Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Barbarians: Fantasy Film Review

What if you took Conan the Barbarian, doubled the bodybuilders, threw in some cheesy comic relief, a gypsy clown caravan, arm wrestling, Michael Berryman, the largest uncircumcised penis dragon to ever grace the silver screen, and that obnoxious laugh from Revenge of the Nerds?  Well, you'd get The Barbarians.  Not a great film, but definitely entertaining.

I hadn't seen this since I was a youngster.  I fondly (in a weird way that just sticks in your memory and won't fade away) remember the belly button / ruby scene.  I suppose, as a 14 year old boy (albeit with access to HBO) seeing a woman's exposed midriff was almost as good as bare breasts.  Not really, but evidently it was still memorable.

That ruby is the MacGuffin of this story.  The violent and unkempt hordes of Kadar chase down the caravan of jesters, minstrels, and cross-dressers in order to acquire the Queen's navel jewelry of supposed magical properties or something, though we never get to see them.

Speaking of boobs, there is some extremely brief female nudity, but what there is can hardly be seen - most of the story either takes place at night or in dimly-lit chambers.  Appropriate for a fantasy movie, but it makes picking out details a challenge.

About those dimly-lit chambers, they look fantastic and so do the costumes - hides, leather, pieces of armor, helmets, swords, and most characters seem to be covered in fur or black robes or half-naked women.  There are quite a few sets: villainous lair, medieval strip-club, treasure tomb, slave quarry, swamp, and the perfect archaic city.  How did the filmmakers find or create these sets?!?  It makes sword-and-sorcery movies today look out-of-place and stupid.

And here's another reason to praise The Barbarians - real blood!  Ok, it's not actual blood.  In fact, it's totally fake stage blood but, damn, did it look like the real thing.  1987 was before the blessing/curse of CGI.  So, when Kadar's favorite captive / harem girl gets whipped (gotta give Michael Berryman something to do!), we see the blood on her back, and when he dies at the end (not really a spoiler because he's the head bad guy and this is a B movie) Kadar's mouth overflows with crimson.

Which brings me to Richard Lynch himself.  Yes, that guy!  Richard Lynch has been the villain in more 80's movies and tv shows than you've fantasized about swinging a sword and carousing with wenches.  He's super-serious, intense, and you just love to hate him.  I mean, that's why he was the king of evildoers in that decade - he really makes a screenplay's asshole come to life.

There isn't much sorcery to go with all that sword, but we do get a bit.  Kadar's witch, China, is exotic, beautiful, and looks like she could cast a spell or two.  Rather than expensive pyrotechnics, the audience gets red eyes, smoke, cobwebs, and smoldering sorceress intensity - she pairs nicely with Kadar.

There are a few cons to all the previously mentioned pros.  The barbarian brothers seem to stumble into the right people or location without breaking a sweat.  It's all too convenient and not the least bit believable but at least the story doesn't drag.  Not all the jokes are funny, although plenty worth a half-smile or more.  The Weapons of Power look like cheap props decorated in plastic gold.

By the time it was released, this type of film was on its way out.  A shame, since sword-and-sorcery is one of my favorite genres of the 80's and that decade did it right.  I can't think of a decent one that came out of the 90's or 00's.  Of course, now we have Game of Thrones.  Great stuff, but sometimes I just want barbarians, blood, magic, naked women, AND cheesy dialog.  It might not be as epic as Conan the Barbarian, nor as awesome as Beastmaster.  Nevertheless, The Barbarians is worth seeing.

I just bought it as a double-bill DVD along with The Norseman (which I haven't watched yet).  Until next time, fare thee well, my friends, and wear your mark of the open road proudly!


p.s.  Oops, almost forgot.  Aside from the kinda lame Weapons of Power, Kadar brandished a pretty cool magic item of his own.  Below are the "official OSR stats" for it.

Shield of Blinding Light

This is a +1 shield.  The following enchantment can be used once per day: each opponent within sight has a 2 in 6 chance (alternatively, opponents could roll a saving throw to avoid - GMs choice) of being blinded by the shield's glaring light for 1d3 rounds.

Blinded characters move at half their normal speed, as well as, taking a 4 point penalty on their to-hit rolls, armor class, and saving throws.

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