Most fantasy movies of the 80’s usually have the odd moment or two where the budget simply won’t stretch to cover the visuals and sometimes that can’t be helped – after all, imagination is infinite but budgets are not. With that being said, the impressively creaky Hawk The Slayer is a movie that has the legendary reputation of being a fantasy movie so cheap, that it turns out to be a film essentially made up of nothing but these moments.
Now, before I don my rubber chain mail vest and heft my wobbly sword, I have to admit that even though I’ll be enthusiastically tearing Hawk The Slayer a brand new asshole and rating it as an abysmal failure, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a ton of fun ripping the shit out of it’s many and massively obvious flaws; in fact if you’re in the mood, there’s not many other fantasy flicks that are THIS bad that are so much fun to hate on. Kind of what you’d get if the love child of Ben Wheatley and Matthew Holness was blasted back through time and was forced to direct this film for an 80’s tax dodge while smacked out on quaaludes, Hawk The Slayer may be the gold standard of creaky, fantasy shite.
When all round evil bastard Voltan murders his own father (despite them looking roughly about the same age) for standard evil bastard reasons, his younger brother, Hawk, is bequeathed the Mind Sword, a mysterious blade that has the ability to clumsily fly back into our hero’s hand when dropped (think Thor’s hammer but waaaay shitter). Hawk, who for some reason gets a spaghetti western style flute motif every time he enters a scene, chooses to right wrongs wherever he finds them, yet allows his “bro-nemy” to run rampant across the land despite the fact that the burnt-faced wrong-un also murdered his bride to be years earlier. Finally intervening when Voltan abducts a nun for ransom (famously rich, these nuns) and recruited by Ranulf, a freedom fighter who gets progressively more wounded with every encounter, Hawk assembles his fellowship of Gort the giant, Crow the Elf (who bizarrely portrays his Elven otherworldlyness as pointy eared autism), Balder the Dwarf and a weird blind witch who whispers a lot and launches an needlessly complicated plan in order to entice Voltar into battle by actually getting the ransom together and offering to pay him instead of… you know… actually fighting him.
As this fellowship bustles around the countryside, getting into scrapes and looking a bunch of middle aged, alcoholic Larpers failing to relive the good old days, their showdown with Voltan looms close, but the fraying nerve of a naive nun (try saying that 10 times fast) promises to throw their “carefully” laid plans into chaos… well, even more chaos.
Mere words on a computer screen can’t really do justice to exactly how hilariously cheap Hawk The Slayer really is, but damn it, that’s never stopped me before – so here goes.
Swords bend like taffy, halloween cobwebs litter the trees and at one moment, a man is subdued with a magic spell that coats him in – I shit you not – actual fucking silly string. Later, a magic spell is realised by aiming a beam-splitter at a bunch little rubber balls and in no time at all it dawns on you that the lion’s share of effect in this film have been openly pilfered from a joke shop. In an attempt to forge some ambience, scenes are pumped full of choking mist which presumably required the use of every smoke machine owned by by every cut-price wedding DJ in the British Isles and in frequent cases it even manages to blot out some of the action, but then that may actually be for the best because if you can’t afford decent special effects, you sure as shit can’t afford a choreographer for the action.
It’s incredibly funny if just on sheer nerve alone and it gets even funnier when most of that meager budget must have been hoovered up by the breathy presence of Jack Palance (a man who never met a line he didn’t scream), who spends the movie bellowing like a lunatic and tears through this shit like a human maelstrom dressed like a cheapjack Darth Vader porn parody. At one point he threatens a room full of nuns by violently attacking a bread roll with his sword (I’m not kidding) and is the kind of idiot villain who murders almost as many of his own men as the good guys do.
The only thing less subtle than Palance is the film he happens to be squatting in; a flashback to happier times reveals a lot of vaseline on the lens and Hawk wearing an unsettling amount of white in an unsubtle attempt to show how pure he once was. The dialogue is somehow even worse, with the script dropping more clangers than a clumsy bell merchant – “Soon Voltan will come. The gold is here. And I am here.” Is one such showstopper that tumbles out of Hawk’s pie hole and another involves Voltar’s son, Drogo proudly stating “This day I shall come of age!” despite not looking a day over 47…
The rest of the cast is a curious bingo card of forgotten British character actors you can’t quite place (Harry Andrews! Patrick Magee! Bernard Bresslaw!) but the good shit – and by that, I mean just plain old shit – is left for Hawk himself who turns out to be an impressive charisma-free zone portrayed by the frozen facial features of John Terry (no, not the footballer, but he WAS in Lost and played Felix Leiter in The Living Daylights if that helps?). Acting – and I use the term loosely – as if he is both emotionally AND physically constipated, he strides through this fantasy cinema equivalent of a thrift shop, barely emoting and one, which actually turns out to be the best thing he could have done as the ungodly merging of disco and folk music that usually kicks off as Hawk rides through a puddle in slow motion, manages to establish the utterly bonkers tone better than Terry’s immovable eyebrows.
As a standard film, Hawk The Slayer ironically fails to fly… but it does manage to slay as you’ll be busting a gut at all the hideously obvious corner cutting that goes on. Ignoring the fact that the giant isn’t really that tall and the dwarf isn’t really that short, Ranulf’s machine gun crossbow and Crow’s rapid firing bow skills are realised by re-editing the same shot over an over at a lightning fast speed which gives the film the feel of it having a sudden, violent, epileptic seizure.
Cheesy, sleazy and certainly very wheezy, Hawk The Slayer stands as a true, legitimate landmark in awful fantasy film making that deserves to be dug up and laughed at mercilessly until the sun burns out.
It can talk the talk, but it can’t Hawk the Hawk.