Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Los Cantabros (1980), Or Togas For Everyone!

My dearest friends, I bid thee well met! It is I, the Duke of DVD, once more grasping your elbow and leading you into the long dark that is MAD cinema! Do not despair, friends! I see you bite your lower lip with fear, your eyes, like pie tins, wide with terror! There there, the Duke is here, ready to brush back the cobwebs of Hollywood tripe, dragging you further into the underbelly of the silver screen, before finally pushing your bloated, sack-like carcass into the unending abyss of cinematic awesome that is Paul Naschy. Your screams already fade away as I turn and notice a shiny object on the ground.

I bend to examine it, using an ancient brush made using the hairs of an unborn mole-rat and the polished femur of an albino baboon for a handle to brush away the outlying dirt. What hidden gem could I have possibly uncovered, brushing carefully away the dust and detritus before finally holding it aloft, like a baby lion cub who would be king? Why, a brilliant Mad Movie Masterpiece by Paul Naschy of course!  LOS CANTABROS!  Thought lost for aeons, this peplum-esque, Roman-filled fun ride should be seen by all, especially those who love Paul as much as we do at MMMMMovies.

Let us begin, shall we?

Before getting to the movie, let me pause for a moment and quickly grab you by the head, holding it in an iron-tight grip while I shove some knowledge down your throats! Don’t bother struggling, it is for your own good! Los Cantabros, or The Cantabrians, were a group of people who lived, in the real world mind you, in the far northern reaches of Spain, from around the 4th century B.C. to the 1st century B.C. They were a fierce people, known for their ability to breed like rats and their preternaturally strong body odour, and when the Roman plan of “Hey, let’s pretty much take over the entire known world!” finally reached northern Spain, the Romans found a people whom they immediately disliked, mainly because they just wouldn’t hurry up and die already.

"Don't make me angry.  You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
Actually, the Cantabri were used by the Romans and fought in their armies for a good long while before their two-faced, backstabbing ways finally angered Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar enough that he “pacified” the whole region. Even after this, though, the area was still unstable for many years to come, before it was finally given over to self-rule, more or less. This is important knowledge to have, because our movie picks right up with the Augustus Caesar having a discussion with his generals over what to do bout those pesky Cantabrians.

In what instantly became my favorite Naschy reveal moment, one of the Romans nearby, who had before been standing with his back to the meeting, turns around--and it’s fucking Paul Naschy, wearing Roman Centurion armor, complete with a cloak that looks to be made of squirrel hides! Friends, my shriveled heart skipped a beat, I don’t mind telling you! It seems Naschy is Caesar’s war general named Agrippa. Naschy wearing Roman armor had me in a-grippa right away, I tells thee! (See what I did there?)

"Just FYI, I'm not Conan. Nor am I Ricardo Montalban."
Caesar’s main problem with the Cantabrians is that they are lead by a fearless man known as Coracotta (Joaquin Gomez), a Josh Groban lookalike who has a penchant for dressing like Conan and tossing men off cliffs. At Coracotta’s side is his beautiful sister named Elia, as well as an old man I’ll just refer to as Gandalf because I never did catch his real name. He appears to be an old priest for the group. Coracotta’s wife is also around, although she doesn’t do much more than squeeze out babies. We also have the aloof sorceress Selenia, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Agrippa has figured out why the Cantabrians are so good: they use guerrilla warfare techniques, which the Romans can’t combat in traditional ways. Caesar orders a bounty to be placed on Coracotta’s head, hoping that will work out somehow. Agrippa asks for, and recieves, permission to retrain some Legions into smaller fighting forces that can fight fire with fire, so to speak, and get rid of the Cantabrians.

Gurco's such a size queen.
Agrippa’s first ploy doesn’t work out so well. He sends a fake shipment of coin up through the mountains, hoping the Cantabrians won’t be able to resist. Sure enough, they don’t, and Coracotta’s band of merry men attack--only the Roman soldiers sent with the shipment run off like the cowards they are before the attack happens, leaving only the sergeant and a corpulent, warhammer-swining mercenary guard. The sergeant fights the beautiful Elia, losing rather badly before surrendering. The fat Gurco fights Coracotta himself and loses badly as well, only he ends up joining up with Coracotta, what with him having no real loyalty to Rome at all.

On their way back to camp, Coracotta’s group is stopped by the sexy Selenia, who can see the future or some such. She says to Coracotta that a man has landed near their land whose ships have blood red sails, and that this man will be the toughest shit Coracotta ever faced. Coracotta isn’t concerned and wants to know about his pregnant wife. Selenia says that she will successfully squirt a son out for him.

Meanwhile, back at Agrippa’s camp, we see one of Coracotta’s men, a one-eyed, disfigured lump named Sonanso, betraying the locations of all of the Cantabrian camps, including the whereabouts of Corcotta himself. It seems Sonanso loved Elia (who wouldn’t, GRRRR!) but she didn’t return his love, so he figured he’d impress her by winning a duel; only that earned him the missing eye, so it was pretty much all down hill from there. Now he’s a bitter, ugly man, wanting revenge on Coracotta for some reason, even though everything that happened to him was a direct result of his own actions. But anyway, now Agrippa knows where all the camps are.

"No, wait, my bad--that's just a ferret."

Back at Coracotta’s camp, we get to see how great Naschy is at writing. The fat Gurco has become fast friends with the scrawny Huron, a Kenny G-esque dude who loves eating. A pudgy serving girl comes over to bring the two some meat, and Gurco is smitten instantly, saying, “Look how large and beautiful she is! She must weigh at least 100kg!!” Huron remarks that Gurco should consider losing some weight, since he “flattens horses.” Funny stuff, and I was cheering at Naschy’s writing chops here.

We cut back to Agrippa’s camp, and he’s lamenting that he’s been without a chick for a while. “I miss the caress of a woman,” he says, looking tense and pensive from all the backed-up manbatter. Before long, he hooks up with a slave girl, kissing her feet, and later we see her bathing his in a small tub, doubtless to wash off the sex stank. Agrippa’s plan is working out, thanks to the traitorous Sonanso. We see some Roman soldiers ambush a patrol, which gives us some good sword and shield action, complete with slow motion shots of fighters falling off horses as they get skewered with arrows.

Attackus Leapus

Elsewhere, Coracotta goes to visit the sorceress Selenia, who gives him a potion that causes him to fall into a deep sleep and dream of his worst enemy. In his dream, his worst enemy is a Roman soldier with a skull for a face, only it has human eyes. Pretty damn creepy! As the two fight, the skull face switches for Naschy’s face and back and forth several times. The skull/Apgrippa spectre finally kills Coracotta, who awakes in a sweat. Selenia says, “Now you’ve seen the face of your enemy,” which of course can only mean one thing: Coracotta is He-Man.

The next day, Coracotta’s men stage their own ambush, killing a bunch of Roman soldiers. Alas, poor Huron, who was a lover not a fighter, gets killed in the melee, causing much anguish for poor Gurco. Agrippa is sure he’s been betrayed, and finally figures out that his sex slave betrayed him. He sends her away to be executed. At Huron’s funeral, Selenia shows up and talks with Elia, Coracotta’s sister, and gives her an enchanted Dagger of Roman Slaying +3, and tells her to sneak into Agrippa’s tent then to poke him with the sharp end.

That night, Elia does just that, only Agrippa wakes up at the last second, and an epic battle ensues. The two crash and bust everything in the tent, using various weapons that are conveniently lying about. The highlight of the fight, nay, the entire fucking film, comes when Naschy mounts a wooden table and then executes a fucking LEAP ATTACK right at Elia! I was fully tumescent by this point, folks! Agrippa realizes finally that he can’t win this fight, the beautiful Elia is too much for him. He calls for the guards (who apparently were standing right outside the tent flap the whole time--thanks, guys!). The battle ends abruptly when one of the guards shoots an arrow into Elia’s chest!

"So...once we're done here, who's up for an orgy?"
Agrippa is in love with her, though, naturally, and orders his chief surgeon to save her life. He does, and the two become lovers, for who can resist the sexual prowess of Agrippa? Meanwhile, Agrippa’s men ambush Coracotta and a small group of soldiers, killing most of them and wounding Coracotta in the process. He manages to escape and make it back to camp, where Selenia and Gandalf nurse him back to health.

"Now get me a sammich!"

Elia finally leaves Agrippa’s bed and returns to camp, where she is denounced for a traitor by her brother. Coracotta is ready to kill her himself, but Gandalf stops him, saying that he would no longer be their leader if he spilled one of their own’s blood. Elia, upset, runs off, only to run into the traitor Sonanso, who denounces her in front of a group of angry Cantabrians. He riles them up enough to stone her, which they do, knocking her to the ground. Coracotta comes riding up, though, and denounces Sonanso for a traitor and the murder of his sister Elia, and he grabs Sonanso and tosses him off the cliff-side! Coracotta kneels to check on Elia and it turns out she’s not dead, just injured.

The Vicar, in a drunken rage at one of his bacchanals.
Coracotta decides that the only recourse to ending Roman aggression is to offer his own head to Caesar. He travels to Caesar’s court, where Agrippa and he are discussing things like how best to roger a slave girl. Much to their collective surprise, Coracotta strolls in and offers his own head in exchange for Caesar leaving the Cantabrians the fuck alone. Caesar, humbled by Coracotta’s courage and pride, says he doesn’t want things to end this way, and sends Coracotta back to whence he came, with the added promise that Agrippa will end things honorably.

True fact: from time immemorial, women have been faking orgasms.

So Agrippa heads back to Cantabrian Land and sets up camp, getting ready for a big battle royale no doubt. Selenia, has other plans; she sneaks into his camp, and tells Agrippa to meet Coracotta in a man-on-man grudge match by the sea. Agrippa accepts! The movie culminates in an epic battle for the ages, fought on a sandy beach. Paul looks rakish in his full Roman get-up, sword and shield in hand. Coracotta wields his trusty battle axe and shield like he was born with them in his hands. Back and forth they go, swinging, clanging, and huffing and puffing. Finally Coracotta gets the upper hand, managing to disarm the beaten Agrippa, who begs for death in defeat. Coracotta won’t give it to him, his honor is too high for that. He tells Agrippa to leave and never come back. Agrippa does just that, riding off into the sunset. Fin.

Toga!  Toga!  Toga!
Dearest friends, I do firmly believe that LOS CANTABROS is one of the best Naschy films I’ve seen to date. Of course, they are all fantastic, but LOS CANTABROS stands out with it’s skillful writing, expert direction and pacing, and just overall awesomeness. Naschy has always been a skilled writer, but it really shows here, with grand speeches on honor, cryptic warnings and prophecy by the sorceress, and even lots of humor, especially the back-and-forth that Gurco and Huron have. Paul also managed to extract wonderful performances out of his actors. Enough can’t be said about the action scenes, as well. Not only were they fantastically choreographed, but the use of slow motion was expertly done.

No, but she will moan in the Duke's quarters!
I also thought the sets where well done, if a little on the chintzy side, butthey did great work with what they had. In researching this film, I found out that Joaquin Gomez, who played Coracotta fantastically I thought, had the original idea for the film, and is indeed credited as a writer. Gomez, later known under his pseudonym Dan Berry, went on to star in and direct quite a few movies, usually known for his muscular physique. Both Dan Berry and Paul Naschy were wrestlers before getting into movies, interestingly enough.

"Get ready for The Hurting, son."

To sum it all up, LOS CANTABROS is a fantastic movie, and one that really deserves release outside of Spain. Luckily in this age of Internet granny porn and used-panty vending machines, we can have such things as “fan-translated subtitles,” which is the only way your beloved Duke could understand the movie. Track down a copy, if you can, and enjoy!

Three Thumbs Up

"Et tu, Duke?  Only Three Thumbs?!"

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

Tarkan + Asterix + Caligula(?) = Los Cantabros?

Must.See. The whole Naschython Circle of Love should be lit up after this review. Congratulate yourself, Duke.

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