Cinophile: THE BARBARIANS

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Sometimes you find the right stuff in the worst places. In researching for this edition of Cinophile, I watched a collection of interviews with David and Peter Paul, bodybuilding twins who by early Eighties had set their sights on becoming movie stars. The interviews were for The Barbarians, their new blockbuster movie about to be released in the U.S. It was not to be: The Barbarians was a flop, at least partially due to studio politics and terrible marketing. The Pauls made a few more movies, cashing in on their ‘muscle mountain twins’ gimmick. But that soon also faded.

The Barbarians should have been forgotten by time, but instead it stands as one of the best in the ‘barbarian’ genre. The king is undoubtly Conan The Barbarian and genre purists hold up the ridiculous but deserving Deathstalker as another example. Yet Conan was very serious and Deathstalker very camp. The Barbarians was a stone-cold rip-off of the genre, simply taking all the popular bits and slapping them into a single film. Initially it should have been a blood-soaked epic, even hiring Ruggero “Cannibal Holocaust” Deodato to direct it. But Deodato realised the Pauls were too goofy to be evil, genocidal marauders, so the Barbarians took on a strange comedic tone.

I never realised how true this was until seeing the Pauls doing their thing on American talk shows and promotional videos. Whatever the two lacked in acting talent was filled by sheer showmanship. They even thought they could rap. The two characters in The Barbarians were basically just them dressed as barbarians. Then it struck me: they are just big kids playing barbarian. Mesh this with an Italian exploitation master and a genre that is as deep as it is stupid and you might just end up with something pretty cool.

The Barbarians is still daft. It’s everything you’d expect from a bad movie. But very few meaningful barbarian movies have been made. Only the first Conan really stands out for being smart, cohesive and serious. The Barbarians has pretty much none of those, but it is sorta polished and at least a few people had a lot of fun making it. You know: it’s so bad it’s good.

But that can be said about a lot of barbarian movies, so to declare The Barbarians one of the best is a statement not made lightly. I would argue that this movie exposes why the new Conan failed. Successful barbarians need personality, even if they are mullet-headed twins who share the same thought train as Dumb & Dumber‘s Harry and Lloyd.

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Brothers David and Peter Paul started weightlifting in their teens and opened a gym before they had left school. They cast their ambitions towards movie careers and their third movie would be The Barbarians.
The Barbarians was an Italian production, directed by Ruggero Deodato – the creator of numerous cult movies, but most notoriously known as the director of Cannibal Holocaust. This saw him being invited to cameo in Eli Roth’s Hostel as one of the characters seen torturing people, suitably a cannibal. But The Barbarians was a big departure from Deodato’s gory repertoire. The producers instructed Deodato to make a serious and bloodthirsty barbarian movie, but he found the twins to be too playful on set to play such hard characters. So he switched to a more comedic tone, allowing the actors to express their goofball personalities on screen. A lot of their dialog was ad-libbed.
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The Barbarians was a flop, costing $4 million but making less then an eighth of that back in the U.S. This despite the Paul’s relentless self-promotion, including handing out fliers in cities and even creating a (bad) music video for the movie. There were plans for two sequels, but those never came to be.

 

 

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: November 24, 2014

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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