Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The New Barbarians (1983)

Noted Italian director Enzo G. Castellari had his hand in many genres, from crime, to action, war, etc, and notably the post-apocalyptic genre. A booming market during the 80s thanks to hits like Mad Max, Italy was quick to capitalise, and thank goodness they did, because they really did a great job taking the genre to all kinds of unseen and entertaining places. Castellari delivered to us 1990: The Bronx Warriors and its follow-up, which were more dystopian, inspired by the likes of Escape from New York. 1983's The New Barbarians however was a full-on apocalyptic adventure, and is one of the most distinct and memorable...

It is the year 2019 A.D., and the nuclear war is over. For small bands of survivors, life goes on, but even this small semblance of peace is threatened, as they are ruthlessly hunted down by the Templars, a fanatical cult dedicated to the annihilation of mankind. Opposing them is lone warrior Scorpion, with the unwanted help of his friend Nadir, and the company of a new partner. Together they discover a signal that could lead to a restored society, and must stop the Templars from finding it at all costs...

The New Barbarians grabs your attention right away with its unique credits sequence, which features a city hit by a nuclear bomb, and the process it goes through as the devastation gets worse. It's done in a really unique and interesting way, as the city doesn't just get flattened, nor burnt. Instead most of the buildings are intact. Yet we can tell this city is dying because of the growing haze, which drowns out the sunlight until the screen is bathed in blue, and the rolling fog eventually envelopes everything, until even the music comes to a crawl.

From here on the film is action-packed, having lots of fun with the setting and using it to its advantage. This is a low budget production, but uses its resources well and creates a world we can believe. A couple of the roads maybe look a little too pristine for after the bomb's dropped, but otherwise they're fine, and free of modern day vehicles! The majority of New Barbarians is set out in the 'arid wilderness', and it's great. As fitting as anything in Australia.

The story is basic but effective. The characters have their arcs and journeys, and the stakes are small scale yet large. The origin of the signal goes unexplored, which makes it all the more effective. We get just enough to whet our appetites and make us curious, but not so much to spoil the mystery. The movie is never boring either, despite its thin plot and limited locales. It also knows how to truly surprise, with one of the most jawdropping scenes in all Italian cinema!

The heroes of The New Barbarians are a distinctive bunch, living up to both titles. Scorpion is a badass, simple in all the best ways. His personality and unparalleled skills are clear right from the get-go, along with all of his cool gear. He's a real warrior of the wasteland, regularly fighting off whole gangs single-handed, and rescuing damsels in distress.

Nadir is a cheeky guy, and a wise mentor, trying to teach Scorpion about the power of victory. He's armed with a futuristic bow and arrow, with many fun goodies attached. Many a Templar loses their head thanks to him!

Love interest Alma doesn't have as much personality, not speaking much, but she's a nice presence. She's also useful too, never just sitting around doing nothing.

The villains are just as great. Fanatically religious, and believing mankind to be a pestilence that caused the apocalypse, the Templars see themselves as holy warriors cleansing the Earth. Lead antagonist One is a menacing figure, psychotic and cold, with flashes of insanity. His lieutenant Shadow is more pragmatic. He has self-aware moments, but doesn't care, choosing to continue with this life. And then there's Mako, who's just flat out crazy, and ready to take control for himself.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is Scorpion's relationship with the Templars-He used to be one! At some point in the past he was initiated into the group, but fell out with them, beating One in duel, and earning the legendary status as the only man he is afraid of. One is obsessed with bringing Scorpion back, not just to kill him, but to humiliate and make him submit. The 'understanding' between them can be seen in scenes like Mako's failed attack, where Scorpion says "If One sent him, this is my answer. If he didn't, it's my warning.".

It makes you wonder, was Scorpion once a blinded zealot, who overcame this senseless bloodlust? Or perhaps the Templars began as a benevolent group to protect others, only to be perverted as they saw more and more carnage, and lost their faith in humanity.

The effects in The New Barbarians are cheesy, but great. Sure, it might not be entirely convincing here and there, and some shots might look more like mannequins than others, but overall it's nice. The action and stuntwork is all really well done too.

The costumes are absolutely ridiculous in the best ways possible, from groin straps, to boob bubbles (sadly we see none in action), and a suit of unthreatening yet useful plexiglass armour. The hairstyles are something special too. Hairdressers clearly survived the apocalypse, as the Templars all have fabulous locks, bangs, and bouffants, not to mention dye jobs. They mesh well with their identical uniforms, and while they're always amusing to look at, they also don't take away from their villainy.

The vehicles are a lot of fun too, from the buggies, to the bikes, the cool rigs, and Scorpion's swanky car! There's a level of effort and consistency that I appreciate. Everything looks like it's a part of this strange world.

The cast here do great. Giancarlo Prete is a decently charismatic lead, while Anna Kanakis is a pretty co-star. Fred Williamson adds plenty of charm and sly fun to the movie. Knowingly goofy, but taking it seriously enough for us to care. George Eastman is a great villain, as always, menacing and creepy. Also good are Enio Girolami and Massimo Vanni as his lieutenants. And lastly there is little Giovanni Frezza, a memorable (if fleeting) staple of Italian cult cinema. He has a hilarious role and makes the best of it, with a sense of childlike enthusiasm that wavers between psychotic and adorable.

Genre film titan Claudio Simonetti does a wonderful job with the music, crafting a score that manages to be fun, light, while also ominous. His use of mechanical sounds are great too, such as the ambient beeping, as if from abandoned signal stations.

The New Barbarians is a great time to be had. You honestly can't have more fun with post-apocalyptic cinema than you can here. Good on Enzo Castellari for always delivering a good time, and never being afraid to be weird or daring...

No comments:

Post a Comment