Ruggero Deodato is above all a competent professional. He may be a metteur en scene rather than an auteur – if we want to use the French terms and subscribe to their implicit hierarchy – but he’s also someone who can be relied upon to deliver. The Barbarians is no exception, though it must be emphasised that 'the goods' are more juvenile sword and sorcery in the Conan the Barbarian mould than the 'video nasty' material Deodato is most (in)famous for.
Hints of Cannibal Holocaust? barbarian women on a raised platform
The story starts with a caravan train crossing a plain. These people, the voice-over informs us, are the Ragneks. They once traded away their gold in exchange for a magical gemstone, the belly stone (so called because it magically fits into the navel of the chosen female ruler of the tribe, a nice variant on the Excalibur theme for those wishing to check off their mono-myths) and the right to safe passage across in the known world in the practice of their trade, entertainment.
Now, however, the evil Kadar has decided to put an end to this. Though they fight bravely the Ragneks are no match for his forces. Some are slain. Others are captured, including the current ruler, Canary (?!), and the two youngsters Kutchek and Gore. A few escape.
Kutchek and Gore are separated from one another and sent to work as slaves. The years pass and they grow into formidably muscle-bound figures.
Wearing helmets that conceal their features they are then sent to fight one another to the death. Bread and circuses and all that...
Kutchek and Gore, or Gore and Kutchek
Rather than killing one another the brothers realise the truth (“Why have you got my face” “Why have you got my face!?”) and escape. They team up with another adventurer, China, find the remaining Ragnek survivors and plan their revenge.
Kutchek, China and Gore, or Gore, China and Kutchek?
Initially this entails sneaking into Kadar’s castle to rescue Canary. She however declines to be rescued and instead tells them that they must first find the now-lost belly stone, which is guarded by a dragon. So off they go...
It’s about this point you get the distinct feeling that the film was being made up as Deodato and company went along.
Still, its hard not to be entertained. What money there was is very much up on the screen, with bright and extravagant costumes, sets and design. And while the Paul brothers, the professional bodybuilders who play Kutchek and Gore (and sometimes billed themselves as The Barbarian Brothers in real life) can’t really act they don’t pretend that they can. Indeed, beyond flexing their muscles, they aren't really called upon to do so.
The presence of Michael Berryman and George Eastman is, of course, also welcome; sadly both have relatively small roles.
Berryman as 'the dirtmaster'
The sad thing about the film is the way that, in retrospect, it can be seen as one of those titles that the Italian cinema was soon thereafter to cease making. Yes, it’s cheesy but is it really any worse on this count than Conan the Destroyer? The truth is that Italian B-films weren't necessarily any worse than US B-films but that they increasingly didn’t get the chance to prove themselves with potential audiences.