A soldier of fortune becomes involved in a quest for the Four Crowns; ancient artefacts that, if opened, hold the key to unlimited power. One is in the hands of an academic, but the others belong to the leader of a bizarre religious cult whose sinister influence is growing.
Aspiring film impresarios Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus took over the ailing Cannon Films in the late 1970s and were keen to flood both cinema and the emerging video market with as much commercial product as they could. Hence they agreed to distribute this Italian production starring Tony Anthony (real name Roger Pettito) and Gene Quintado. The actors also co-produced and Anthony received a co-credit for the original story too.
The film opens with a long action set-piece featuring Anthony as our swashbuckling hero, penetrating the dungeons of a strange castle. There he finds a forest filled with animals and birds. How this can exist underground is never explained but I expect that’s the power of the Four Crowns for you. Anyway, there’s also a secret treasure chamber and it’s loaded with nasty traps designed to deter the casual visitor from getting his hands on the magic key inside. Object after object hurls itself at Anthony; spears, fire bolts, arrows, tiny plastic pterodactyls; the usual stuff. And if we were in any doubt that this movie was part of the early 1980s 3-D revival, then the director keeps reminding us later on by taking every possible opportunity to poke things out of the screen; even during scenes of explanatory dialogue. Depending on who you believe; the film was shot in either ‘Super-Vision’ or ‘Wonder-Vision’, special 3-D technology invented exclusively for this film. Surprisingly enough, that just wasn’t true.
The opening sequence lasts about 20 minutes and has no dialogue, just an elegant score from one Ennio Morricone, who was obviously a bit strapped for cash at the time. Or maybe he’d agreed to the gig without seeing any footage beforehand. At one stage Anthony is chased by a rolling ball of flame. The whole thing is strangely reminiscent of another film. But just when we think we’re going to get an enjoyably cheesy ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981) rip-off, things transform into something entirely different: a heist thriller. And a very dull one at that.
Anthony delivers his key to a bearded academic who uses it on one of the crowns and then spouts some cheerfully vague bullshit about how unbelievable power will be unleashed if you unlock all four. Of course, such power can’t be allowed to ‘fall into the wrong hands’! Somewhat inconveniently, the other three crowns are already in the possession of this nutbar beardy bloke, who lives in an inaccessible mountain fortress with his brainwashed followers. How did he get them? Ebay probably. Anthony refuses to be involved in such stuff and nonsense, of course. Sensible chap, you might say; only in the very next scene he’s recruiting the usual ragtag team of misfits to take on the job! All of them were ‘the best’ back in the day, but have fallen on hard times since (yawn!) One of them tosses midgets around in a kind of bizarre circus/theatre act; another has a bit of a problem with booze, etc. etc. but they all sign up for ‘one last job.’ The key doesn’t seem to like them much either; whizzing around all over the place on barely visible strings, making everything shake and forcing everyone to pull very silly faces.
The heist itself is somewhat less than dynamic (interminable would be a better word) and freaky cult guy doesn’t even become aware of what’s going on until the last ten minutes. He never exchanges a single meaningful word with any of our heroes; hardly making for a conflict we can invest in. However, the climax of the film is gloriously stupid and completely off the wall. I suppose it was their version of what happened when the Nazis opened the Ark of the Covenant. On a slightly smaller budget.
Does the ending make up for all we’ve suffered up ‘til then? Like hell it does. But that part’s still pretty funny all the same. A prime slab of 1980s straight to video cheese. If truth be told, a slightly smelly one.