CANNON MONTH: The Barbarians (1987)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This movie has already been on our site on January 30, 2019 and December 2, 2020, but seeing as how it’s Cannon Month and this is one of our favorites, it’s back. You can get it on blu ray from Kino Lorber.

2019 version

Ruggero Deodato brings together Richard Lynch, twin muscleheads called the Barbarian Brothers, George Eastman and Michael Berryman and the results are everything you dreamed that they would be. Within the first ten minutes of this film, I had already screamed from my couch in pure glee, so happy to be alive and watching an Italian barbarian movie — times two! — that was unashamed to be this stupid.

The Ragnicks are a tribe of peaceful traveling entertainers. Think sideshow — as they journey on horseback, one of them is even throwing knives to practice. They’ve recently adopted twins — Kutchek and Gore — and are protecting the magic ruby of their tribe. But soon, Kadar (Lynch) takes Queen Canary hostage. The young twins attack, biting off his fingers. However, he promises that if he takes Canary as one of his concubines, he and his men will never kill the twins.

Kadar is a dude with a plan. A fifteen-year plan, really. He raises each of them separately, telling them their brother is dead, and has them routinely beaten by a masked man — either silver or gold depending on the brother. Then, when they have gone through all the whippings and strength trials ala Conan, they will fight and kill one another. That way, he can keep his promise and keep getting some of that sweet freakshow loving from the queen of the sideshow.

The brothers knock off their helmets — forgot that part of the plan — and escape into the woods where they find their old people who now live in misery. They also find Ismena, a thief who is imprisoned by their old tribe. The Ragnicks believe that this is magic and try to hang the twins, but their necks are just too big to lynch and they win over their old friends.

Hijinks ensue — like arm wrestling George Eastman and battling a dragon in the Forbidden Land. It gets a little long at the end, but the ride there is pretty decent, with the Forbidden Land itself looking like where most of the budget went.

If you’re a fan of the Barbarian Brothers — David and Peter Paul — they also show up in D.C. Cab. It’s kind of amazing to me that they were born in Harford, Connecticut and never ended up in the WWE.

2020 version

Ruggero Deodato has been celebrated on this site, not just for Cannibal Holocaust, but for movies like Live Like a Cop, Die Like a ManConcorde Affaire ’79House On the End of the ParkRaiders of AtlantisCut and RunBody CountThe Washing Machine and Dial Help. From those movies, you can tell that Deodato has hit nearly every genre. Now, with this one, he returns to his peblum roots — Hercules, Prisoner of Evil was the first movie he directed — and enters the post-Arnold Italian barbarian boom with not one but two American swordsmen who look like living and breathing He-Man toys, David and Peter Paul, better known as The Barbarian Brothers.

I honestly can’t be impartial about this movie, as it’s packed with so much that I love. I mean, just from the voiced over credits, when the names Golan, Globus and Deodato come up, I can’t help but cheer. This is the kind of feel good junk food movie that I love, a film that completely rips off Conan the Barbarian in all the best of ways — times two.

It’s got an amazing cast. And the Barbarian Brothers. Perhaps realizing that the Brothers may look like a 1983 first wave Masters of the Universe figure but have the acting skills of, well, a 1983 first wave Masters of the Universe figure, Deodato wisely fills the film with all manner of amazing people. There’s Michael Berryman as the Dirtmaster, the henchman tasked with running The Pit, or the place where slaves do manual labor. George Eastman shows up for a few seconds to arm wrestle in a cantina scene. Eva LaRue — who somehow is both of the third installments of RoboCop and Ghoulies — as the long-lost adopted sister of the brothers. And perhaps, most importantly, Richard Lynch, who as always turns in a game performance despite the absolute silliness of the proceedings. I mean, the dude has hair extensions and fake fingers after the young brothers bite his fingers off.

It’s got the Barbarian Brothers. For two guys who look like they should be serious warriors — or barbarians, if the title has anything to say about it — they spend much of the movie making fun of one another. They seem to screw up everything they touch and mostly only escape from situations by being bulls in a proverbial China shop. You have to love that despite the movie being set in what seems to be the distant past — unless Deodato is pulling a Yor Hunter from the Future fakeout on us — they speak as if it were 1987, calling one another bonehead repeatedly.

It’s got a great score. Pino Donaggio has written music for everything from Don’t Look Now and Tourist Trap to Dressed to KillThe Howling and Body Double (and yes, Giallo In Venice and Gor II), so you know that when you hear his music, it’s going to elevate anything it plays behind.

It’s got fun effects and sets. One of the craziest thing about the new blu ray of this is that it’s so crystal clear that you can see the strings moving a dragon’s mouth up and down, which is rather disconcerting. That said, the swamp set — where most of the film takes place — looks awesome otherwise. This is also a movie with magical belly button jewelry, which is a sentence I’ve never written before.

It’s got Mad Max wrapped up in its sword and sorcery. Despite — again — being set in the past, most of Kadar’s warriors look like they should be in the employ of Immortan Joe. Also, Kutchek and Gore — our heroes — live with a band of traveling circus performers who use their skills to throw knives and blow fire at their attackers. It’s like the hard-driving armada of — again! — Immortan Joe, but only 28 years earlier.

If you ever want to sit down and have me talk over a movie and extol its virtues — of which many would say there are none — then let it be this movie.

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