water is pushing them downstream, I suspect that you will laugh as much as I did. But aside from a few laughs like that, I found the movie to be a long and dull slog. The movie has a lot of problems other than those I described in the previous paragraphs. There is pompous narration that tells us nothing we need to know. There are unanswered questions, like just why does Li decide to help Sangraal? And the action sequences, the centerpieces of a movie like this, are very badly done. Director Tarantini seems to have no idea how to choreograph and film swordplay, with the result that you often have no idea who is dying and how. When an Italian movie can't even deliver some half decent action, you know that something is very wrong.

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See also: Hearts And Armour, Quest For The Mighty Sword, Sinbad Of The Seven Seas