Reviews

JUMPSCARECUT: The Black Cauldron (1985)

Directed by: Ted Berman and Richard Rich
Cast: Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Arthur Malet, John Hurt

Written by Elena Morgan

I am a wuss when it comes to horror films, or anything scary to be honest, so when the idea of taking part in a month of scary films for JUMPSCARECUT came up I was unsure what film I could possibly write about. Then I remembered a film from my childhood that even though it scared me quite a bit, I weirdly had fond memories of it. That film was Disney’s The Black Cauldron.

The Black Cauldron is an animated fantasy about a young pig keeper named Taran who dreams of adventure and soon he finds it when he learns his pig Hen-Wen can see the future. When Hen-Wen sees that the fearsome Horned King is after the Black Cauldron and will do anything to possess its mysterious and dangerous powers, Taran sets out to stop him. On his quest, Taran meets brave Princess Elionwy, the minstrel Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi, a weird dog-like creature.

The Black Cauldron is often seen as Disney’s forgotten film, it appeared to have a troubled production and the fact it didn’t make its budget back domestically earned it the nickname “the film that almost killed Disney”. It’s not a Disney musical, instead being a more serious and spooky adventure with magic, witches and a lot of skeletons.

This was the first time I’d watched The Black Cauldron since I was nine years old or younger and I won’t lie, it made me jump a couple of times. Taran is a naïve young hero while Elionwy is a surprisingly brave and competent heroine for the time the film was made. Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi are the comic relief characters and, like a lot of comedic sidekicks, at times they’re amusing but they can also be annoying.

The animation when it comes to the Horned King’s eerie old castle is both stunning and creepy. A lot of the major moments of the film take place in that castle and it’s suitably dark and foreboding. Inside the castle is not only the Horned King, but his henchmen, a troll-like creature called Creeper, and a couple of small dragon-like creatures too. The sound those dragon-things make is enough to make your skin crawl. Speaking of sound, the film’s score is big and bold, but it also has a ghostly quality to it that makes the setting even more menacing.

The Horned King scared me as a child and he’s still pretty scary now I’m an adult. The look of him, in a long cloak the hides his skeletal figure and green flesh, and the way he moves so slow and composed until something angers him, it all makes an intimidating and frightening villain. Watching The Black Cauldron now, I thought I recognised the voice of the Horned King under the echoes and it turns out it was John Hurt. No wonder that voice haunted my dreams as a child!

I would recommend people watch The Black Cauldron if they haven’t seen it before or revisiting it if like me you hadn’t seen it for over a decade. It’s an interesting little film full of action, adventure, magic and spooky creatures. With its witches and skeletons, it’s definitely a film that feels well-suited to this time of year.

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