Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

The Hobbit

Flash Gordon (1980)

Princess Mononoke

Hawk the Slayer

Lava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

Hawk the Slayer
He's awfully chipper for someone
named Hawk the Slayer.
We suspect that there are times when J.R.R. Tolkien looks back to this material plane from wherever he is now, sees the latest ripoff of his classic fantasy series Lord of the Rings, and falls down laughing. Or crying. Tolkien, who opened the door for a new literary genre when he created the adventures of Bilbo, Frodo, and Gandalf, has the dubious honor of siring the modern fantasy novel. Just as it's difficult these days to find a science fiction novel that doesn't owe something to Asimov or Henlein, it is equally hard to find a fantasy book which is free of Tolkien's ideas.

The influence of Tolkien's work isn't limited to books, of course. Even George Lucas co-opted a great deal from Lord of the Rings in the Ron Howard directed fantasy flop Willow, and films like Legend, LadyHawke, and Krull were no different. Digging deeper into the back shelves of the video store, we find such classics as Hawk the Slayer.

Hawk the Slayer opens in media res, so much so that it sets a new record for confusing an audience. Eventually we learn that Voltan, ("the Dark One") has come to his father's castle to kill the old man. Voltan is played by Jack Palance. For any watcher of bad films, it's a toss up for which three words are scarier: "Starring Jack Palance" or "You have cancer." Voltan demands secrets from the old man and, getting nowhere, decides to just run him through with his sword. (Watch the doorjamb as Voltan storms into his father's chambers -- pieces of the set are literally falling off at the beginning of the film.)

Hawk the Slayer
"What's that? One-armed pushups
won't get me out of this one? What?"
Shortly thereafter, Hawk (John Terry) arrives. Hawk is Voltan's brother (despite the apparent thirty-year age difference), and he makes it to his father's side just in time to hear dad's dying words, which are: "I get to leave this movie in the first ten minutes! You're stuck here for the duration! Ha ha ha ha -- accckthpt!"

If only that were the truth. No, Hawk's father actually gives him the "Sword of Power," which uses an "Elfin Mindstone" as a sort of battery. To us, it looks an awful lot like a kryptonite-powered sword, but the script says otherwise. Hmmmm. What would you bet that those Elfin Mindstones probably make great cookies?

Some amount of time passes, and Voltan has built an army that goes around doing mean things to people for no discernable reason. Y'know, maybe if Voltan would ask for things nicely first, people would give in to his demands without all the bloodshed. But no, he and his army go around killing off entire towns.

A survivor from one of those towns, a warrior named Ranulf (Peter O'Farrell), takes refuge in a nunnery, so Voltan kidnaps the convent's Abbess (Annette Crosbie) in retaliation (huh?), holding her for ransom. This is a great tragedy, for she is the Abbess of Caddenbury, and without her there will be no chocolate eggs at Easter. Ranulf rides forth to find a great hero of unmatched courage and strength to rescue her. Unable to find one, he settles on Hawk.

Hawk the Slayer
"We, the Council of Krypton, sentence
you, Zod, to eternity in the Phantom Zone!"
A few scenes earlier Hawk saved a blind woman from brigands, and now he and Ranulf go to her for help because she's a wizard(ess). Convenient, no? Hawk decides he must assemble a group of warriors, and the sorceress agrees to help. She magically sends Hawk to the far corners of the land so that he might collect a group of fighters who will be able defeat Voltan. Oddly, the far corners of the land all look like the same patch of British forest.

The warriors Hawk collects are the Tolkien-approved sterotypes. Let's see, we have a giant guy with a hammer, a wizard, a halfling/thief, and our favorite, the elfin archer Crow (Ray Charleson). Crow, whom we meet in a scene lifted from The Seven Samurai, is the last elf left in the world. For some reason he talks like an android from the future ("I... am ready"), but the superfast arrow action he has is pretty cool.

Collecting the party blows about a half hour of screen time, and the film slows to a snail's pace after all that effort. We are also treated to some fun flashbacks of Hawk's wedding day, where we find out how Voltan became so twisted and awful -- as if being Jack Palance weren't bad enough. The movie climaxes in a silly battle sequence and an even sillier duel between Hawk and Voltan. Voltan is vanquished, Hawk rescues the Abbess, and all is well. The End.

Hawk the Slayer might not be worth mentioning if not for a few key features, the most remarkable of which is the music. Good God, the music! Imagine Yanni opening for KISS with Zamfir playing backup pan flute. For those of you who asked us to recommend films to watch while chemically enhanced, we can definitely give Hawk the thumbs-up for its music alone.

Hawk the Slayer
Next on Fox: When Superballs Attack!
Similarly surreal are the special effects, which we suspect were stolen partially from Superman II and partially from a cheap toy factory. Those rotating hula hoops that are supposed to represent the sorceress' teleportation spell seemed awfully suspicious until we learned that some of the special effects crew had also worked on the Superman films. And the "vortex of fireballs" conjured up by Hawk's sorceress buddy can be nothing other than hundreds of luminous rubber superballs hurled through the door. Fans of unusual visual effects: you must see Hawk the Slayer.

Hawk's biggest mystery is the venue for which it was made. On one hand, the limited exteriors and the lack of epic action indicates this was made for TV -- British TV, judging from the number of actors that Hawk the Slayer shares with Doctor Who. On the other hand, this movie has special effects that were well beyond the reach of British TV (especially Doctor Who), and the fight scenes, while bloodless, are more violent than TV would allow. Hawk was probably made to be shown in the theater, but we can't imagine that people (even British people) would have paid real money to see this movie.

Review date: 03/02/1999

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 * Bernard Bresslaw, who plays the giant warrior Gort, played one of "The Ice Warriors" on Doctor Who. He also played the cyclops in Krull. The wizardess, played by Patricia Quinn, was in the Doctor Who episode "Dragonfire." Christopher Benjamin, who has a small role in Hawk, played Jagoe in "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" and Sir Gold in "Inferno." Go back!