Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Ark of the Sun God aka Temple of Hell (1984)

I remember one of my cousins coming to visit in June of 1981. She was older than me and my siblings, but by no means an adult. I’m not sure why she was travelling alone, or what brought her to Winnipeg, but she stayed with us for a few days. One afternoon, my Mom handed me some money and said “Why don’t you all go and see that new movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark? It’s supposed to be good.”

I had never heard of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – none of us had. And the title didn’t really mean anything to me, either. Raiders? What were raiders? Lost Ark? Were they talking about Noah’s Ark? I had no idea. But I loved going to movies, and my Mom had just handed me cash, so we all got on a bus and went downtown to the theatre that was playing this unimaginable movie. 

Well… I won’t bother explaining what the movie was about, as I assume that anyone reading this will know a lot more about it now than I did back then. Suffice it to say that we were all blown away by it. I would go so far as to suggest that one or more of us might have said it was the greatest movie we’d ever seen. I eventually saw it several more times in the theatre – putting it on par with Star Wars (1977). I remember collecting Raiders of the Lost Ark bubblegum cards (yes, that was a thing) and talking about putting on a play version of the movie (we did occasionally put on plays in our basement, but sadly we never did produce the adaptation of Raiders…). You might say that Raiders of the Lost Ark became my new obsession. 

It didn’t take long for the ripoffs and knockoffs of Raiders of the Lost Ark to appear – much like they had for Star Wars – and I wanted to see all of them. High Road to China (1983), Romancing the Stone (1984), King Solomon’s Mines (1985), and Firewalker (1986) were some of the high profile ones. But then there were the more obscure, Iow budget, and often European ripoffs like The Hunters of the Golden Cobra (1982), Diamonds of Kilimandjaro (1983), The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak (1984) and Jungle Raiders (1985).

My personal favourite, at the time, was Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983) in 3D! We thought it was the greatest 3D movie ever made, because the filmmakers threw everything imaginable at us. There wasn’t a moment that went by without something coming out of the screen and almost smacking us in the face – even during the “boring” talking scenes! But that’s another story…

It should be noted that the main character of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as if you didn’t know, was Indiana Jones. There were movies that ripped off that as well, like Dakota Harris aka Sky Pirates (1986) and The Further Adventures of Tennessee Buck (1988). After the sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) appeared, we were blessed/cursed with Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986), which was itself a sequel to King Solomon’s Mines (1985). I remember a newspaper review that trashed Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold so thoroughly and enthusiastically that I read it out loud to anyone who would listen. I did not go to see that movie in 1986. I regret that now.

And that brings me to The Ark of the Sun God aka Temple of Hell (1984), another movie that I did not see back in the glory days of both home video and going to the theatres (for as low as $2.00 on a Tuesday). I remember it as The Ark of the Sun God, but it’s fascinating that it was also known as Temple of Hell. It managed to rip of both existing Indiana Jones movie titles (Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). I suppose if it had been re-released in 1989 it would have been re-titled The Final Crusade or something like that. 

The Ark of the Sun God was directed by Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony M. Dawson), who also directed The Hunters of the Golden Cobra and Jungle Raiders. I suppose that makes him some sort of expert in Indiana Jones knockoffs, but he also did many other kinds of movies, such as spaghetti westerns, science fiction, peplum (sword and sandal), giallos and other horror films.

So, was The Ark of the Sun God worth the three and half decade wait? Probably not. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more back then, when I thought Treasure of the Four Crowns was the height of 3D cinema excellence. The Ark of the Sun God is a PG movie, so clearly aimed at the kids like me who loved Raiders… But a little more violence, sex, or any kind of edginess might have improved it. Still, David Warbeck is good as our hero, Rick Spear. And there are a few moments of inspired lunacy that might elicit a laugh or a smile. Indiana Jones knockoff completists will definitely want to see it. Some, in the right sort of mood, may even find it to be a superior example of the genre.

The Ark of the Sun God (1984) is an example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that, for me, would probably work better with a hefty dose of nostalgia. Rick Spear is likeable, but he’s no match for his role model, Indiana Jones. I’m glad that I finally saw it, but I don’t think it could entice me to spend another #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – at least not as a headliner. It might work better as the second half of a double feature, providing that the first movie breaks the ice and gets the good times rolling. Which movie could do that? Could be one of the other, nostalgic Indiana Jones knockoffs, could be something else entirely. It’s a question that every fan of #NotQuiteClassicCinema will have to answer for themselves.