Reader Request: The Barbarians (1987)

Back in the 80s, there were a bunch of movies made which featured a lead who was a ripped body-builder. They usually took place in a fantasy world, filled with magic, swords, and women wearing completely impractical outfits. There was often some comic relief, some loincloths, and a voice-over narration at the beginning and end. This was one of those movies, but this one has twins!



I’m not saying this movie was a rip-off of Conan the Barbarian, but the beginning of the movie is a monologue which appears to just have been someone with a thesaurus altering parts of the opening that Mako delivers in that film.

So, when the movie begins, there’s a tribe called the Ragnicks who dress like the discount LGBTQ pride float at Carnival in Rio. They’re the only tribe that has the ability to go between all of the barbarian kingdoms in this world, because they have a magic ruby that makes people laugh or something like that. The tribe is a group of peaceful entertainers, basically a traveling circus. There’s also only like 50 of them, despite being hundreds of years old, so I’m pretty sure they have a vow of chastity. Or high infant mortality.


The tribe adopts three orphans, twins Kutchek and Gore (Peter and David Paul, the Barbarian Brothers) and Kara. While the orphans are still kids, the magic ruby is given to Canary (Virginia Bryant), the new queen of the tribe, but a group of black-leather-clad raiders attack the tribe under the orders of the generic bad guy Kadar (Richard “I was literally the bad guy in a movie called The Sword and the Sorcerer” Lynch). The troupe appears to defend themselves successfully, right until they find out that the other side had an insurmountable number of reserves, which… honestly makes everything about the initial chase sequence really dumb.

Canary and Kadar

Queen Canary is captured by Kadar, and most of the tribe is killed. The orphans attack Kadar and bite off two of his fingers, but Canary agrees to marry him if he will spare them. Some witch under Kadar’s control, named China (Sheeba Alahani), predicts that the two cannot be allowed to live to adulthood, but Kadar has taken an oath that they cannot die by his hand or any of his followers. So, she sends them into separate prisons overseen by the Dirtmaster (Michael “You know me” Berryman) with the intent that they’ll one day kill each other. They grow up to be jacked beyond reason, because that’s what slavery does in an 80s movie.

China and Dirtmaster

In what is one of the only clever parts of the movie, each of the brothers is tortured by someone wearing a particular helmet, which leads them to grow up to hate everyone who wears those helmets. It turns out that, in the years preceding this, Canary had managed to hide the ruby, and has never told Kadar where it is. Kadar brings out the twins to fight each other in the hopes of convincing her to talk. Each of the twins is given the helmet of the other’s torturer, which leads them both to attack each other furiously… or what passes for furiously under this budget. Eventually, Kutchek’s helmet is knocked off and, realizing that they both look identical, the two remember they are brothers, stop fighting, and escape the arena with the intent of rescuing Canary.


They flee into the forest and find a captive woman, Ismena (Eva La Rue), who has been taken captive by the remainders of the Ragnicks. The twins are also captured (after, weirdly, being called “Fatty” by one of the leaders), and are almost hanged to death. However, the twins each comically escape their nooses, before finally being recognized by the tribe by the extremely distinct tattoos that they have… that the tribe apparently didn’t notice when they were literally looking at their necks to hang them.

BarbariansArmWrestling.jpgThe brothers, with Ismena as a guide, go to acquire weapons from a local dealer (George Eastman) in order to fight against Kadar. The dealer challenges the twins to arm-wrestling, because… f*ck, I’ve re-watched it 3 times now, and I don’t know. But, the dealer loses, then attacks them, resulting in the three leaving with nothing, rendering this entire side-quest mostly pointless.

They then sneak into Kadar’s harem, and, at one point, the twins kiss each other as a distraction. This scene is dumb both in and out of context, since they’re twins. If you saw two guys making out, you might be uncomfortable, but if they’re literally identical, then that’s not the kind of thing you just shrug off and ignore. Or is it? Maybe I’m just weird.


We then get a bunch of nudity in the harem to compensate for the brotherly love, which… well, at least is something. The two find Canary, but she opts to stay captive so that the twins can recover the ruby after she tells them its location in the Forbidden Lands. Given that the two have been uneducated slaves, their only knowledge of the situation is through childhood fairy tales that they clearly only half-remember. But, that’s enough I guess. The two then, apparently, bang their way out of the harem, because saving the world is secondary to a good bone train.

Gilded for Battle

The twins and Ismena quest to find the sacred weapons to fight the dragon that guards the ruby, but the weapons are guarded by… a were-mole? It’s some kind of monster that sticks hands out from the ground that are apparently easily ripped out, rendering it harmless. They’re then attacked by a were-bear that they kill with a single arrow. This is seriously the worst guarded mystical spot in history. At the same time, China, the sorceress, betrays Kadar and tortures Canary for the location of the Ruby, which she receives, but without the warning about the dragon. When she and Dirtmaster find the ruby, they’re eaten by the dragon.


The trio arrives in the Forbidden Lands, but don’t find the ruby. The twins begin arguing, for some reason, but are interrupted by two of Kadar’s men. They defeat the pair, only for the dragon to rise out of the swamps, and, let me tell you, in the history of special effects, this is a special moment. I assume that the puppetry was done by Jim Henson’s blind cousin, not just because all of the movements appear arbitrary, but also because it’s only the same 2 shots repeated like 4 times. The pair defeat it without any effort and find the ruby inside it.

They send the ruby with Ismena, who Kutchek now recognizes as Kara (something to which Gore shows no surprise or reaction at all), while the twins go to fight Kadar at his castle. This proves ill-timed, however, because Kadar has now reached the Forbidden Lands with Canary in tow.


Canary calls out to Kutchek and Gore, apparently using some sort of magic to make them hear her, and gets them to turn around and return to the Forbidden Lands. Canary then tricks Kadar into killing her for… some reason. Apparently, it’s so that the ruby will lose its magic, but also so that she can be “free” in death. Despite the fact that she just called for someone to free her in life.

BarbariansKaraIsmena returns to the Ragnicks, where the ruby starts to glow again, signifying that a new queen can be chosen from the virgin maidens. Way to be judgmental, ruby. Some women can both like getting laid and be qualified for leadership. It’s then revealed that there are only 2 virgins in the tribe, and neither one passes the ruby’s test. Weirdly, when they fail, the little person in the tribe laughs amused, despite the fact that this is dooming them. Ismena/Kara gets forced to try, despite her claims of not being a virgin, and the ruby picks her, forcing her to reveal that she’s Kara, and thus eligible. Apparently, magically passing the test isn’t enough? What the hell, Ragnicks?

The twins finally catch up to Kadar, who attacks them alone on horseback while blinding them with a reflective shield. Naturally, they break the shield with a single strike. Kadar then sheathes his weapon and turns his back on the pair, waiting for them to slay him, but when they approach, he turns around and stabs both of them with concealed blade. They then pull him down from his horse and, together, stab him to death by throwing their swords after his crossbow malfunctions.


The brothers return to the tribe, everything is happy, yada yada yada.


BarbariansConanOkay, so, there was kind of a lack of Sword and Sorcery movies in the 1970s. If you check out the Wikipedia list, there’s only three even on there, although I’ve tried to add Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. There had been some of those movies in the 60s, but most of them were of the quality that makes for a good MST3K. Then, Clash of the Titans and Excalibur came out in 1981, Flight of Dragons, Beastmaster, and, of course, Conan the Barbarian came out in 1982, and the genre kind of exploded. Since the “barbarian” variant required a big, muscled lead, it was kind of inevitable that bodybuilders and pro-wrestlers were going to be trying out for these roles. For this one, the Barbarian Brothers were put in the lead, probably based on the assumption that people would like two better than one. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger did it, how hard could it be?

Well, three things:

1) Arnold was not just A bodybuilder, he was THE bodybuilder. Few people have ever looked the part of the over-muscled warrior as well as he did. While the Barbarian Brothers were probably actually bigger than Arnold in terms of muscle mass, they somehow look less like people whose muscles were formed from combat, and they don’t carry themselves in anyway like someone who actually used their muscles to do heavy work. Still, they did at least kind of look the part, even if they couldn’t actually play it, because:

2) Arnold had at least some acting ability, even though he still was starting out (he got better). The Barbarian Brothers… don’t. They literally don’t react correctly to any scene in the movie, which robs the film of pretty much any depth or tension. The fact that they constantly speak with heavy American accents doesn’t help, either. On the other hand, they probably couldn’t have done much with this script, which brings me to:

3) This movie is written terribly, and choreographed even worse. They gave the brothers a lot of dialogue, most of which doesn’t read naturally, and is delivered worse. At least in Conan, Conan’s character doesn’t actually speak that much, which helps with Arnold’s unpracticed delivery, and what he DOES say is usually pretty freaking awesome, because most of it is taken from other sources (Genghis Khan, Robert E. Howard, etc.).

Game. Set. Match. Conan.

In this, the brothers often just start arbitrarily insulting each other, and… not in clever ways. It’s mostly just the same 5 lines over and over again, and it’s usually unprompted by anything in the movie. Occasionally it’s even during scenes that should be intense, but it doesn’t come across as subversive humor. Also, the plot is so random and rushed, most of the fight scenes last about 10 seconds. The were-animals and the dragon are defeated in basically one hit. The longest fight is against Kadar, and he is literally the only villain that even minorly wounds the heroes, making it seem like they’re never in any danger.

BarbariansKadar2Now, let’s address the villain, Kadar. He wants the ruby for its magic, but at no point does it ever say what he was going to do with it. Apparently, the ruby pretty much can only be used for the purpose of making people feel joy and adoration, which, I guess would be useful, but it also seems like it can’t be used unless it chooses you. Also, he spends years with Canary trying to get her to talk, but apparently China convinces her in like an hour of torture. It’s said that it’s because he’s in love, but why didn’t Canary just tell him the location without warning him of the dragon like she did with China? Also, he has a f*cking sorceress and an army. What exactly is stopping him from just conquering the other kingdoms as is? He just comes off as impotent.

But, it’s not all bad. Here are some great things that you can find in this movie. First, even though the brothers don’t act well, they’re still pretty fun to watch. They’re so stupid and muscular and unresponsive to stimulus that it’s borderline hilarious. Second, this is Eva La Rue’s first role, which, while she had a long way to go in her career before she got on CSI: Miami, her responses to the brothers’ weird antics is often enough to lampshade them appropriately. Third, and most importantly, the bear head. After they kill the were-bear, the brothers start joking around with its decapitated head and moving it around to creep out Ismena/Kara. It’s such a weirdly awkward moment, but it’s also the most genuine and believable one in the movie.


Overall, this definitely isn’t a “must see” for most people, but if you like cheesy 80s Sword and Sorcery movies, and you’ve already watched the Ator movies, Red Sonja, and Fire and Ice, this should make its way onto your queue. However, if you just want to see the Barbarian Brothers, you should watch the vastly superior film D.C. Cab starring Adam Baldwin and Mr. T.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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