The Scoop: PG 1981, directed by Terry Marcel and starring Jack Palance, John Terry and Bernard Bresslaw.
Tagline: Two brothers locked in deadly combat till the end of time!
Summary Capsule: Meanie brother kills sister-in-law and dad, goodie two-shoes brother seeks revenge.
Justin’s Rating:Well, it’s no Hudson Hawk, but it’ll do.
Justin’s Review:What do you get when you slam together a stock, clichéd party of Dungeons & Dragons characters, cheap sets and filming techniques courtesy of the early 80’s British film studios, and neon? Yes, neon! Why, it’s Hawk the Slayer, the movie that’s all the rage with schoolkids these days. Why, not a day goes by that I don’t hear of some appalling patricide, just because little Timmy or Tammy didn’t get their latest Hawk action figure or “Random Forest Scene” playset.
Can you blame them, really? For Hawk the Slayer is one of the greatest motion pictures of our time, a testament to the awesome will of the human spirit, a keystone of history that demands our everlasting affection. If you have yet to partake in the Hawk, all I can do is pity your life less lived.
Many films start in a boring, predictable fashion, by introducing characters and explaining a story from start to end. Not so with Hawk! Nay, Hawk boldly starts in the confusing middle, with a pissed-off Jack Palance storming into a castle, killing the only two guards there, then laying the smack down on a grizzly old guy who’s a king or something. We’re not really sure – that’s the beauty of Hawk! As Jack – aka “Voltan” – stalks off all bitter-like, younger brother Hawk arrives on the scene to see old guy patiently waiting around to deliver some life-changing information before lolling his head to the side and breathing his last. This information turns out to be that he has a super-sword that he meant to give brash young Hawk on his 17th birthday, but he kept putting it off because once you have the sword it pretty much rules your life and orders you to butcher everyone in the world.
Although we worship him now, Hawk does not come off as the brightest bulb on the marquee display. He takes the sword, which becomes all neon glowy – a troubling motif in this medieval movie – and vows to, I dunno, run outside and have random encounters with strangers that always ends up with him killing one guy to save another. He’s the Judge Dredd of our granddaddy’s generation.
It turns out – from extensive, mind-numbing flashbacks – that Hawk and Voltan are brothers, grizzly old guy is the dad, and Voltan just snapped when Hot Bimbo chose Hawk over him. Of course, can you blame her? Dude, you’re Jack Palance, a guy with a face that made small children scream and cry and beg their mom to make Halloween stop already. Hot Bimbo burns half of Voltan’s face, and he kindly retaliates by poking two pounds of metal through her innards. Then he runs off, leaving bewildered Hawk bride-less yet quite wealthy, when you consider all the wedding presents he gets to keep anyway.
Then, for reasons unknown to us but quite known to the geniuses who penned Hawk the Slayer, the two brothers start a lifelong quest to meander through the one forest set that this film has to offer, doing good or bad as is their wont, and gradually work up to a vague climactic battle. Mostly, as far as I can tell, because they’re bored and that’s what good and evil people do.
Blank-faced Hawk – who shed not one tear for his father’s murder, mind you – uses a blind witch and some convenient neon rings to help summon his old D&D party from back in the 70’s. These turn out to be Cleric Guy, who loses a hand but has a powerful crossbow Uzi; Giant Guy, who is mentally sluggish and only about two inches taller than everyone else; Dwarf Guy, who eats raw, wriggling fish whole and is only about two inches shorter than everyone else; and Crow the Elf, who is of course an archer, because God forbid an elf be anything other than an Olympic master of the bow. There has to be an elf horseshoe thrower out there, is all I’m saying.
So with his expendable party at his beck and call – payment is not mentioned, which begs the question of why they’re doing this at all – Hawk gets himself boarded up in a nunnery, attacked by Voltan, and saved by bouncy neon balls. By the end of this bard’s tale, we in the audience are weeping from the sheer beauty of it all, the mastery of the camera work, and the random appearance of a boa constrictor in the middle of a forest. Oh, the wonder!
Louise’s Rating: 1 out of 5 table-dancing nuns.
Louise’s Review: Sometimes I feel that a movie has been tragically misunderstood. Footloose, for example, both the original and the 2011 remake, is damn brilliant, and I laugh in the face of those who would dismiss it as a trite teen musical. Hawk the Slayer, however, is just as bad as its reputation suggests, and unfortunately, it doesn’t have the F Factor (that would be F for Footloose Fun) to compensate.
It is a silly, joyless, dull film: its laughable special effects are repellent rather than endearing, the story is anticlimactic, and the strong performances by acting stalwarts such as Annette Crosbie serve to make everyone else really look bad. Now, I can get into a bizarre fantasy flick like nobody’s business (*cough*Krull*cough*) but this? This I did not like.
I suppose it’s unlikely to actually offend anybody. That’s some mercy.
But there is potential there for cult greatness! That’s what galls me! Annette Crosbie? I like Annette Crosbie! She’s a great actress, both for drama and comedy. Patricia Quinn – she’s a Rocky Horror alumna, for pete’s sake (mind you, I don’t think the Picture Show has aged well at all, but that’s another story)! Peter O’Farrell I know from short-lived millenial TV series Dark Knight (basically Ivanhoe: The Legendary Journeys), which I think I was the only person in the whole of the UK to watch, but that was enough to get me excited about seeing him here. The movie is called Hawk the Slayer – be honest, with a title like that it demands, nay demands, to be So Bad It’s Good. It’s one of the original Sword & Sorcery movies. It should take its place alongside Legend, Ladyhawke, and Labyrinth. Instead, I bracket it with Dark Star for tedium and Conan the Barbarian/Dark Crystal for losing appeal on repeated viewings.
It’s just… bad.
Right, okay, so Hawk the Slayer. What we have is basically Monty Python and the Holy Grail but with a smaller budget and not played for laughs. There are two brothers. Voltan is a villain. He dresses like Darth Vader’s biggest fan, he’s like an evil warlord out of Xena or something, he’s got an army of maybe 15 heavies, blah, blah, blah. Younger brother Hawk is a hero. He has no expressions but he has an elfin mindsword, a dead girlfriend and 5 friends from various minority groups. Despite not actually doing much, Voltan is set up for the audience as the Dark One, the Devil Himself, Evil Incarnate. It’s therefore a bit strange that he meets his inevitable end in a scrap over a kidnapped nun. Why write a story about the big villain threatening the whole world when you could write a story about him threatening one village and a house of nuns in an unnamed forest? [/sarcasm mode] I mean, not that I don’t care about nuns – obviously nuns are innocent people (frequently doing good work for the community) so shouldn’t be menaced – but what I mean to say is that threatening specific innocents is what happens in an episode of a TV series, when we know we’re going to get a massive climactic Final Battle later, not as the Main Plot of the thing! Surely! Am I wrong?
Hawk the Slayer is a film of two different atmospheres – fantasy and historical. The fantasy aspects come across as rather ludicrous because they’re in a setting that feels much more appropriate for a historical film. In particular, the scenes in the abbey between Ranulf and various nuns feel part of a medieval ‘war & power’ drama. The interaction between Gort the giant and Balder the dwarf is reminiscent of the comic scenes for low-born characters in Shakespeare’s plays. However, don’t let that Shakespeare reference fool you. If this is a historical film, it’s a boring one. The fantasy aspects also come across as stupid because the special effects are so appalling. They consist of neon hula hoops, neon bouncy balls, artificial snow, silly string, puppets even The Dark Crystal rejected, and green and red filters. I already mentioned the lack of a good story.
“But,” I hear you cry, “there is so much more to fantasy cinema than the effects! What about characters?” Let me tell you, these characters are little to shout about. We’ve got Hawk, we’ve got the Last Elf, the Last Dwarf and the Last Giant, a wizard with no name and no motivation, Voltan and his son, and a crowd of villainous plot donkeys (so called because they carry the plot a bit further, d’ye see? Ooh, I hope that term will catch on).
You’ll have noticed these characters are all male. However, one thing that does need to be said in Hawk’s favour is that the female characters are, for a 1981 high fantasy film, pretty cool. Every single one does need rescuing at some point, but, other than that weak moment, is rather capable, brave and has her own viewpoint and acts in accordance with it. Annette Crosbie is a moral and effortlessly commanding abbess; the blind witch has immense power and turns up to save the boys right when they need her most; Sister Monica is passionate and principled, despite being proved wrong; the little waitress nun has faith in the divinity present in the world and chooses to give her life for her newfound friend; and even Hawk’s dead plot device girlfriend proves herself resourceful and insistent on her right to choose, in her limited role. Hurrah for proto-feminism! But Sister Monica and dead girlfriend are irritating too. Again, don’t let the proto-feminism fool you. This is not a quality film, this is not an enjoyable film. This is a film that sucks away 112 minutes of your life.
Hawk the Slayer! Try Krull instead. And if you quite liked Gort the giant, don’t worry, because he’s in that as well… as a cyclops! Tell me that doesn’t sound good.
- Gort: despite looking exactly like Ciaran Hinds, not played by Ciaran Hinds. Crow: despite looking exactly like James Callis, not played by James Callis.
- When someone stabs me in the back, I’m not going to let out a little “urk!” and go down like a sack of potatoes. I’m going to scream bloody murder and go “OWWWW! THAT HURTS LIKE A MOTHER! YOU MEANIE!”
- You can accessorize an eyepatch with an armored helm, if you really work on it
- “The Prophecy”? Oh crap. It’s going to be one of those films.
- What kind of room is this? It’s like solid gold, with a tiny bath in the middle. Maybe I don’t want to know.
- Magical = glowy, loud, neon
- Wow, your dad dies and you don’t even cry or raise your voice, you just give him a halfhearted hug as to say “Okie dokie, that’s enough of that.”
- A random scream over the beginning credits. Then the happiest, trippiest fantasy music you’ve ever heard. I think there’s a disco in this fantasy land.
- Don’t get Voltan: The Dark One mixed up with Voltron: Defender of the Universe. They hate that.
- Yeah, calling her “Old Woman” ten times is a great way to win her over.
- Dude, we just HEALED him! Don’t throw a knife into his stomach!
- Random Forest Python
- Hawk’s eyes are potent weapons indeed
- So Hawk spends most of his days just riding through the forest looking for random people to save (and kill)?
- Hitting on the bride on her wedding day? Bad form, Voltan, bad form. Then again, Hawk doesn’t seem like he really cares that Voltan does hit on her.
- The Green Forest of Cobwebs and Screaming
- It’s convenient to have a witch help you with assembling your party via teleport
- Neon does very well in a fantasy flick
- So they tied the dwarf up on the raft and left him with his knife? That’s awesome foresight.
- Fishing via bullwhip. Nice.
- The giant isn’t quite so… giant
- So… Crow and Hawk? Do we have any other entries in the bird names category? Jack Sparrow perhaps? [Edit: there is a Sparrow in the credits.]
- Uzi crossbows are awesome
- Double the pain? Wow, way to think big there.
- Elves run in slow motion
- Silly string is an effective medieval weapon. Um… neon bouncy balls now? What kind of attack is this?
- Ferdy Mayne plays the father of Jack Palance in this movie, although he is only thee years older than Palance.
- Once you get used to the jarring nature of the main theme, it’s actually quite catchy!
Drogo: Now this must stay a secret between you and me. Not only will I bring back the head of this Hawk, but I’ll have the gold as well. Then Voltan will see who is the lord of the dance.
Crow: We have sat waiting like this many times before. Sometimes I tire… of the fighting and killing. At night, I can hear the call of my race. They wait for me. When I join them, we will be forgotten.
Drogo: I am no messenger. But I will give you a message. The message of DEATH!
If you enjoyed this movie, try:
- The Sword and the Sorcerer
- The Beastmaster