If you were a young, Dungeons & Dragons gamer growing up in the 1980s, chances are you caught one of the many Italian softcore fantasy adventure movies that cropped up thereabouts. Though undoubtedly inspired by the lunkheaded Conan the Barbarian (1982), Italian sword and sorcery films were gorier, sexier and weirder than their American counterparts. Best of all, almost all of them starred luscious, Amazonian blonde, Sabrina Siani. More on her later. Truth be told, viewed away from clouds of raging adolescent hormones, many of these movies are pretty dire, although Sword of the Barbarians remains a cut above.
Our brawny hero is Sangraal (Pietro Torrisi; billed under the pseudonym Peter McCoy), roaming the wilds in search of a peaceful place to live when he chances upon a village being ravaged by lumpy monsters. He saves the day and is welcomed into their home. Unknown to Sangraal, his heroics have angered Rani (Xiomara Rodriguez), the sexy, naked Goddess of Fire who decides to avenge her slain minions. She sends in bloodthirsty Naluk (Mario Novelli) and his barbarian hordes to slaughter everyone in the village, while poor Sangraal is tied to a crucifix and forced to watch. Rani herself drives a sword through his pretty wife, Lenni (Margarita Rance). Not to worry. In movies like this, sexy girls are like buses. They’ll be another one along in a minute. Sure enough, the village chieftain’s lovely daughter Aki (Yvonne Fraschetti), shows up to rescue Sangraal and they hook up with comedy relief Chinese archer, Li Wo Twan (Al Yamanouchi). Well, it’s better than Sum Yung Guy, I suppose. Together, they battle a black wizard, a sultry succubus, forest-dwelling monkey men, and blind cave creatures in search of a magic weapon to end Rani’s reign of terror. To do this, Sangraal must shag all-powerful naked sexpot, the Golden Goddess (Sabrina Siani).
Known internationally as Sangraal La Spada di Fuoco, this movie is pretty much all about gore, monsters and hot chicks. Rodriguez and Siani are half-naked in all their scenes, while Fraschetti submits to a topless whipping. It’s pretty indefensible as anything but a softcore fantasy-horror-adventure film, and yet is fast paced, features a silly but compelling storyline, well-choreographed action, and strikingly inventive cinematography from Sergio Martino’s regular cameraman, Giancarlo Ferrando. Which is more than can be said of most Italian sword and sorcery flicks, including The Invincible Barbarian (also starring Torrisi and Siani), the film to which some say this is a sequel. The score by Franco Companino is also a winner, soaring and grandiose with operatic vocals.
On the downside, don’t expect any of the usual warrior maidens or equal opportunity heroism here. Poor Yvonne Fraschetti isn’t given much to besides look beautiful and get captured with tiresome frequency. When Aki struggles to cross a raging river, the camera zooms in on her wiggling, wet bottom - a reminder that Michele Massimo Tarantini made his name with numerous sex comedies. But he also made action thrillers and here uses an ingenious array of wide-angle lenses and dolly shots to lend Torrisi an imposing physical presence. As in Lucio Fulci’s Conquest (1983), which also stars Siani (told you she got around!), the film transforms into delirious, mystical fever dream once she arrives. As the aptly-named Golden Goddess, Siani magically appears in a glittery shower, naked save for her golden crown and jewelled panties, to tryst with the understandably awed Sangraal. It’s a cameo worthy of a Frank Frazetta painting and while Ator the Fighting Eagle (1982) gave Siani her most active role, this is probably her most memorable film appearance. The teenage actress was regularly cast as a cannibal queen, plucky jungle girl or Amazon princess, often outshining her leading men with her athleticism and charisma. Siani landed her biggest role in Dino Risi’s medieval comedy Dagobert (1984), after which she seems to have vanished. Hopefully while naked in a glittery shower.