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Directed by Ruggero Deodato, the same man who gave us Cannibal Holocaust (among countless other Italian horror and genre classics) for Cannon Films in 1987 in an almost certain attempt to cash in on the success of Conan The Barbarian a few years earlier, The Barbarians might be light on substance but it's plenty entertaining if you're in the right frame of mind for it.
Set in a fantasy world centuries removed from our own, a roving gang of performers known as The Ragnicks travel the land, in possession of a gem that gives Queen Canary (Virginia Bryant) magical abilities. Canary is also the adopted mother of Kutchek (Peter Paul) and Gore (David Paul), twin brothers who have been raised in the Ragnick tradition. Causing no shortage of trouble in the area is the sinister Kadar (Richard Lynch), a villainous... villain hoping to get ahold of that gem that Canary uses to her advantage and setting it to his own.
To get his hands on the gem, Kadar teams up with a sorceress named China (Sheeba Alahani) and big guy with a horn on his head named Dirtmaster (Michael Berryman), launching a raid against the Ragnicks but coming up empty handed. Not wanting to go home without a prize, Kadar snatches Canary and her two adopted boys, tossing Canary into the harum and raising the boys his own way where they're training in the art of war. From here, Kutchek and Gore take it upon themselves to rise up against Kadar to save Canary with some help from a sexy thief named Ismene (Eva La Rue).
Goofy is the right word to describe The Barbarians, but you never get the impression this movie is supposed to be anything but. It's evident from the start that the Paul brothers didn't really have any formal acting training, as you get the impression that they're just sort of here playing themselves. Professional bodybuilders, these guys are massive and they certainly look the part, strutting about in barbarian attire and pretty much constantly sweating baby oil, they're the shiny, muscle-headed heroes that a movie like this needs, and they're a lot of fun to watch. There's some definitely intentionally comedic elements put into this movie, with the Paul Brothers frequently making some amusing jabs at one another, and seemingly having a whole lot of fun with the project.
Deodato and Cannon also assembled a pretty great supporting cast here as well. The instantly recognizable Richard Lynch, a heavy in Cannon's classic Invasion U.S.A., is a blast to watch here as the film's heavy. He's got a naturally sinister appearance and he just looks the part. Michael Berryman, best known for The Hills Have Eyes, also worked with the director on 1985's Cut And Run, is a great choice for Kadar's henchman. Sheeba Alahani, who doesn't appear to have done any acting before or after her turn in this picture, is entertaining as the sinister sorceress while fetching Eve LeRue, who went on to star in a lot of TV shows including lengthy stints on The Young And The Restless and All My Children does a great job of the brothers' right hand woman.
This was definitely shot with a modest budget but Deodato and company use some good locations to help keep up the ruse and the movie has some pretty good costuming working in its favor as well. The action scenes are well staged and if some of the effects look a little less than one hundred perfect believable, so be it. The film also benefits from a genuinely epic sounding score from none other than Pino Donoggio, which helps to class things up a fair bit.
The Barbarians comes to Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing/Kino on a 25GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen taken from a "brand new HD master." Generally speaking, this transfer is quite nice. There are some very minor compression artifacts evident in a few of the darker scenes but that's about it. Detail is generally strong, especially in close up shots, and there's good depth and texture to the image. Colors look really nice as well, and we get good black levels. Skin tones also look fine and there are no problems with any noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement issues.
The English language 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 track on the disc sounds fine, if never particularly remarkable. Dialogue is clear, clean and well-balanced from start to finish. The track is free of any issues, there no hiss and no distortion. Sometimes things can sound a bit flat but that's almost certainly due to the original recording rather than with the disc itself. You do have to wonder if some of the sound effects in the fight scenes shouldn't have hit with a bit more ‘oomph' than they do but this is fine. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
The main extra on the disc is a commentary track from Troy Howarth and Nathanial Thompson. They talk about how the collision of Eurocult cinema and Cannon Films is a wonderful thing, discussing the use of Pino Donnaggio's score, Deodato's direction here and his career overall, Cannon's massive impact on eighties cinema and some of the other muscleman pictures that Cannon made around the same time. There's talk of the obvious George Miller influence here, the presence of Michael Berryman and Richard Lynch, the film's distribution history, and of course the acting of Peter and David Paul as well as their histories. They also cover George Eastman's cameo in the picture, some of the effects and costuming, the cinematography in the picture and the quality of the film's scenery and quite a bit more.
Additionally, the disc includes a trailer for the feature as well as bonus trailers for Tintorera, The Norseman, Trick Baby and King Of The Mountain. Menus and chapter selection options are also provided and we get some nice reversible cover sleeve art here as well.
The Barbarians may not be high art but it is a lot of fun. The brothers have a natural chemistry in their scenes together and while this wasn't made with the biggest of budgets, the movie looks decent and features some pretty impressive action set pieces. Deodato keeps the film quick and enjoyable throughout, and there are some neat supporting players in here to help keep the picture engaging. Scorpion's Blu-ray release offers the film up in a really nice presentation and with a decent commentary track as its main extra feature. Recommended, if you're into big, dumb barbarian movies.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.