Starring: Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw, Catriona MacColl
"I am no messenger, but I will give you a message. The message of death!"
I’ve read a lot of nonsense on the internet (surprising, I know) about how Hawk the Slayer is a subpar re-imagining of Conan the Barbarian or The Beastmaster. I hate to break it to you folks, but Hawk came first. Make no mistake, it is abysmally terrible, but there is also something compulsive and wonderful about it. It is particularly notable for being the only sword and sorcery film with magical, deadly silly string and Day-Glo hula hoops that can transport people through time and space.
The evil Voltan tries to steal the last Elven Mindstone from his father and when the old man refuses, Voltan kills him. His second son Hawk appears just in time to receive a magical sword that contains the Mindstone in its pommel and he swears to avenge his father. Voltan later kidnaps the head Abbess of a convent, demanding ransom. Ranulf, an injured warrior recovering at the convent, sets off to find help. He is rescued from a group of violent mercenaries by Hawk, who also rescues a sorceress about to be burned to death for practicing witchcraft. Ranulf convinces Hawk to rescue the Abbess and Hawk sets off to locate other friends who will help. He returns with a dwarf, a giant and an elf. The group steals the Abbess’s ransom from a corrupt slaver and hatches a plan to destroy Voltan, whom they are convinced will kill the Abbess once the ransom is paid. During a botched rescue mission, Hawk kills Voltan’s son and an enraged Voltan sets out for a final battle at the convent, determined to kill Hawk once and for all.
On the surface, everything about this film is bad - the script, the acting, the dialogue, the effects, etc. Jack Palance and John Terry represent a new level of totally garbage acting, though they come from opposite ends of the spectrum. Palance is the reason to see this film. He’s appallingly hammy, yells most of his lines in slow motion, and has half of his face covered by a sinister helmet due to the burn scars on his face. He assaults or destroys at least one person or object every time he is on screen. John Terry takes the opposite approach and simply stands there like a piece of furniture, refusing to act. Impressively, he doesn’t even show emotion when Voltan kills his wife (played by horror actor and Lucio Fulci regular Catriona MacColl).
The cast of characters borrows more than a little from Lord of the Rings or a typical game of Dungeons & Dragons. The elfin archer, of course my favorite, does some fancy speed shooting when he isn’t busy looking (and acting) like a Vulcan cast-off from Star Trek. The dwarf and the giant constantly banter with one another, and the one-handed warrior doesn't do a whole lot outside of getting rescued. Regardless of the character (or actor), the dialogue is amazing and I think that’s where Hawk really nails it. Between amazing lines from nearly every character and the wild soundtrack, there is no way to dislike this film. The score from Harry Robertson (who produced and co-wrote the film) is incredible and includes elements of at least half a dozen musical genres and film scores - disco, spaghetti western, ‘80s electronica, Japanese flutes, etc.
Hawk should be honored for simply kicking off the '80s sword and sorcery genre, but will delight anyone who enjoys truly trashy movies. Its refusal to make rational sense or take itself seriously is delightful and refreshing. There is limited sword fighting, mainly just shots of Hawk's sword flying toward his outstretched hand (one of its special powers). No one ever calls him "the Slayer" throughout the film. The sorcery is reducing to glowing hula hoops, silly string, magic eggs, about 12 fog machines, matte paintings and what I think is fake snow.
Hawk is available on DVD from Henstooth Video. Though there aren’t many extras, the print is a dramatic improvement over the VHS. There are rumors of a Hawk sequel from director Terry Marcel, which will allegedly star Tom Hardy, but I doubt anything will come of this.
The final word on the subject: