Twitter Plot Summary: Hawk seeks revenge against his brother, Voltan, for killing their father. For some reason Voltan also kidnaps a Nun.
Director: Terry Marcel
Key Cast: Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw, Ray Charleson, Peter O’Farrell, Patricia Quinn, Annette Crosbie
Five Point Summary:
1. Dry ice makes anything look fantastic, it seems.
2. Jack Palance is dialled up to 11.
3. The soundtrack sounds like outtakes from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.
4. It looks like the film cost about £3.50 to make…
5. Bernard Bresslaw as a giant? Sweet!
I understand that many people hold Hawk The Slayer in high regard. I can see the cult appeal of it, certainly, but I’ve never been the biggest fans of fantasy films, particularly those with a budget that must have been, at best, tens of pounds. I bet most of that was spent on the dry ice machine that seems prevalent in every scene. Much like science fiction tales, there never seems to be a middle ground when it comes to fantasy – either they’ve clearly spent a lot of money on it, or they haven’t. In this case, they clearly haven’t.
All the usual stereotypes are here – there’s the warrior hero, the dwarf, the giant and the elf. 99% of the film is shot in the woods, where a gratuitous amount of dry ice is used to both create atmosphere and distract you from the fact that they couldn’t afford any proper sets or, most likely, a location scout. The biggest budget effect, other than the dry ice machine, is a big bonfire. The rest of it is trees. Lots of trees. And dry ice. It’s clear that the writer (and also, director, as it happens) Terry Marcel envisaged a vast fantasy epic with revenge and adventure at is core, but his vision is outstripped by the realities of film making. No doubt he considered it an excellent film when he threw it together, but it really isn’t. Even when compared against contemporary fantasy it’s a poor cousin to the likes of Flash Gordon, released the same year, or Time Bandits and Clash of the Titans released the year after.
So let’s break it down into its constituent parts. The script is atrocious, rolling out every fantasy cliche in the book. The dialogue is equally as bad, falling so far on the wrong side of cheesy it’s opened it’s own dairy factory. The soundtrack as well is hideously silly, full of whistling panpipe motifs and zinging keyboards. It’s essentially a much cheaper and less impressive version of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.
Jack Palance’s performance is dialed all the way up to 11, which is appropriate for a film in this genre. Everybody else is surprisingly restrained, but that might be in response to Palance’s OTT demeanor. Either that or they’re not very good actors. John Terry (no, not that one) as Hawk only seems to have one emotional setting – vaguely disinterested. With regards to Palance, his character Voltan is clearly a misogynist, scarred by the rejection of Hawk’s bride to be and making him even more delightfully evil. Case in point – he kidnaps an Abbess at a nearby… abbey… and keeps her in a cage. When she offers to tend the wounds on his face, he snarls at her, saying “woman” with as much venom and derogatory intent he can.
The biggest surprise is Bernard Bresslaw. Best known for his appearances in the Carry On movies, he’s actually rather good in his role as the giant, even if he’s not that much taller in reality than the guy playing a dwarf. Go figure. Just when you think it can’t get any sillier, the final, climactic fight between Hawk and Voltan takes place in slow motion. All of it. Probably because in real time it’s about three seconds of film. Marcel again was probably convinced of his own excellence in the director’s chair. Rather tellingly, the rest of his directorial credits are mostly limited to such amazing televisual treats as The Bill, Heartbeat and Bergerac. No huge loss to the world of fantasy cinema there then.
This is another of those films where they were clearly angling for a sequel, but that didn’t happen. In some ways that’s a relief, because inevitably it would potentially have tarnished people’s love of this film, which maybe in hindsight would have been a good thing. The sheer amount of cheese warrants including this on a list of guilty pleasures and at a stretch as a cult classic (and calling it a classic really is a stretch), but if you consider Hawk The Slayer to be a pinnacle of the fantasy genre then there’s clearly something wrong with you. Enjoyably bad.
Favourite scene: Uniting the team to hunt Voltan. It’s almost a montage. Almost.
Quote: “I am no messenger. But I will give you a message. The message of DEATH!”
Silly Moment: The flashback to Hawk’s youth and we see not only a supposedly younger Voltan (who apparently hasn’t aged in years) but the entire flashback sequence limited to three square foot of land next to a river.