The New Barbarians

Ah, those golden days of youth. Childhood… Summers that were not so much periods of time as states of being. Games invented and re-invented each time they were played. Friends who became enemies before becoming even better friends. Long evenings, brilliant days… Immortal summer… that is unless you were me… My summers were spent making the most of the local video shop’s summer two-for-one rate. Day in and day out, I would select films on the basis of their lurid covers and lock myself in a darkened room while other children played in the sun and forged real life experiences for themselves. But I am not bitter. If anything I am nostalgic. Nostalgic for films like The New Barbarians (aka: I nuovi barbari).

Back in the 1980s, the post-apocalyptic was king. George Miller’s Mad Max (1979) had proved successful and exploitation filmmakers across the globe were racing to climb onto the bandwagon. One of the more successful European takes on Miller’s immortal combination of ultra-violence, custom cars and mohicans was Enzo G. Castellari’s Bronx Warriors, a film that would go on to spawn a couple of sequels (also released by Shameless in a natty boxset). The New Barbarians did not spawn any sequels I am aware of, but it remains a wonderful reminder of quite how weird and cheaply made European exploitation film became in the 1980s.

The year is 2019. The inevitable nuclear holocaust has happened. We know this because Castellari shows it to us… a model of a city that he sets fire to. Years later, mankind is eking out a living picking the bones of its once globe-spanning civilisation. Amongst the ruins scuttle groups of humans desperately trying to keep the flame alive. Ever on the listen for radio signals from some surviving pocket of civilisation.

However, also scuttling about the ruins are the Templars. The Templars are kind of like the militant wing of the Voluntary Human Extinction movement. They are an all male (and therefore gay) band of warriors who spend their time killing any other humans they come across as an act of revenge for humanity’s capacity to destroy itself. They do this by riding around in cod-pieces, armour with big shoulder pads and tricked out cars studded with guns and sharp pointy things.

When the Templars are hunting down the last remnants of a caravan they just slaughtered, they cross paths with Scorpion (Giancarlo Prete). Scorpion is a former Templar gone rogue. He steps in to rescue the most attractive surviving female and threatens the other Templars not to mess with him. A message the Templar king One (George Eastman) is happy to take on board. Nobody messes with Scorpion.

However, One’s protégé does not listen to his king. He wants to prove himself by killing Scorpion. This results only in the death of him and a number of other Templars, prompting One to exact revenge, which he does with the aid of a mechanical rape machine. “You didn’t want to live as a Templar, but you’ll die as one!” roars One as he sets about buggering Scorpion.

Realising that he cannot defeat the Templars alone, Scorpion reluctantly turns to his friend Nadir (Fred Williamson) and a creepy child mechanical genius (played by Giovanni Frezza, who also appeared in The House By The Cemetery and was just as creepy-looking in that film). Together, the three gleefully slaughter the Templars and then gloat about their heterosexual superiority.

Setting aside the moronic and homophobic sexual politics of the film, The New Barbarians is, at times, hilarious. Consider the trippy rape sequence. Or the way in which Scorpion tears the clothes from an injured woman in order to ‘examine her wounds’. Or how about the fact that the production designer evidently decided that, because the film is set in the future, everything shall have domes? Or the mutants who are clearly extras wrapped in bog roll? The New Barbarians is also packed with the kind of cheap and cheerful gore-filled special effects that remain a joy to behold. Why don’t all films have a headless corpse riding a motorbike?

On a less ironic level, the film is a perfectly well put together low-budget action film. The plot is simple, predictable and it moves along quite nicely. The action sequences sometimes lack imagination, drawing a good deal of inspiration from westerns (circled wagons, armour worn under a poncho) but they are well executed despite their obvious conceptual and financial shortcomings.

As a film, The New Barbarians is most likely to appeal either to people nostalgic for the god old days of Italian exploitation cinema or to modern genre fans who want to get an idea of what science fiction cinema was really like before the likes of Cameron and Lucas got a hold of it and normalised it. Indeed, the film’s unapologetic homophobia serves as a strong argument in favour of that process of mainstreaming.

The DVD comes with a load of trailers for the exploitation films released by Argent films and a slightly creaky ‘fact track’, which periodically flashes up factoids as you watch the film.