Following the unexpected box-office success of their 3-D spaghetti western, Comin' At Ya! (1981), Italian exploitation hack Ferdinando Baldi and producer/scriptwriter/star Tony Anthony (Blindman (1971)) reunited for this, er… unique, 3-D slant on Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Over a title crawl better suited to a Star Wars rip-off than an Indiana Jones imitator, portentous narration informs us four golden crowns hold mystic gems that when united will usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity. Or trigger the apocalypse, no-one is really sure.
So why bother? The man to ask is J.T. Striker (Tony Anthony), a doughy, middle-aged soldier of fortune who trounces Indy’s iconic ensemble with his blazing red windbreaker and nylon slacks. There’s a guy who’ll have no trouble dodging hostile tribesmen in the Amazon. Fleeing the jungle, our man J.T. enters a cave laden with 3-D mantraps like flying spears, rope vines and a spring-loaded squirrel (yes, you read that correctly), while Baldi inexplicably includes wince-inducing close-ups on the hero’s crotch. In glorious 3-D, of course! There follows a bewildering bout of split-second time travel as Striker scurries through a space-age corridor before finally reaching a dusty, old tomb inside a medieval castle. Whereabouts in the Amazon jungle is this place?
Anyway, the object of his quest is to retrieve the all-important magic key. In doing so, Striker triggers another handful of ancient booby traps, including spooky Theremin noises, rubber skeletons crawling out of the grave, and a hail of flying crossbow bolts that he avoids by standing very, very still. Works every time. Returning to civilisation (or as civilised as a world that spawns movies like this can get), our hero sells the key to Professor Montgomery, expert on all things occult, who needs it to open the first of the three crowns. Hang on a minute - weren’t there four crowns? It says so in the title. Well yes, but turns out one crown was destroyed years ago, which you might think renders the whole apocalyptic threat somewhat redundant, but nobody ever mentions it again.
Nevertheless, Professor Montgomery believes the world is at threat from the satanic cult who possess the remaining two crowns and convinces the sceptical Striker (“bunch of superstitious mumbo jumbo… I’ve got better things to do than get myself killed”) to steal them away from their high-tech fortress, guarded by ninjas. To do this, Striker must reassemble his crack team of down-on-their luck compadres: alcoholic mountain climber Rick (Jerry Lazarus), trapeze artist Liz (Ana Obregon) and (best of all) her lover, Socrates (Francisco Rabal) an aging, pathetic vaudeville clown with a serious heart condition.
None of these losers seem especially keen on laying down their personal dramas (Socrates seems to have strayed from a cheesy, Italian version of Limelight (1951)) to join Striker on a crazy quest, but once the magic key starts flying around their homes, making things rattle and explode, they’re somehow convinced. If you thought a twitchy alcoholic, a geriatric clown with heart trouble and an idiot in a red leather jacket are the wrong people to rely on to save the world… then you’d be absolutely right, because - spoiler warning! - right in the middle of their daredevil heist, Socrates suffers a fatal heart attack, Rick has the DT’s and gets impaled on some spears, and grumpy Striker tosses the jewels into the fire. Um, Striker, what about world peace?
As if it needed to be said, Treasure of the Four Crowns is a terrible movie. Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, of the legendary Cannon Films, this low-rent Indiana Jones knock-off is, on the one hand, a comedown for Ferdinando Baldi who made some offbeat spaghetti westerns like the Franco Nero vehicle Texas, Addio (1966) and the fun, underrated pop musical Little Rita of the West (1967). On the other hand, it’s par for the course from the team behind Comin' At Ya!, the movie that thought a infant peeing into the camera was a spectacular 3-D effect.
Despite few redeeming features - save perhaps, Ennio Morricone’s score - this has gone on to become some kind of perverse cult classic. Possibly because of the outrageous climax that sees Striker transform into a warty-faced, snot-dribbling mutant able to shoot flames from his hands. It must be seen to be believed.