Killer Barbys (1996)
By: Mr Intolerance on December 17, 2010  | 
Shriek Show (USA) | Region 1, NTSC | 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Spanish DD 2.0 | 87 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Santiago Segura, Mariangela Giordano, Aldo Sanbrell, Charlie S Chaplin, Silvia Superstar, Carlos Subterfuge, Angie Barea, Billy King
Screenplay: Jess Franco, Patxi Irigoyen
Country: Spain
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I never thought I'd see the day: Jess Franco directing a rock 'n' roll movie! That's right, Spain's master of sleaze 'n' soft-core teaming up with Spanish punk band The Killer Barbies (the spelling of the film was changed to avoid legal action from the Mattel toy company) to give us some of that gory, violent and sometimes campy horror that has made Franco an exploitation film icon for over five decades (he's now over 80, and he's still making movies; he was recently recognised for his lifetime achievement and dedication to cinema with the Spanish equivalent of an Oscar). Actually, it's interesting to note that Franco had actually started the project without the band in mind, then heard their music and liked it so much that he changed the project to fit them in!

The Killer Barbys are on the road, touring their horror/punk/glam rock around the countryside, fronted by their statuesque flame-haired singer Silvia Superstar – she's impossible not to notice, if no other reason than her on-stage outfit at the start of the film is a very revealing leather bra and panties set. They pile into their van (which seems like a lot more fun than the Partridge Family's bus – a) no Rueben Kincaid, and b) Sharon, the band's go-go dancer seems quite happy to give her manager boyfriend Billy blow-jobs with an audience) and head off to the next gig – but things aren't quite so easy as all that. Y'see, at the gig was this dour-faced older fella called Arkan, and in the opening sequence of the film, we saw him chasing a barely clad male through the grounds of a spooky castle with the intent of killing him – and the fella does indeed die, albeit at the hands of Arkan's badly monged servant Balthasar (who is very attached to his scythe), who then with Arkan's permission takes one of the dead fella's ears to feed to one of his children (actually adult dwarves, one of whom he appears to be sleeping with). Arkan himself is "secretary" to Countess Von Fliedermaus (that's "bat" in German), whose name needn't have been quite so glaringly obvious, as the first time we meet her, she's a bloodied skeleton being fed the blood of the dead guy. Mind you, it does keep the cartoonish tone (albeit a rather adult one, given the sex, nudity, language and violence present) well established.

Arkan has lured the Barbys to the Countess' castle with the express purpose of feeding them to his mistress – he's changed road-signs, dug a concealed pit in the road to fuck their van's chassis and then conveniently turns up in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night to promise them use of a phone and the number of a mechanic to be called… in the morning. If this is sounding a little Scooby-Doo to you – especially when we get to the castle and see some of the decorations that obviously allude to vampirism (I kept expecting the eyes in the painting of the countess's "ancestor" to follow the band around the room), well, I'm pretty sure that's intended. Nobody could ever accuse Jess Franco of not having a sense of humour, I think here he's just being a bit more open and breezy about it. And unlike in some of those earlier films, it works. I mean, just watch the totally outrageous methods of dispatch on hand here – a guy gets run over by a steam-roller, for chrissakes! I could be watching a Looney Tunes video; albeit one with more boobs and blood than they average Foghorn Leghorn cartoon.

I've said in previous reviews of some of Franco's work that you can tell when his heart is in something, or when it isn't, and even twenty minutes into Killer Barbys, you can tell he's having fun, and in some regard seems to be sending himself up, or at least exaggerating some of his gothic excesses of the 60s and 70s: the drifting fog, the what-the-fuck bizarrerie of Balthasar (who Franco would no doubt have played, had this been made in the 70s, given his propensity for playing such characters in his own films) and his dwarvish "children", seriously dodgy special effects (the appliance work on the Countess reminded me all too much of the killer in Bloody Moon) the gleefully gratuitous sex and violence being leered at by the camera (voyeurism comes up again and again in Franco's work – whether by the characters or the audience or the camera itself, and it's no difference here; although the flipside is also true here, with several religious artworks and statues in the Countess' palace having been metaphorically blinded with gaffer tape), mysterious cut-away shots to nothing in particular, random camera angles, equally random sound effects – the only real difference I can see is that the pacing, while a little wobbly, is still much quicker than in his earlier films.

Now, the band members in the castle (Sharon and Billy are still fucking in the van) have worked out pretty quickly that things aren't what they seem, and yet still spend the night their. Sharon and Billy turn up at what ostensibly is midday, and yet it's still twilight, and we get our other old Franco gothic staple – expository dialogue! This is courtesy of Arkan, who tells our happy couple the story of a Satanic monk who fell in love with his aristocratic mistress (back-story, basically for his relationship with the Countess, which was already obvious to the audience from a previous scene), the use of myth and legend as precedent is yet another gothic staple (Female Vampire, anyone? Count Dracula? A Virgin Among The Living Dead? Mansion Of The Living Dead?); nevertheless, this is handled with much more alacrity than some of the more rambling lectures we may have received in older Franco flicks. I'm kind of assuming that Franco would have tailored his style to suit his audience. While I'm not suggesting that the band's audience would be lacking in attention span, he does seem to have tempered his approach somewhat, nevertheless.

While Franco never stinted on dodgy gore effects, he really seems to have cranked the handle a few more notches than on any of his previous efforts this side of Bloody Moon. There's some surprisingly gory work on display here in Killer Barbys, albeit done with a blackly humorous touch (and with a mini-budget to work with). The Countess (Mariangela Giordano, who some of you may remember from her unforgettable climactic scene with oddball Peter Bark in Andrea Bianchi's Burial Ground: The Nights Of Terror) has the band enthralled as they sit down to dinner with her, although she eats nothing at all, and we don't know what the band have been served up, although it does look a little familiar…

One of the points that's made here is that age-old chestnut about the link between thanatos (death) and eros (sex). Just as in Female Vampire, where Irinna exists forever on the semen she drains from her lovers, so here the Countess isn't your average vampire. Like Dracula, she becomes younger off vital fluids – so in other words, root yourself silly and you'll live forever! Mind you, this transaction doesn't exactly benefit both partners equally. And this is where we move into the final blood-soaked act, so if you want to find out what happens to the Barbys, my advice is to track this down with confidence. Highly entertaining fun made by a master film-maker who everybody but the most hard-core fan had written off some 15 years prior. Nice work, Jesus – you keep makin' 'em, and I'll keep watchin' 'em!
The picture quality is quite good, which should be no surprise given the fact that at time of writing, the film is only fourteen years old. Video-wise, expect all of the techniques you'd normally get from a Jess Franco film, although he seems to have lost some of his 1970s love of the crash zoom – but only some.
Weird. The actual track is fine, and serves the purpose well, but there are weird (but obviously intended) sound effects – the echoes in the final act that tend to pull you out of the film a little, and the (for the first two-thirds at least) almost constant punk rock diegetic and non-diegetic score, prominently featuring The Killer Barbies, natch. If you're not keen on their work, the film may well grate on you, as the songs that they do have on the soundtrack are repeated a number of times each (I think I counted four different runs-through of "Love Killer" by the credits rolling), which did start to annoy frankly. By all means put yourself on the soundtrack, but don't keep repeating the same songs.
Extra Features
To begin with, there are text bios for The Killer Barbies, Aldo Sanbrell, Jess Franco, Santiago Segura and Mariangela Giordano – nothing amazing, but a good place to start if you're interested in any of their work. There's a thirteen-minute interview with Sylvia Superstar and Billy King from The Killer Barbies that's pretty neat, although it's broken up into what are generally sound-bite responses. You also get a review of the film by Robert Monell from Spaghetti Cinema, Killer Barbies video clips for "Downtown" and "They Came From Mars", trailers for Eaten Alive (the Lenzi jungle adventure flick), Beyond The Darkness, Jungle Holocaust and Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror. There's also a lobby card gallery, a feature called "Scream Access", which allows you to jump to your favourite kill and finally a kind of mini-commentary track "Talking With The Killer Barbies", which runs over approximately twenty minutes of selected scenes from the film, with Billy and Sylvia doing the commentary. Not a bad collection of Extras there, although I can't help but think that there's a Jess Franco-sized hole in the proceedings – a brief text bio is not enough.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A hell of a lot of fun, basically. In terms of tone, this is not your average Jess Franco film, the comedy is much more broad, the action faster paced, and it never takes itself too seriously. The cartoonish style that he takes with the subject matter suits it entirely. It had the sleaze that I've come to expect from the work of the Jesus, it had a lot more gore than I was expecting, and it was a better looking film than expected, too, looking like it had a far higher budget than it actually did. I haven't seen the sequel The Killer Barbys Vs Dracula yet, but I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for it given the strength of this particular outing. The Killer Barbys is definitely recommended Franco material.

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