The Barbarians

Director: Ruggero Deodato
Peter Paul, David Paul, Richard Lynch

What do you do if you are a movie producer and want to make a certain kind of movie, but that certain kind of movie has become box office and critical poison? Well, I have noticed one solution used over the decades that has been used: humor. Sometimes adding humor to something that is worn out can pay off, both financially and critically. Take for example what American International Pictures did during the 1960s. As you probably know, they made a whole bunch of horror movies based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, such as House Of Usher and Pit And The Pendulum, which were critical and financial successes. But after making such straitlaced Poe movies for several years, studio head Samuel Z. Arkoff felt that a change of pace was needed. He told screenwriter Richard Matheson, "We've been doing these Poe movies long enough that it's time to spoof or satirize them a little." Matheson welcomed the new order, since he was getting tired of writing serious stuff for so long. The movie that eventually came out was The Raven, based on Poe's poem and starring series regular Vincent Price, but was done tongue in cheek. And it worked - the movie did well both with critics and audiences. So as you can see, making fun of a genre or a particular kind of movie that has become essentially stagnant can add some new life. If you think about it, just about any kind of tired movie or genre can be made fun of. The exceptions that comes to mind are "spoof" movies. I don't know about you, but I am tired of "spoof" movies like Wrongfully Accused, 2001: A Space Travesty, and the entire works of screenwriters Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. I would like someone to make fun of the spoof genre, but for the life of me I can't figure out a way how to do it.

If you have read my new reviews over the past few years, you will have noticed that I usually like to talk about one specific topic over the first two paragraphs of a review, so you probably assume I will talk more about adding humor to movies. But since that technique of mine has become tired, I will make a change with this review. Not by adding humor, but by talking about another subject that has to do with the movie I am reviewing here. The new topic I wish to talk about are twins. When you think of "twins", you probably instantly think of two people who look alike. Actually, most twins are fraternal twins - not looking alike, sometimes not even sharing the same gender.  Despite this, identical twins are what most people think of when the topic comes up. It's interesting to look at humanity's fascination with twins. Indeed, the idea of two people looking exactly alike - especially if they also act alike - is a fascinating one. So it should come as no surprise that over the years, filmmakers have exploited the phenomenon of identical twins. Some attempts are real exploitation, such as with conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton in the movie Chained For Life. Fortunately, most twin-based movies aren't as sleazy as that particular movie, though that's not to say there haven't been some serious stabs at exploiting twins. A while back, I reviewed the movie I, The Jury, and in the movie were the Harris twins Lynette and Leigh, who a year earlier had both been featured in Playboy Magazine. With that in mind, I think you can guess what particular talents they had were showcased in the movie.

As it turns out, the twins the same year appeared in the Roger Corman sword and sorcery production Sorceress, and you can be sure that those talents got a showcase in that movie as well. I mention that movie, because the movie I am reviewing here - The Barbarians - also happens The Barbariansto be a sword and sorcery movie that features identical twins in the lead roles. So the basic idea of The Barbarians isn't completely original. Though what The Barbarians does to differentiate itself from Sorceress - and pretty much every other sword and sorcery movie - is by doing what I mentioned in the first paragraph, adding plenty of comedy to a normally serious genre. That alone is interesting, but what made the movie even more interesting to me when I first heard of it was learning that it was a Cannon movie produced by two of my favorite movie producers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. The two producers exposing a funny side didn't happen very often, so I knew I had to see this movie when it first came available on video decades ago. I remembered liking it, so I decided to check it out again now that it's available on DVD. The events of the movie take place in some sword and sorcery world. At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to the Ragnicks, a wandering tribe who among their number include two young identical twin boys named Kutchek and Gore. One day while traveling between towns, the tribe is attacked by the forces of Kadar (Lynch, Under Oath), who wants the magic ruby possessed by the Ragnicks' leader Canary (Virginia Bryant, Demons 2). Canary manages to hide the ruby from Kadar, but Kadar manages to get Canary under his thumb by threatening to kill Kutchek and Gore if she does not become his bride. Kadar separates and throws Kutchek and Gore into his slave stable, and many years pass. When Kutchek and Gore become adults (now played by Peter and David Paul), during one gladiator fight they each discover the brother they had thought died years earlier. They escape from the clutches of Kadar, but not long afterwards they discover the broken remnants of the Ragnick tribe, and upon seeing this they swear to eliminate Kadar and rescue their leader Canary.

Before getting into The Barbarians, I have to make a confession. During the years when the video store reigned supreme, I saw every movie that starred Peter and David Paul, who were also known as "The Barbarian Brothers" - at least the movies where the two brothers were up front and center. Sure, the movies Think Big, Double Trouble, and Twin Sitters were far from cinematic masterpieces, but there was something about these movies that made them extremely guilty pleasures. Having rewatched The Barbarians, I think I know the main reason that made the Paul brothers' movies fun to watch - the Paul brothers themselves. Now, I am not saying that Peter and David Paul are master thespians - if you were to put any of them alone in front of the camera, they would more likely than not come across as embarrassingly awkward and without any color. However, when the two of them are paired together, something almost magical occurs. There is an instant feeling of great chemistry. No doubt a lot of that chemistry is because the two brothers grew up and exercised together; when you live with and engage in mutual interests together with someone for so long, a strong rapport is likely to form. The two brothers seem very comfortable with each other, so comfortable that they frequently engage together in something else that makes them very appealing - comedy. Of course, when you think about it, two identical twins who are both very muscular is an unusual sight. Since it's so unusual, it seems a little silly when you think about it. So throughout The Barbarians, the Paul brothers aren't afraid to get silly at times. They argue and get into various disagreements, and are clearly not taking things too seriously. With other actors in the roles, the comedy coming from these characters could have been disastrous, heavy handed and extremely unfunny. But with the Pauls, you can sense they are having a lot of fun being jokey with each other (and towards others) at times, and their enthusiasm helps make their clashes of personalities often very amusing.

In case you are wondering, neither David nor Peter Paul particularly stand out from each other in any real aspect. They each play basically the same muscular lunkheaded character. But that's okay, since they each play the same basic character in an appealing and often humorous manner. Before I go any further, I feel I should point out that though the two leads of The Barbarians often act in a comic fashion, the movie is not an out-and-out comedy. Wisely, the movie seems to realize that being completely jokey might be disastrous, so there is usually an undercurrent of seriousness running to some degree in the background. Indeed, the first thirty minutes of the movie are played completely straight and serious. But after that point, every so often the script by James R. Silke (Revenge Of The Ninja) puts in some level of comic spirit, and it's often amusing. It might be subtle, like the business the Ragnicks put with the magic ruby towards the end of the movie. Other times the aim is to generate some serious laughs, like one scene where George Eastman (Rabid Dogs) has a cameo as a weapons merchant who gets into an arm wrestling contest with the twin barbarians. While I'm speaking of the cast, I should point out that most of the supporting characters always act without the slightest bit of humor to their personalities, which helps the movie from becoming too silly. The always memorable Michael Berryman (Voyage Of The Rock Aliens) has an effective small role as one of Kadar's overseers. And as Kadar, Richard Lynch does bring in his trademark nastiness that makes him a villain to hate... sort of. I say "sort of", because he has somewhat less presence in the movie than you'd think, being offscreen a lot, and only making short appearances when he does show up. It's kind of a disappointing use of the actor if you are a Lynch fan, and even if you are unfamiliar with him from other films, you can tell that he's being somewhat underused.

The Barbarians was directed by the sometimes controversial Italian director Ruggero Deodato (Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man). On this particular project, he does a pretty good job for the most part. No doubt some of his good work on this movie was due to the participation of producers Golan and Globus. The two producers obviously gave him a budget that while not major Hollywood studio lavish, was higher than your typical Italian Conan rip-off. Although when Deodato brings in a dragon at one point in a way that somehow manages to be both impressive and laughable, otherwise the other details in the movie (costumes, props, and sets) look authentic and sell this sword and sorcery world to the audience. Deodato also films in some fairly eye-catching Italian countryside locations, some I recognized from other Italian genre films. When it comes to the action sequences, some viewers might be a little disappointed, since the action may to them come across as a little soft. Actually, the swordplay to me came across as more realistic, not ludicrously fast as in other films, but more in a manner where you can feel the strain and effort of the participants - and to me, that generated real excitement. And Deodato didn't forget to add a dash of sex with the violence; some women are shown as topless as the Paul brothers are throughout the movie. Probably the best thing about Deodato's direction is that he really keeps the movie moving at all times. There aren't any boring spots, and the quickly moving narrative helps gloss over some unanswered questions in the script, like why the character of Kadar wants the ruby in the first place. I'm not making out The Barbarians to be another Conan The Barbarian - it's a bit too goofy and ragged to be held in high esteem. But it's a likable goofy and ragged movie, so if you are kind of tired of seeing pretentious sword and sorcery movies, this movie will be a welcome change of pace.

(Posted December 26, 2019)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Quest For The Mighty Sword, Sinbad Of The Seven Seas, The Sword Of The Barbarians