The 1980s were the Barbarian Age of fantasy films. We had a ton of flicks featuring muscle bound heroes saving topless women from monstrous puppets. It became so pervasive that the genre oversaturated the theaters and direct to VHS market by 1988. Fantasy films kind of fell off the map for a decade or so. But imagine my surprise when I discovered this little gem of a film that attempted to tell a sword and sorcery tale, before the barbarians struck the gate.
In a legendary time two brothers battled in a far away land. Voltan (Jack Palance) had a heart filled with hate, and had become a minion of the forces of Darkness. Hawk (John Terry) was heroic and battled to save the land from evil and oppression. In their youth, the brothers fell in love with the same woman, but a quarrel killed their beloved and left Voltan horribly scarred.
Years later Voltan returns with an army of evil and threatens the Abbess of Caddonbury (Annette Crosbie) unless he receives a massive ransom of gold. Hawk comes to the aid of the abbey with help of his companions of old. Gort, (Bernard Bresslaw) the giant wielding a mighty hammer. Baldin, (Peter O’Farrell) the dwarf who eats just about anything. Crow, (Ray Charleson) the elf whose skills in archery make him deadly. Ranulf (Morgan Sheppard) the warrior whose wicked crossbow can shoot rapid fire bolts of death. And the mysterious witch (Patricia Quinn) whose power (and ping pong balls) may prove unstoppable. Do they have any hope in succeeding or is this the last adventure of Hawk the Slayer?
- Commits to the adventurous feel and fantasy style
- Takes inspiration from classic stories and movies and gives them a fantasy twist
- Jack Palance is deliciously over the top
- The budget is low: impacting visual effects and sets
- The humor misses the mark
- Hawk is a pretty bland hero
No one would confuse this for a great film, but I will say it is pretty good for what it attempts to do. The over the top villains against Hawk’s varied crew make for some entertaining viewing. The low budget visuals add unintentional laughs to the whole thing. The intended humor is often pretty weak, but if you can get past those moments, you’ll find a movie with its heart in the right place and plenty of of fun viewing for bad movie night.
Scores (out of 5)
In Depth Review
|Hawk and his party of adventurers.|
And while the film isn’t going to win any awards, I don’t know if I’d necessarily call it a “bad movie”. Compared to dreck like Outlaw of Gor or Cave Dwellers, Hawk the Slayer is Lord of the Rings. It has a coherent story. It has actors who are committed to the roles. It has a certain style to it (not that the style succeeds, but it really tries). When it attempts to entertain, it mostly manages it (except for the funny parts).
What makes Hawk the Slayer an interesting film from the era is the fact that it was made before Conan the Barbarian and The Beastmaster set the course for fantasy cinema for the next decade. In fact its influence is more varied and therefore creates a movie that feels familiar and yet is unique among the films that surround it.
|Hawk tries to play catch with the pommel of his sword.|
|"How do you solve a problem like Voltan?"|
|Riding through a gauzy flashback.|
|Posing for the action figures?|
|Lots of close ups on Hawk's eyes.|
And then you have the music by Harry Robinson. Since this is the early 80s we have synths and some awesome disco backbeats pumping the music along. Seriously the music is an awesome flashback of cheesiness. But once you get beyond the disco synths, you get this synth whistle sound every time Hawk appears or there is a close up on his eyes. It is very reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s uses of the whistle in The Good, the Bad and The Ugly. I’m not sure it is nearly as effective, but I’ll get to that in a little bit.
Now, I’m not coming down on Hawk the Slayer because of all these influences. In fact I think the movie handles them well enough that they all kind of work together to make something interesting. It doesn’t directly rip off any of these movies. Instead it takes the Star Wars approach and borrows here and there to make something unique, especially in 1980.
|Voltan love scaring the simple folk, especially this|
innkeeper played by Mr. Salt from Willy Wonka
and the Chocolate Factory.
So you have Palance as Voltan just ranting and raving away. His scenes where he threatens his son Drogo (Shane Briant) and his men are hilariously evil. His unbridled rage at Hawk is also pretty amusing. Palance is not holding back and it makes all his scenes a lot of fun. Sadly his outfit isn’t all that threatening, even if the helmet is obviously going for the Darth Vader look.
Unfortunately John Terry is stuck in a role that requires him to be the cool, calm guy. Most of the movie is spent with Hawk standing, staring and saying things in measured tones. And as good as Terry is in other films, he just doesn’t have the presence to pull off this type of role. The result is that Hawk is actually a bit of a bland character.
|Uh oh, another "humorous" moment.|
|Ranulf should have patented his machine gun/crossbow|
|You can tell she's magical because her hula hoops|
|Hawk is ready for the final battle.|
|What happens when fireflies mate with ping pong balls.|
You also get some of the more standard magical visuals that include smoke blasts and a fog machine. There is even a bit of simple animation, but the big finale battle with the ping pong balls has to be seen to be believed. I was laughing so hard the first time I watched it. Great stuff.
Hawk the Slayer is a lot of fun. Like Star Wars it feels familiar, but fresh at the same time. It’s has plenty of moments to enjoy because of the silly dialogue, questionable acting choices and music. It is the exception to the Barbarian Age of fantasy films, managing to carve its own path, but is still silly enough that fans of the genre should check it out.