The Throne of Fire (1983) The Throne of Fire / Il Trono di Fuoco (1983) -**Ĺ

     As weíve discussed before, the producers of The Invincible Barbarian rather jumped the gun by cuing up two sequels before the first film had even been released. Both of the intended follow-up pictures had to be reworked into free-standing movies once the disappointing box-office figures for The Invincible Barbarian came in, but the one that became The Sword of the Barbarians was already well underway by then. The finished product thus ended up looking a whole lot like the sequel it was no longer supposed to be, adding a layer of dťjŗ vu to its other forms of strangeness for those few of us who had bothered to see its predecessor. The Throne of Fire, the second sequel that wasnít, had more lead time in which to develop an independent personality, and boy did it ever! Incredibly, screenwriters Nino Marino and Giuseppe Buricchi devised a sword-and-sorcery riff on The Omen, heavily freighted, as if that werenít already bizarre enough, with throwaway story beats pilfered from Raiders of the Lost Ark!

     Azira (Beni Cardoso, of Barbed Wire Dolls and The Avenger) doesnít look to have been expecting any visitors at all tonight, but she certainly didnít expect to play hostess to the devil Belial (Harrison Muller, from Warrior of the Lost World and She). Nor did Satanís emissary just drop in for a quick chat and a cup of sulfur dioxide. The already matronly and pre-menopausal Azira, for Hell alone knows what reason, has been chosen to mother something very much like the Antichrist, although nobody in the movie ever actually calls him that. The womanís attitude toward this rather startling prospect is one of the funnier things about The Throne of Fire. Although sheís understandably alarmed to find a diabolical personage knocking at the door to her cottage, Azira seems more wearily resigned than anything else to Belialís announced intention to impregnate her with the Earthly incarnation of Evil. But I suppose nobody makes it to middle age in the Middle Ages without seeing some shit, right?

     Presumably we jump here to another night nine months later, but thatís not at all what it looks like. Rather, Azira gives every appearance of having skipped over the whole pregnancy, going straight from boning Belial on her kitchen floor to giving birth in the surrounding woods to the cheapest, ugliest rubber monster baby this side of Dead Alive. Meanwhile, a curiously youthful-looking wizard whose name we will never learn (my best guess is that this is Dan Collins, but a guess is all that is) muses to his wife (and I canít even offer a guess as to who this performer might be) that the son of the Devil has been born into the world. Thatís a bad thing, obviouslyó especially the part where the devil-spawn will one day try to sit on the Throne of Fire, whatever that isó but not to worry. The wizardly coupleís own infant son, Siegfried, will grow up to become a mighty warrior (specifically, heíll grow up to become Pietro Torrisi, from Ironmaster and Women in Cell Block 7), who will oppose Satan and all his works.

     As for Aziraís son, Morak, he grows up to be the spitting image of his infernal father, and by the time he comes of age, Azira herself has become downright enthusiastic about her role in plunging the world into damnation. Indeed, sheís the one who puts the idea of sitting on the Throne of Fire into Morakís head. Itís part of what might be the weirdest pep talk Iíve ever heard, as Azira tries to get her son fired up to do whatever it takes to win that throne, up to and including the wholesale massacre of women and children. Morak raises himself an army, and unleashes a reign of stock-footage terror across a countryside far more primitive than the one weíll later see him ruling in the parts of the movie that werenít recycled from The Invincible Barbarian or The Sword of the Barbarians. He even vanquishes the rightful king of whatever land this is supposed to be, and thereby gains access to that big chair everyone keeps talking about. Access, you understand, but not the chair itself. Thatís because the Throne of Fire is called that for a reason. It was created ages ago by Odin himself, and the enchantments upon it are such that none but a rightful ruler may sit on it. Anyone else who tries is magically immolated in a budget-conscious approximation of the fate of Nazis who gaze into the Ark of the Covenant. Morakís demonic parentage may make him impervious to all human weapons, but even he canít handle that! The only way for the usurper to win the magical throneís assent to his rule is to legitimize it by marrying the daughter of the slain king. Alas, Princess Valkiri (Sabrina Sianni, of Conquest and Aenigma) has other plans. No sooner had her father drawn his last breath than she fled the castle and went into hiding.

     Be that as it may, Morak now has a kingdom to run, even if heís currently limited to running it from the Throne of Flea Market. Consequently, the demon-spawn entrusts the search for the princess to his right-hand man, Tares (Pietro Ceccarelli, from Endgame and The Arena), while he gets down to business terrorizing the peasantry. Tares rounds up Valkiri with remarkable dispatch, but just barely has he ridden back to the castle with her as his prisoner than Siegfried arrives at the smoking ruin of the village where sheíd been hiding out. One of the survivors explains the situation, and Siegfried, no shirker of destiny, agrees at once to take up the cause of freeing Valkiri and her land. Also, being a wizardís son, Siegfried knows something that even Morak does not. Thereís a time limit to the completion of the Antichristís conquest, and unless Morak successfully sits on the Throne of Fire before the end of the Day of the Night of the Day, then heíll never be able to put his butt on the dead kingís seat without it bursting into flames.

     If youíre anything like me, youíre probably figuring that a Conan cash-in thatís also an Omen ripoff that also robs from Raiders from the Lost Ark is a movie not to be missed. And if The Throne of Fire had reunited the original Invincible Barbarian creative team of director Francesco Prosperi and screenwriter Piero Regnoli, I imagine it really would have been. Instead, though, we have to settle for Prosperi directing a script by Nino Marino and Giuseppe Buricchi, neither of whom had anything like Regnoliís track record of sheer fucking lunacy. They might have given The Throne of Fire a whackaloon premise for the ages, but after theyíve set it up fully, the film shrivels into a seemingly endless succession of captures and escapes for Siegfriend and/or Valkiri. A certain amount of that is both fine and probably inevitable given the genre expectations at work here, but thereís a point beyond which one gets the impression that the filmmakers are just running out the clock. The Throne of Fire crosses that threshold after an hour at best.

     Itís doubly disappointing that The Throne of Fire wastes so much of its time and energy repeating itself, because thereís a fair amount to like in this movie even as it is. A setting in which Satan and Odin are equally real, and acting in opposition to each other, could merely be sloppily incoherent (and honestly, it probably is), but you could also look at it as a fascinating bit of syncretism instead. I donít think Iíve ever seen another heroic fantasy movie where the good guys have a small but important edge because they understand a prophecy which has the baddies thoroughly stumped, and Iíve definitely never seen an Antichrist whoís as unapologetic a mamaís boy as Morak. Thereís a genuinely funny comic bit during the final act, when Morak, having grasped at last the significance behind the Day of the Night of the Day, tries to hustle the priest officiating his wedding to Princess Valkiri through the ceremony, only to have the old man grow ever more ornery and uncooperative. And at the other extreme, on those occasions when the exercise of Morakís demonic power reveals his true nature, the accompanying glimpses of his face, virtually liquid with putrefaction, last just long enough to make an effectively horrific impact, without being undone by the shoddiness of the special effects makeup.

     My favorite thing in The Throne of Fire, though, is the Well of Madness sequence, in which Morak banishes Siegfried into an underworld that resembles nothing so much as a Halloween haunted house attraction with ambitions hugely exceeding the reach of the resources behind it, whether material or creative. It isnít just that the terrors confronting Siegfried down there are ludicrously cheap and inept. Thereís also a childish lack of conceptual sophistication about them that makes the whole incident much more fun than a less naÔve descent into Hell would ever have been. The chatty ghost who is nothing but a mutilated, severed head is an especially unforgettable creation. Come to think of it, the Well of Madness is the one time when The Throne of Fireís recurring cycle of capture and escape really feels worth the time and effort devoted to it.

 

 

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