The Horned King
Otherwise Known As: Black-Hearted Devil (By Dalben)
Premiered in: The Black Cauldron (1985)
Voiced By: John Hurt
I’m not going to lie, out of the entire group of Disney Villains from the “Dark Ages” of animated films—Nay! From the entirety of Disney films animated, live action, or somewhere in-between, the Horned King is easily amongst the top three in terms of monstrous inhumanity. Amongst the animated villains especially, I feel that he is far worse than even the likes of the Wicked Queen, Maleficent, or even Chernabog combined. Even without the Queen’s backstory her one true crime was the attempted murder and then subsequent drugging of her stepdaughter, Maleficent initially intended death but was satisfied with having Aurora sleep for a hundred years leaving both her and her kingdom literally behind the times, and Chernabog is evil incarnate and as such, cannot be compared to anything resembling a human being in mind or form.
The Horned King however… Well, let’s take a look at his series of crimes shall we? First off, we know for certain that “his” castle belongs to someone else and is far more likely to have been something akin to a mausoleum given the secret catacombs contained not only the crypt of the original king who ruled the land but his enchanted sword as well. Rather odd that he never became aware of it considering what he was having his goons do for him prior to the start of the film…
His goons, of which I refer to any and all beings who do not satisfy the statures of minion-hood insomuch that they are considered more as “cannon-fodder” than anything else to the villain, are brigands in every sense of the word whom do not hesitate to drink themselves to a stupor, eat like half-starved pigs, and rob each and every fallen warrior’s grave that they come across.
Yep, you read correctly, the Horned King was, essentially, grave robbing but not for personal possessions of the fallen warriors such as armor or weaponry but for the bodies of the warriors themselves. Why? Because of his greatest desire, that which motivates him throughout the entirety of the film and gives it its title. The Horned King wants to become “a god amongst mortal men” and to achieve this he needs the Black Cauldron.
The Black Cauldron, for those unawares, was crafted centuries prior at a time when there was a king so cruel and so evil that the very gods feared him and since no prison on Earth or otherwise could hold him, he was thrown alive into a crucible of molten iron where his demonic soul was captured and forged into the form of a great, black cauldron. However, the foul king’s evil was so great that even trapped in iron, his soul stained the cauldron with a power unlike any other. For whomsoever possessed the cauldron could use its powers to create an army of deathless warriors and with them, rule the world.
Honestly the closest thing to being “lighthearted” with the Horned King is not the sorcerer himself but his one and only minion, a goblin-like creature by name of Creeper whom equally adores and fears the Horned King to such a degree that where one minute he’s groveling at the Horned King’s feet and the next, choking himself to spare the Horned King the effort of doing it himself.
The Horned King breaks any kind of rating scale I could dare put up for him. The villain literally owns every scene he’s in and is easily the grandmaster of entrances. The first time that Taran, the hero of the film, sees the Horned King is shortly after we’re introduced to the brigands who are partying after another successful raid when a sudden cold wind blows through the castle. An abrupt silence falls amongst the brigands as the lights suddenly go out one by one before a storm of lightning and hellfire heralds the arrival of the Horned King himself. For most of the film, we never get to truly see the Horned King’s face fully up until when he takes the Black Cauldron’s power and uses it to create the “Cauldron Born” and that makes things far worse…
For you see, the best comparison I could make of just what the Horned King is… is a lich. A creature neither living nor dead, something far more alive than any mere zombie but so disgusting a sight it might as well be death given mortal guise. By looks alone, the Horned King could very well be a god amongst mortal men, a hellish god of desecrating the dead assuredly…
It is only with the destruction of the Black Cauldron’s power via a willing sacrifice of a life jumping into its abysmal jaws, that the Horned King meets his end. For you see dear readers, there was one minor clause that no one, not even the Witches of Morva who coveted and “protected” the Black Cauldron knew. The Black Cauldron’s powers may be destroyed with a life willing given but should its powers already be unleashed upon the world it requires a life forcibly taken. The very life of he who called upon its foul powers in the first place.
It is as they say… the king is dead. Hoorah! Hooray! The king is dead!
By the by… if anyone’s curious… the voice actor for the Horned King, a mister John Hurt, is a recognizable actor in more recent years for his role as the wand maker Ollivander of Harry Potter renown. Hard to imagine I know especially after a scene such as this…