I went into The Barbarians (1987) expecting something like The Seven Magnificent Gladiators (1983) but with a little more gore and sleaze (which one expects from Canon Films) but The Barbarians was neither. The Barbarians is the most adolescent sword and sorcery film I’ve ever seen, due primarily to the performances of “the Barbarian brothers” Peter and David Paul. These twin bodybuilders play their parts like frat boys who got drunk at a themed party. This makes a formulaic film like The Barbarians highly entertaining while also being sort of mind boggling.
Director Ruggero Deodato is at his best during chase scenes, kinky torture sequences, and moments of shocking gore. This isn’t particularly surprising since Deodato’s best films, such as Waves of Lust (1975), Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man (1976), and Cannibal Holocaust (1980), trade pretty heavily in these grindhouse tactics. What Deodato really brings to the proceedings is his ability to stretch every dollar and make a cheaply made film look more expensive. If Deodato had made this film for anyone but Canon I’m certain it would have been better.
Personally, the most enjoyable part of The Barbarians was the score by Pino Donaggio. Of course it’s always fun to see Michael Berryman ham it up, but those joys seem so fleeting next to Donaggio’s highly danceable synth themes. Donaggio’s opening credit theme immediately excited me; it drew my focus and gave me hope that The Barbarians was going to be better than it ultimately was. Donaggio is just such a versatile and gifted composer. I don’t think I have heard any of his work that I didn’t like.
That said, if you’re a die hard fan of the fantasy genre or an Italian exploitation film enthusiast, then The Barbarians is definitely for you.