The Horned King is the main antagonist of Disney's 1985 feature film The Black Cauldron and is voiced by John Hurt. His main plan in the movie was to find the Black Cauldron and use it's power to unleash an army of deathless warriors dubbed as Cauldron Born. The Horned King has a vast army at his disposal including the troll-like Creeper, the Huntsmen of Annuvin, the dragon-like Gwythaints, and of course his Cauldron Born.
The Horned King is in great contrast with his predecessors and successors. While he exhibits the same outwardly arrogant and narcissistic qualities, desiring to become "a god among mortal men", he is cold and very composed, showing no outward anger until his plan fails at which point he lunges at Taran, believing it to be his doing (on Creeper's suggestion). He has no attachment to his henchmen (who fear him greatly), throwing them away once he has the Cauldron Born and constantly strangles Creeper (the only comedic aspect of his character) with no retorts. Also, he has no reservations about his intentions, as he is very open on his dream of becoming "a god among mortal men" and then wiping out all living things with an undead army. He is notable for seldom exhibiting a sense of humor or giving evil laughs. On the one occasion he demonstrates a sense of humor, it is notably snide and sarcastic. Also, he is driven by personal desire, unlike a lot of Disney villains who are instead driven by revenge.
The Horned King is a skeletal creature with green, rotting flesh and two gnarled horns from which he earns his name. It is debatable whether the Horned King was undead or living; since Creeper served him wine at some point during the film, it can be assumed he possesses a digestive tract, implying he is a living being or at least that he is still able to enjoy food and drink. It is possible that in his quest for power he tried several dark magical approaches, which left his physical appearance deteriorating, in a similar way to Harry Potter's Lord Voldemort and Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.
It is also possible that in his obsession with godhood, the king has used his magical abilities to stave off death but is unable to keep his body from deteriorating as he is a skeletal creature with rotting flesh. Nevertheless, the decomposition seems only external as he is physically strong, fast and agile and able to project his voice.
The main villain was supposed to be Arawn, however the animators felt people would like him better since he has horns (notable examples include Maleficent and Chernabog). They combined the elements of the two to create a lich, though the narrator implies the spirit within the Cauldron is Arawn himself.
He desires to find the Black Cauldron and use its power to unleash an army of deathless Cauldron Born to rule the world. He goes to many lengths to find it, kidnapping Eilonwy for her bauble and Hen Wen because he believes they have powers to locate the Black Cauldron. He is first seen talking to his currently non-animated Cauldron Born on his goals. He is seen again when he enters the mess hall of his castle via magical teleport teleportation. When Taran falls into the room, he instructs him to show the location of the Black Cauldron. In his excitement he gets too close to Taran who in his fright splashes water into the King's eyes (which have an agonizing effect on him) to lead Hen Wen into a chase where they manage to keep Hen Wen away and he is thrown into the dungeon. Creeper reports that Taran and his company have escaped and quietly tells him to send the Gwythaints to follow them. The three are ultimately captured along with the newly acquired Black Cauldron which he then summons the Cauldron Born. He sends them to destroy all opposition, however Gurgi flings himself into the Cauldron to negate its necromancy ability. The Horned King suspects Creeper is the one to blame and carries him, returns to the room where the ritual was performed and finds Taran who he believes the Cauldron's failure was his doing. He throws Creeper aside grabs Taran and lifts him off his feet, but Taran pushes the Horned King into the pull of the Cauldron.
The Horned King grabs Taran again and tries to throw him into the Black Cauldron, but the cauldron pulls the Horned King in instead and rips him to a skeleton and explodes.
The Horned King appears as the final boss of the game under the name The Phantom, having stolen a magical gem from a village. He is clad in blue and purple robes instead of his red and brown robes.
The Horned King makes appearances in several episodes of House of Mouse.
- In one episode, he enters the club and shakes hands with Donald.
- In another episode, he sits at a table and laughs with other characters after seeing Goofy fall into a gopher hole dug by Gopher.
- In another episode, while Goofy sings a song that's a spoof of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!", he is seen at a table where a penguin waiter serves him his dinner.
The Horned King appeared in the Tokyo Disneyland attraction Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour. In this tour styled walk through attraction, the Horned King is the final Disney villain the guests confront. The tour guide will tell a guest the magic words to defeat the Horned King and his Cauldron Born army. At the end of the tour the guest was awarded a medal for defeating him. The attraction served as inspiration for the final level of a Tokyo Disneyland-based game on the Super Famicom where Pete played the part of the Horned King.
Although it is implied the Horned King is a sorcerer of some sorts, he actually performs very little magic, only displaying his powers to teleport into his castle's mess hall and calling upon the spirit of the Black Cauldron. How he got into the position of King is unknown. Perhaps he was a great warrior or soldier, but then again he is never seen wielding a sword. He did have great physical strength, however, as he used that to assault Taran in the climax.
- Arguably, the Horned King is somewhat similar to Doctor Facilier in the way that both are motivated solely by personal desire and have a hatred for those they are trying to defeat. Also, both end up absorbed and killed by the source of their powers; the Horned King by the Cauldron and Facilier by the spirits on the other side.
- The Horned King is definitely one of the most serious Disney villains, as he never makes any kind of joke (his taunting of Taran, Eilonwy and Fflewddur Fflam not withstanding) and he always maintains his frightening and villainous image no matter what the situation.
- The Horned King is one of the few villains without a song. He shares this trait with the likes of Shan-Yu.
- The King's physical appearence is similar to that of Skeletor from the popular eighties TV series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
- In spite of the film's lack of popularity, the Horned King could perhaps be considered one of the movie's better-remembered characters; he is classified as a member of the Disney Villains franchise and has made appearances on the House of Mouse, alongside his undead minions the Cauldron Born, albeit he may not necessarily be qualified to fall under an iconically-recognized status.