Sunday, 29 May 2011

Hawk The Slayer

For those of you who inhabit this website it is clear to you as a writer that I am a fellow nerd, yet funnily enough the swords and sorcery genre is one casket of history I have yet to fully uncover. My only real exposure to the lands of picturesque mountains and clunky silver helmets is sparse at best containing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Krull and to a certain extent Highlander. However there was a very special tale that I would like to share with you all; a tale of heroic deeds from one man against the legions of darkness. A tale of rubber rapiers, obvious matte paintings and robotic acting the likes of which you have never seen. This is the story of Terry Marcel's 1980 possible inspiration for many a LARP (Live Action Role Playing Game for those who don't read the internet): Hawk The Slayer.

Once the narration of heroic deeds and valour set the stage, we meet our main villain Voltan (Jack Palance in a genre defining role) while he is commonly referred to as the 'Dark One' I much prefer my mantra: Voltan the Lord of Depth Perception. Seeing as how he comes complete with a half covered Darth Vader mask and all. You know, because he is decidedly evil. Voltan stumbles upon his father, in what looks like a recreation centre jacuzzi draped in gold paint (complete with precisely one guard) and stabs the guy just for the hell of it. Out of nowhere our hero Hawk appears, presumably following Voltan the entire time.

However he is too late as our panto reject escapes into the darkness. We learn from the dying old man that Hawk and Voltan were brothers and that they worked on the opposite sides of the good and evil spectrum. Hawk inherits a family heirloom, a sword of 'incredible' power known as the Mindsword. You can tell it's magic because it glows green, herp derp. Hawk in one of the only instances where actor John Terry emotes, swears revenge on Voltan stating that he will die by the sword.
After the opening credits complete their course we cut to a survivor of one of Voltan's village raids known as Ranulf, wielder of a crossbow (trust me it's very important). He seeks refuge in a nearby church where the resident nuns heal him by amputating his injured hand. To be fair though the nuns must have been lying because the arm is still the same length but covered by a sock and tape. Moving on, Ranulf explains how Voltan is 'a son of Satan' who slaughters women and children. You know, because the audience hasn't guessed he is pretty evil already.

To emphasise this point to the brink of madness, Voltan meets (through lots of loud shouting) with a being known as the Dark Wizard who is basically his weekly eye fixing GP. Immediately after that discussion, Voltan arrives at the church, kidnapping the Abbess for ransom in exchange for all the gold in the church. Ranulf tries in vain to help but one of Voltan's men manages to underarm throw a knife at his chest. Bear in mind this DOES NOT kill him somehow.

Ranulf soon leaves for help travelling to the largest matte painting of an abbey ever created, to seek counsel with the High Abbot. He tells of the location of a brave and noble warrior, Hawk naturally. Hawk rides through the woods, passing through the same stretches of land about three times from different angles. Soon enough, he spots a blind woman being accused of witchcraft about to be burned. By the way in the ending credits they label this character as 'Woman', Lars Von Trier eat your heart out.

After a few Eastwood-style staring contests, Hawk dispatches the evildoers and the sorceress awards him by allowing him to seek out his companions in his quest to hunt down Voltan. Basically each encounter with a companion goes something like this: Companion meets with strangers, strangers nearly kill companion, Hawk arrives in nick of time, villains get comeuppance and everyone is happy. Repeat around four times.
Hawk's companions include Ranulf from before, Crow the most wooden elf character in a fantasy film ever, Gort the giant (played by Bernard Bresslaw of Carry On fame) and Baldin the dwarf. Interspersed with the companion hunting malarkey are scenes of Voltan and his son (sort of maybe) Drogo pissing about and annoying the locals. Sounds like my local corner shop every Friday night; also is it just me or does Drogo look like the bastard lovechild of Rutger Hauer and Adrian Chiles? Two names I thought to be never used together.

Hawk reminisces about the good old days with his late girlfriend Elaine through the use of honey glazed visuals. Voltan still with his dark cloak and helmet mind, was jealous of his brother as Elaine was the woman he loved and accuses Hawk of stealing her. As Voltan tried to steal Elaine, she pokes him in the right eye with a flaming torch giving us the no doubt 'shocking' revelation of why Voltan is half blind. Girl power does not prevail however as Elaine is shot in the back with an arrow, leaving Hawk a little miffed. Believe me when I say that's how deep this movie gets in terms of story.

After trudging through gateways leading to obvious jump cuts, bedsheet wearing priests with flaming arrows as well as spit spewing hunchbacks, our merry band of LARPers arrive at the church where the nuns are no doubt pleased that Jack Palance hasn't returned for his cheque yet. One of the nuns (credited as 'Little Nun') is wary of their actions believing that the way out of this struggle is to pay the ransom. Where is the plot twist kids? It's behind you!

Drogo however tires of his father's leisurely pursuit of Hawk and persues our hero himself, with the help of a disposable Eric Idle lookalike. Drogo attempts to invade the church through his 'message of death' but is instantly overcome by Hawk's Mindsword and Crow's fancy editing trick to fire more arrows. Drogo passes away after returning to Voltan who subsequently deilvers a tear jerking speech. A few shit fits later, Voltan decides enough is enough and prepares to ride to the church with the help of the adorable little nun from earlier. Oh yeah and in between this we get lots of sub-par comic banter between Gort and Baldin about how much food they both eat... don't ask.

Hawk and the others also decide the time has come to overthrow Voltanand plan a raid of his headquarters (represented by a few manky looking tents). After a heroic massacre of the enemy, Hawk's brain thinks 'herp derp, Voltan's gone'. The gang excluding the blind sorceress head on back to the church and are immediately captured allowing Voltan to mug at the camera and overact some more. While Voltan approaches Hawk ready to burn his face, Baldin steps in and boots Voltan in the face subsequently being stabbed. Note the second and only other time John Terry emotes in this entire film.

But what of the sorceress, will she help her possibly dommed companions? Why yes, through the power of green silly string.....of course. Well it is supposed to be a magical weapon of some sort but really this was probably Terry Marcel's way of saying 'look at my opus guys.' This attack is laughably easy as all but one of Voltan's guards were sleeping and none of them were alerted by the incredibly loud silly string attack.
Either way, the sorceress unbinds Hawk and the others as they lay to rest our comic relief character. A fluorescent bauble and feather party ensues as the final battle begins, numerous lackeys are slaughtered, Ranulf is killed, Crow is injured and Gort is briefly knocked out after tearfully holding a dying nun. So now it is the epic confrontation, brother against brother and good against evil. So how do Hawk and Voltan turn up the epic dial on their brotherly conflict? Put simply, the hammiest and most unintentionally comic slow motion brawl ever filmed; trust me when I say the entire battle is filmed in this way.

We also get to know that Voltan is certainly rough around the edges when it somes to sword fighting, all Hawk needs to do is dodge very slightly and Voltan either clumsily bumps into a wall or unceremoniusly trips. Voltan activates his rage time and lunges wildly at his brother who rather nonchalantly slashes him through the side. The dying warlord curses his brothers power over the Mindsword with one last act of jealousy and slips into death's hands. our budding director however hints at Voltan's return as the Dark Wizard warns of his slumber being cut short. Do I need to explain that the Wizard is basically a floating bedsheet with glowing eyes?
Hawk and Gort are awarded with some of the precious gold while Crow stays to be healed by the nuns (sounds naughty), the two ride off to the South as we are informed of a gathering of Dark Wizards to set up the sequel. Cue end credits.

Hawk The Slayer is one of those cult movies that to judge seriously and claim that it is one of the worst films of all time would be considered blasphemy. The film has grown a small but surprisingly devoted fanbase defending this film either as an underrated classic or a tongue-in-cheek send up of the fantasy genre. While I don't truly agree on either of those opinions, I found the film to be like an elaborate pantomime; the story is extremely typical of the fantasy genre ticking the entire list of cliches from magical tales effortlessly.
While the plot and narrative is incredibly hackeneyed as well as derivative, it's paced well and is oddly enjoyable. The main reason for this is because of the wildly inconsistent acting and a low budget that would make a grindhouse director roll on the floor howling with laughter. For example, the liberal use of the same forest locations over and over again (very easy to spot in the horse riding montages). Adding to these are the hilariously bland costumes, rubber weapons and of course matte paintings; only two whole indoor sets were used for the film too.

The music is surprisingly good for a low budget British production but it is certainly unusual for the genre combining orchestral and synthesizer sounds along with some very spaghetti western sounding twangs. What steals the show here though is the acting which truly makes Hawk The Slayer stand out as a camp extravanganza. On one hand you have Hawk played by John Terry whose acting is beyond wooden and becomes almost leaden. Special mention to Crow the elf who is more robotic than the average Star Wars droid. Jack Palance as Voltan is at the opposite end of the bad acting spectrum truly excelling as one of the most overripe, maniacal villains in the genre. The rest of the acting is very bog standard with no-one else really standing out and coming off as very bland. Never mind the character development though, the film does not really go beyond the archetypes it portrays in any meaningful way.

But really, does that matter in this film? Most bad movie and fantasy aficionados older than their mid 20s are most likely aware of the film (my father remembers the film fondly). In any case Hawk The Slayer is probably one of the most accessible and watchable 'bad' movies around. If there was any excuse to have a drunken night at the movies, make Hawk The Slayer your first port of call.
  • Surprisngly catchy soundtrack: 4/5
  • Lack of budget: Painfully obvious
  • Jack Palance as Voltan: Deserves an Oscar 
-Oli, 30 December 2009

Review source: US DVD
Screenshot source: US DVD

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