One of the most lovable things about Italian genre filmmaking in their ’70s/early ’80s glory era is they took advantage of every opportunity and just went for it. It didn’t matter if the script was thrown together or they didn’t have the ideal budget or production circumstances. The producers were ready to make money and the filmmakers were eager to get out there and shoot film. As a result, the Italian genre mill produced a treasure trove of movies that make up for any hastiness or modesty of resources with an irresistible go-go-go spirit.
The New Barbarians is a fun example. Enzo G. Castellari knocked this one out between his Bronx Warriors duology and it’s a budget-priced riff on The Road Warrior. In this film, the loner hero is Scorpion (Giancarlo Prete), a badass fighter and driver roaming his way through a post-apocalyptic world. He’s determined to avoid circumstances that create risk or emotional engagement but two things conspire to keep him from that isolationist path. The first is a group of ragtag survivors seeking to rebuild society from the ground-up, including the fetching Alma (Anna Kanakis). A distant radio signal has them believing civilization still exists out there and they want him to join their ranks.
The other thing standing between Scorpion and blissful isolation is an evil gang called the Templars. They’re a kind of nihilistic cult/army that seeks to destroy what is left of humanity. Their leader is One (George Eastman), a fierce ideologue who wants to kill Scorpion just as badly as he wants to wipe out Alma and her fellow survivors. It’s inevitable that Scorpion’s decent side will force him into a fight with the Templars, one that will require allies like Nadir (Fred Williamson), a tough guy with explosive-tipped arrows, and Mechanic (Giovanni Frezza), a young lad who’s an expert at car repair and weapon building.
Keep in mind that the above plot synopsis suggests a much more story-driven film than you actually get with The New Barbarians. Instead, the above story elements form a spare frame that Castellari and company hang a bunch of energetic if budget-conscious action scenes upon.
The majority of the budget here went to stuntmen, explosives and crashable cars rebuilt with cheap futuristic accoutrements like flamethrowers and extendable arms with spinning saws on them. Castellari puts them all through their paces, delivering some sort of action every half-reel and indulging his love of slow-motion as well as crosscutting a couple of different actions. Both of those techniques prove quite useful for scenes of stunt guys flipping through air from explosions and dummies exploding after they get hit with Nadir’s explosive arrows. It’s all set to a score by ex-Goblin member Claudio Simonetti that marries new wave synth-drones to proto-hip-hop drum machine rhythms that suit the automotive action.
Between action sequences, the script assembled by Castellari with Escape From The Bronx writer Tito Carpi plays like a spaghetti western updated to a post-nuclear future: Scorpion is your Clint Eastwood-ish lone wolf hero, One and his rogues are like a vicious bandito gang and Nadir is a fellow lone wolf who can be counted on to team up with the hero for the shoot-’em-up finale. Call it recycling if you like but the refurbished storyline provides a reliable sturdiness to prop up the minimalist production values – the film was shot in a desert-look area on the outskirts of Rome – and the kitsch, comic book-style addition of cut-rate futuristic touches. It’s worth noting there is the occasional element of weirdness to add surprise, like the rather kinky method One uses to punish Scorpion when his men finally corner the hero: let’s just say it will remind you a famous threat frequently made by the wrestler The Iron Sheik.
Finally, Castellari populates the film with a reliable ensemble cast of his favored players. Prete gets to play against type as a more stoic kind of hero and he admirably throws himself into the frequent action. That said, the most charismatic work comes from Williamson, who has a ball scoping the ladies and firing off his explosive arrows, and Eastman, who is fearsomely intense as the villain. The supporting cast is lined with faces familiar with Italian cult fare: Venantino Venantini pops up as the leader of the survivors and the villains include Ennio Girolami from Escape From The Bronx and 1990: The Bronx Warriors‘ Massimo Vanni, who is entertainingly hammy as a minion of One who sports a wild mohawk and sculptured facial hair combo.
Simply put, The New Barbarians is the kind of Italian quickie that gives cheap thrills a good name. The mixture of post-apocalyptic action and spaghetti western elements provides a solid, no-frills narrative base and Castellari’s kinetic touch ensures it has style and energy to burn, as well as a record number of exploding dummy deaths. Any student of Italian genre fare from this era will have fun watching how the filmmakers make something from nothing in that distinctly Neapolitan way.