US poster

The Incredibly Bad Film Show
Return of the Barbarian Women

Return of the Barbarian Women (Richard Billi, or Al Bradley, depending whether you believe the video box or the film credits) - Nick Jordan, Mark Hannibal, Lyn Moody and Genie Woods

"Even more action, adventure than in the original - the Barbarian women return in the sequel to the smash hit "Barbarian Women". The Amazonian women are on the trail of a strange god with superhuman powers who uses them in a valley captured by the Barbarian Women. With a superhuman adversary with brilliant Kung Fu abilities - the rampant Barbarian Women fight harder, hacking and slashing more aggresively than ever before. In spectacular scenery with superb photography, the Barbarian Women are tougher and faster than ever before...hell has no fury like The Return of the Barbarian Women."
           -- Video box blurb.

I've never been a fan of Italian films - many of their modern horror pics seem to me to be vastly over-rated, dull remakes of other countries hits. However, occasionally even they can turn out a classic, although not one that will win any Oscars, unless they start giving them out for worst actor, worst special effects and worst film. Return of the Barbarian Women would be guaranteed to sweep the boards at such an event, being a superb example of a really appalingly bad film.

The Italians have always been great ones for using pseudonyms, presumably so that if the film dies a death, they can deny all association with it. It is therefore interesting to note that, as far as I am aware, none of the people credited with making this film have produced anything else, before or since. Either they all decided to change their names when they saw what a turkey they had produced, or they really were all complete amateurs - both explanations are extremely plausible.

Of course, they are not entirely to blame. Every bad movie has a moment in it when something happens which snuffs out the last, flickering hope of a decent film, and in RotBW, it is provided not by the plot, but by the video company. The particular scene in question has two characters chatting with a camp fire between them - unfortunately, the cutting from cinema screen shape to TV shape has been brutal and manages to leave both characters out of the shot, with the exception of the odd hand gesture. The result is definitely a classic of the genre.

Now, to the film itself. The video blurb quoted above is almost entirely misleading, but given the truth is probably preferable. Pausing only to take a deep breath, here we go. Bear with me...

It starts with the Barbarian Women (hereinafter referred to as the BW, though oddly enough, in the film they're always referred to as "the Amazons") engaged in their version of the Olympics; climbing poles and shooting arrows at each other, single combat on ground studded with metal spikes, fighting with spike gauntlets, the usual sort of thing. Their Queen then tells them they will go and force Dharma to reveal the secret of his sacred flame.

After this admirably confusing opening, we meet a couple of the other characters. Moog is a coloured gentleman we first see dealing with some trouble-makers who annoy him while he's eating, first by hitting them, then, when this fails to discourage them, by belching and literally blowing them away. Chang is an oriental bloke, who rides on a buffalo - we also meet him just before an encounter with some nasty people. Bandits, in his case, and he disposes of them with a mix of Kung Fu and swordplay, although not before meeting his love interest (also Oriental, no Angel Heart here!), accompanied by some sickly violins.

The scene switches to a village; the BW ride in, round up the inhabitants and demand a tax from them. We find out Dharma has been protecting this village for 400 years - he appears in a flash of pyrotechnics and tells the BW to leave. They chase him and he runs away (strange behaviour for an immortal) before vanishing in another flash of pyrotechnics.

Dharma appears in the village, and receives tributes, which he accepts ungraciously ("Where are my favourite hot peppers? Don't say you've forgotten them again!!"). Now, Dharma's secret is revealed - he is just the latest in a long line of con-men who pretend to be immortal and have been swindling the villagers for centuries and he is now training his successor. This youth goes hunting and helps a BW who is injured when she gets thrown off her horse, clearly frightened by the sickly violin music that wells up.

The BW attack again and this time Dharma is turned into a novelty pin-cushion - before he dies, he tells his successor to go meet Moog & Chang (who are seeking 'immortality' through Dharma's 'sacred flame'), and revenge him. Thus perishes the only half-decent actor in the picture.

Dharma, Chang and Moog meet up in the market place - Moog also meets his sickly violin music, sorry girl, and the three return to Dharma's hideout. Moog & Chang try and become immortal by passing through the 'sacred flame', but only get burned ("Aieee!" "What did you say?" "I said 'Aieee!' - that means 'Ouch!' in dialect"). Dharma tells them they must perform a noble deed first - in their case, fighting the BW, who are busy pillaging the village, carrying off 100 sackes of grain and the best of the young men.

They try to recruit the rest of the villagers' help, but with no luck, and are forced to try and rescue the prisoners themselves. This they do (being flung into the BW camp on catapults!), which leaves the BW feeling a bit miffed. Fortunately, some bounty hunters offer to tell the BW how to get into Dharma's refuge. They capture him, but Moog & Chang capture the bounty-hunters and find out how to enter the BW's camp. They rescue Dharma, and escape by parachuting out.

The villagers have now decided to fight back and are prepared, just like in The Magnificent Seven. The BW attack, but are repulsed with a mix of home-made hand-grenades and tanks (complete with flamethrowers!). Dharma defeats the BW Queen in single combat and returns to his hideout, leaving Moog & Chang to ride off into the sunset still mortal, and probably no wiser!

As you'll have guessed from this, it is a violent film, but only in the way Tom and Jerry is - there is almost no blood. Fight & chase sequences, which together occupy a very impressive 36 minutes out of the 94 the whole film lasts, are accompanied by sound effects, mostly of gongs being hit. The actors leap through the air, turning somersaults as they go, an effect spoiled somewhat when you realise that they are only ever seen in mid air, going straight up or coming straight down. I searched for a 'Trampolines by' credit, but couldn't find one.

Acting is non-existent, dubbing is so bad you wonder if the dialogue comes from an entirely different film, and the direction is not exactly up to Polanski level. In fact, it's difficult to say whose level it is up to. The music is indescribably cliched - the song at the end must be about the worst I've ever heard in a movie. Not to say this film doesn't have it's good points - it is extremely entertaining and undemandingly enjoyable. However, this is no bar at all to it being, without a doubt, the worst film I have ever seen. Mere words seem totally insufficient to even begin to describe just how monumentally atrocious it is.

One thing still bothers me - both the title and the video blurb imply that this is a sequel. Despite much searching, I've not been able to trace the original, The Barbarian Women - mind you, I'm not sure I really want to!

(You'll be lucky if you can get a copy of RotBW - my copy came out of a Tottenham Court Road shop when they didn't have a tape of Q - the Winged Serpent to replace my faulty one. I think the recommended retail price was 3.99...)

UK sleeve Footnotes:
  • The film was made in 1975, and the director's "proper" name is Alfonso Brescia. Born in 1930, he's a veteran of many films, from spaghetti westerns to peplum i.e. sword-and-sandal movies, and is perhaps best known outside Italy for 1987's Iron Warrior, starring Miles O'Keefe.

  • It has a host of alternate titles. In Italy, it was called either Superuomini, superdonne, superbotte or Amazzoni contro supermen. In Britain, as well as RotBW, it might also have been Amazons and Supermen. America knew it as Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women, the Hong Kong title translates as Supermen Against the Amazons and other names include Barbarian Revenge and Three Stooges Vs. the Wonder Women.

  • At time of writing (July 2000), if you really want the tape, go to Mania, and type in Barbarian Revenge, though they are asking more than thirty quid for it!

  • The sleeve's claim that it's "a sequel" is a bit dubious. The Barbarian Women mentioned there is Amazzoni: donne d'amore e di guerra, directed by Brescia in 1973, which has a similar setting, but little overlap of plot or actors. If you want to see that one too, look for Battle of the Amazons or Beauty of the Barbarian (see right).

  • Issue 3 of Sinema Brut has an article on 'The bizarre, bizarre world of Alfonso Brescia'. Visit their web site for ordering details, or go through Media Publications.

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