Treasure of the Four Crowns
All the films that fall into that general category of “cool when I was in elementary school” have this common peculiarity. I, as well as most of the people with whom I saw them, remember one or two scenes from each movie, and not much more up until we start watching again, at which time the floodgates of memories both shameful and grand are thrown open. With Sword and the Sorcerer, for example, everyone remembered the slimy wizard making the witch’s chest explode, and everyone remembered the steamy bathhouse scene, but not much else. In the case of Beastmaster, another classic from a bygone era, we each remembered some green guys who wrapped their leathery wings around people and dissolved them, and we remembered Tanya Roberts bathing nude under a waterfall. In Revenge of the Ninja it was a tremendous spray of blood as Sho Kosugi kills the villain at the end, and two naked people getting killed in the middle of having sex in a hot tub.
There may be a pattern here. I’m not sure.
In the case of the oft-forgotten Indiana Jones rip-off, Treasure of the Four Crowns, all anyone could remember was “something about a lot of flaming rocks swinging around on really obvious wires.” There’s a good reason this is the thing we all remember. We remember it because nothing else really happens in the whole damn film. Sure, it claims to be action-packed, in the tradition of course of the recent hit Raiders of the Lost Ark, but unless you count among the action sequences the scenes in which a middle aged man struggles to grab hold of a floating key that makes electronica music play, then the truth is that action scenes are few and far between. Specifically, there is one at the beginning of the film, one at the end, and neither are really worth a damn for anything beyond the sheer hilarious incompetence on display.
Although few people seem to remember this little gem of a film, and by gem I mean small chunk of gravel, it caused a minor stir upon its initial release. I have fond memories of the day we all loaded up for a friend’s birthday party and went to see this film, which aside from promising us nonstop action both bigger and better than what we’d so recently enjoyed in Raiders of the Lost Ark, was also shot in glorious 3D! Pretty much every other scene in the action-adventure disaster that is Treasure of the Four Crowns involves a guy sticking something toward the camera in an exaggerated manner and for an unrealistically long time. Anything that isn’t bolted down gets picked up and waved into the camera. Keys, sticks, guns, fingers, bottles of booze, skeleton arms, spears, dangling bits of string, even a squirrel. You name it, and someone held it in front of the camera in a very awkward way. And yet this is the least ludicrous thing about the movie.
Treasure of the Four Crowns opens with Star Wars-like scrolling words on a space background. They explain to us that some things cannot be understood. These things include, aside from the movie Treasure of the Four Crowns, the actual four crowns, which contain gems that, when united by a man in a windbreaker, can either usher in an era of peace of prosperity or unleash a world where good is forever entangled in battle with evil, which I guess would be…well, the current world. I’ve never quite understood how a couple little gems or amulets or anything could usher in an era of anything. Just because you can shoot some animated beams out doesn’t really translate into changing the world. Sure, both Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Lord of the Rings featured magic items with the power to change the world, but that was only if they were used as weapons by a guy who already had a pretty big army. If Sauron had just been some lonely wizard living in a cave, it’s unlikely the One Ring would have changed much of anything.
The opening narration then goes on to tell us that, even as we are reading this, a soldier of fortune is seeking out artifacts that will unlock the power of the crowns. That soldier of fortune is JT Striker (Tony Anthony), a name that sounds like one of those TGI Fridays rip-offs where you are served potato skins by an overzealous waitstaff. In a way, this image is not so far off from the image we see of JT Striker, rugged man of the world — an adventurer, rogue, and soldier of fortune who has come to raid an ancient castle while wearing a Members’ Only jacket and a pair of Haggar slacks. I was immediately reminded of the “greatest athletes in the world” from Gymkata, most of whom were very pasty, doughy middle-aged guys in jogging suits who looked more like used car salesmen than they did the greatest athletes ever known to man. I would find, as Treasure of the Four Crowns progressed, that it in fact had far more in common with Gymkata than it did with Raiders of the Lost Ark. In my twisted, sick universe, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Anyway, JT Striker, exuding all the manly ruggedness of a guy who puts on a nylon warm-up suit and power-walks through a mall for exercise during his lunch break, is busy attempting to pick his way through a jungle cave filled with booby traps that result in a 3D effect at every step. Spears, vines, JT’s ass and crotch, and at one point something resembling a squirrel or possibly a woodchuck, gets thrust toward the camera to provide thrill-a-minute action. JT, of course, being one of the greatest soldiers of fortune ever to step out from behind the counter of a Rexall Drugstore, manages to evade even the deadly spring-loaded squirrel and soon finds himself shoving his crotch into the camera as he shimmies down a space-age looking corridor while weird Forbidden Planet type music plays. At the bottom of the shaft, he lands inside what looks to be the basement of one of those King Henry’s Feast type restaurants. He was in a jungle just a minute ago, but whatever. I suppose there could be castles full of medieval artifacts in the middle of the Amazon. Can you prove otherwise? Have you ever been on a treasure hunting expedition to the Amazon? Well, JT Striker has, and he didn’t even have to buy safari clothes. He just wore some slacks and a red warm-up jacket. He didn’t even bring a burro or treacherous Hispanic sidekick. Heck, he didn’t even bring a sack or a backpack or anything.
The aim of his adventuring is to retrieve a magic key that makes electronic “whoo whee woo” noises as it levitates around aimlessly, causing things to blow up. Picking up the key triggers more booby traps, each one deftly foiled by Striker using the method known in the business as “dumb luck.” Most of the booby traps cause something to fly toward the camera. The key also causes a crossbow to levitate through the air, or at least to wobble precariously on the end of a wire. Striker chooses to stand motionless, directly in front of the crossbow, waiting until it begins to fire bolts at him before he dives to safety in the nick of time, providing us with much tension and rousing action, or at least an excuse to ask the question, “Why would anyone stand motionless, directly in front of a levitating crossbow?” Now, “seeing the string” is a staple of any movie filled with dodgy special effects. We all know that there are multitudinous sci-fi films in which you can spy the wires holding planets and spaceships in place. Treasure of the Four Crowns takes this to a bold new level however by refusing to include even a single shot where you can’t see the string that the various items wobble around on.
All sorts of stuff starts to explode while ghost noises tease us that the moldy old skeletons lining the walls will spring to life and deliver some serious undead action. Sadly, that is beyond the scope of the budget, so some of them just sort of fall over a little. Striker escapes out a nearby window, which begs the question why didn’t he just come in that way to begin with instead of dealing with that cave full of traps? As he runs, or lumbers I suppose, over the lawn in dramatic slow motion, things blow up for no reason and showers of sparks rain down from strategically placed flashpots. If there was any doubt that this movie would not live up to the promise of out-adventuring Indiana Jones, I think we had them addressed during that riveting opening action sequence, and I use the term “action” in the sense that it means a man in Members’ Only jacket running in slow motion through a field of exploding flashpots. Some people call that action. I call it a Billy Squier concert.
Back in civilization, Striker sells the key to nutty Professor Montgomery (Fernando Villena), who does what all professors do in movies like this, which is rant incoherently about a relic possessed of unspeakable power. Basically, he recites that bit of scrolling text from the beginning of the film. You know, I may not have gone to Harvard or Oxford or Cumberland Community College, but I did go to college, where I took a few anthropology and ancient history classes. At no point in my entire four years did I have a teacher who, on the side, quested after ancient relics of unspeakable power. Never did I have a class with a nutcase professor with some cockamamie theory about the lost Amulet of Zag-nalthriglil that would allow the possessor to conquer the world. I did, however, have a film theory teacher who used to jump up on the table during class and do suggestive interpretative dances to film noir music. Maybe I just went to the wrong university.
Montgomery uses the key to unlock one of the three sacred crowns. I know, I know. There are four sacred crowns. There’s actually only three. One apparently got destroyed a long time ago, which would seem to render the whole threat of uniting the crowns somewhat moot. Inside the crown is a slip of paper. That’s about it. Oh yeah, the key makes some stuff pop up and fly at the camera because it’s been a few minutes since anything was flung at us through the miracle of 3D technology. The professor and his little buddy, an incredibly grating smarmy guy, want to hire Striker to obtain the other two crowns, which are in the possession of a religious cult. Montgomery promises that those two crowns have treasures in them slightly more interesting than a scrap of old paper. Personally, I’m thinking the whole treasure of the crowns thing is going to be as anti-climatic as the opening of Al Capone’s secret vault. Striker is apparently on my side, as he delivers the “bunch of superstitious mumbo jumbo” speech and combines it with “I’ve got better things to do than get killed” — though apparently he doesn’t, since when we first met him he was braving the menaces of a dead squirrel and a persistent buzzard.
Some more swinging the key about on a string and the promise of a lot of money eventually convinces Striker not to return to his job as manager of a department store men’s department. To pull off the quest, Striker insists on assembling his team of seasoned adventurers. First there is Rick (Jerry Lazarus), the alcoholic mountain climber. He is, like Striker, initially skeptical. But just as Striker is about to give up on drunken Rick, the key starts doing that flying around thing. This scene goes on for what must be ten minutes, and it would have been a perfect opportunity to have Rick do the thing where he looks at the bottle, looks at the key, looks at the bottle, then throws it away. Instead, Striker manages the awesome feat of eventually catching the slowly drifting key after a lot of stuff explodes. Rick, figuring that this asshole just let a little magic key blow up his whole cabin, decides he’s game for some adventure. Next up is Socrates (Francisco Rabal), who is working a gig as a clown in some back alley vaudeville show. Like Rick, Socrates is initially hesitant to risk his life and give up all the prestige and public adoration that comes from being a clown in a vaudeville show in the 1980s. But he’ll come along — so long as Striker agrees to also put Socrates’ dearest Liz (Ana Obregon), a trapeze artist, in mortal peril as well. So, the world is going to be saved from the clutches of an evil cult by a guy in a Members’ Only jacket, a vaudeville clown, a trapeze artist, a drunk, and a grating yuppie.
This whole “assembling the team” sequence has gone on for a very long time, and most of it is composed of scene after scene of the key flying around and making glass and steam fly toward the camera. The movie is well over halfway finished at this point, and we’ve had one dull action sequence, an abbreviated clown act, some goofing off on a trapeze, and a bunch of exposition and shots of a key levitating to and fro. Maybe the people who were going to out-adventure Indiana Jones missed the part where, by the halfway point, they’d had about a dozen fist fights, shoot-outs, car chases, sword fights, funny monkeys who do the Seig Hiel salute, explosions, a froggy looking guy named Toht, and we’ve been to America, Nepal, and Egypt. Even Gymkata had a bunch of fight and chase scenes by this point. Somehow, Treasure of the Four Crowns’ procession of scenes involving Striker attempting to convince a clown to help him raid this fortress aren’t quite the same. Indiana Jones gets Sallah, a barrel-chested hero of a sidekick with a booming voice, while Striker has a guy who, on a good day, reminds you of some sleazy coke-snorting disco yuppie who drives a Corvette. Treasure of the Four Crowns is only a step above what real archeology would be like, which is sitting in a room reading books for two years before you go out to the Gobi Desert to brush rocks with a cotton swab.
But hey, now that we have the impressive action team assembled, I’m sure the pace will pick up. No, wait. First, they have to spend some time going over the various traps and security devices that pepper the cult’s compound. The crowns are in a room protected by dozens of those laser beam security devices, a big metal cage, and a floor that causes a piercing alarm to go off if you so much as drop a feather on it. And then the statue upon which the crowns themselves rest is packed with assorted booby traps as well. Since they can’t get in through the front door, their only option is to use a series of ropes, pulleys, and trapeze contraptions to crawl across the ceiling. And luckily, Striker just happen to assemble a team containing a mountain climber and a trapeze artist. I’m not sure exactly where the aging clown with a heart condition comes in. Then, there’s another one of those scenes where the magic key flies around as everyone grimaces in slow motion as stuff explodes and flies toward the camera. This is how the movie defines action, but I guess I’ve been spoiled to the point where watching someone whiz a key around on the end of a string simply fails to impress me anymore.
The cult doesn’t seem especially interested in using the power of the crowns so much as they just like having them locked away in the big secure room for no reason. It’s not like they were actively trying to use the crowns for evil, nor were they actively pursuing the key that would unlock their allegedly awesome power. In fact, if Professor Montgomery wouldn’t have started this whole mess up, it’s probable that this cult would never do anything more dastardly than kidnap the occasional homeless guy and indoctrinate him to love “the master” as he wears a burlap sack and picks potatoes for the Rapture. While the leader of the cult holds one of those, “I shall heal this sickly woman” meetings to impress new recruits, Striker and his team go into action, or as much into action as this leisurely-paced film will allow.
Tension builds to a fever pitch, or at least a slightly warmer pitch than it had been watching the key fly around, as Striker and his band evade the ninja guards and crawl very slowly across the ceiling, stopping occasionally to nearly fall or trigger an alarm so we get scenes of incredible nail-biting suspense, or at least a lot of scenes featuring guys hanging upside down and making “hyngg!” noises. They also scream a lot when they fall, which seems not so wise to do when a ninja in a funny mask is right outside the door feeling pissed that, while he does get to wear the cool ninja soldier outfit, he has to ruin it all because the cult leader insists on the stupid big-nose masks. After hours of crawling around, Striker is finally in position to get the crowns. Then the old clown has a heart attack, which frankly serves Striker right for ever thinking that an old clown would be a good adventurer. Then some steam blows on Striker, and the alarm finally goes off after all this screaming and triggering of booby traps. As the ninjas and their leader close in, Striker unlocks the crowns and grabs the jewels, which causes lights to go off while his head spins round and round. And from here on out, it only gets better.
The jewels flash various colors, and suddenly Striker turns into a hideously deformed mutant with gel oozing out of the side of his face. As he growls without opening his mouth so as to avoid dislodging the shoddy latex they slapped on his face, the jewels begin spewing flame! The ninjas try to mow the mutant Striker down with machine gun fire, but it has no effect, as he swings the flame around and cooks everyone. Then he makes giant flaming rocks fly around the room. As Striker’s supernatural wrath mounts, it unleashes a spinning rod covered with sparklers. Then the cult leader melts in a blaze of special effects work not quite as impressive as when all those Nazis melted in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Just as the possessed monster Striker is about to shoot the flames at Liz, who has been crouching up on a ceiling beam this whole time, she calls out his name and, of course, he manages to regain control of himself just in time to hug her. Professor Montgomery arrives in a helicopter to spirit them away through a nearby window. Just to make sure everything ends as stupidly as possible, Striker does his best to convey “the pain of sacrifice, and for what?” as he throws one of the jewels into the fire. Apparently the whole part about the jewels being able to end disease and hunger just wasn’t payment enough for the valiant sacrifice of a drunk mountain climber and a vaudeville clown.
Let’s face it, they don’t make movies this bad anymore. Sure, they make plenty of bad movies, but those movies are slick, high-tech, well-produced bores. They’re not the kind of movies where the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of a clown, even if the clown is named Socrates. I guarantee you Treasure of the Four Crowns, with its three crowns in the movie, will be one of the most awful films you have seen, and I also guarantee you that you’d be hard pressed to have a more enjoyable time witnessing such garbage. What man could be so collossally stupid as to think this movie was anything but complete and utter crap? Golan and Globus, my friends. Golan and Globus. Under the banner of Cannon Films, these two seem to have the career goal of making Dino DeLaurentus look like a producer of classy films. The Cannon filmography stretches back into the 1960s and includes such fare as Lady Chatterly’s Lovers, The Barbarians, Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, those Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies where the gods all live on the Moon, Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo, and more Chuck Norris films than you want to know about. They gave us Bo Derek in Bolero, Sylvia Kristel in Mata Hari, and Mathilda May strutting around naked and making Patrick Stewart explode in Lifeforce. They gave us Rappin’ starring a young Mario Van Peebles, and King Solomon’s Mines starring a young Sharon Stone. From their horn of plenty sprung not just Hot Resort, but also Hot Chili.
Suffice it to say that any fan of the worst film has to offer owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Golan and Globus and their complete and total lack of shame. Treasure of the Four Crowns is another jewel in their own eerie collection of crowns with the power to destroy — or heal — the world. It all depends on who wields the power of a mystic gem like Alien from LA or Goin’ Bananas. Within the greater cinematic landscape, Treasure of the Four Crowns falls so incredibly short of the goals it sets for itself and the promotional bragging that it did that you can’t help but love it. Within the confines of Cannon fodder, if you will, it’s pretty much par for the course. As a ten-year-old, I found it amazingly stupid yet hilariously enjoyable. As an adult, I find once again that I have not advanced much beyond the level of maturity I had attained by age ten.