Hawk The Slayer


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Hawk The Slayer
"It stands out for its failings in a genre where there's some seriously tough competition."

At the very bottom end of the cinematic scale, films can be split into three categories: so bad it's unwatchable; so bad it's good; and so bad it's Hawk The Slayer. Crawling out of the abyss of post-Star Wars, pre-Conan would-be epics, this ambitious tale of a bold young prince assembling an army of Tolkein cast-offs to rescue a nun from an evil lord falls at every hurdle, then reassembles the hurdles and pretends it meant to do that. It stands out for its failings in a genre where there's some seriously tough competition. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has given it cult status and made it a film every sword and sorcery fan needs to see. Once.

The plot, though simple, is probably the film's strongest suit. After his jealous older brother Voltan (Jack Palance) has murdered their father, Hawk (John Terry) inherits the old man's magical sword. Voltan also kills Hawk's fiancée (Catriona MacColl, the only one to turn in an acting performance that suggests she takes the film seriously) and goes on to generally ravage the countryside, randomly killing people who would probably otherwise be working and paying taxes to him. His signature evil deed is to kidnap an abbess in an attempt to secure a convent's hidden gold, and it's this that sets the exiled Hawk on his trail. With a sub-Andre giant, a sharp-shooting elf and a comedy dwarf at his side, not to mention help from Patricia Quinn's surreally camp witch, the younger man is now ready to get on with the business of revenge. We can see that life has been hard for him. He's still in the clothes he was wearing at the start of it all.

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What follows is a fairly formulaic good triumphs over evil tale, complete with predictable twists and a promise, at the very end, that evil will return. That turned out to be a little overambitious on the part of the producers, though the sequel talk took several years to fade. Hawk was clearly intended to be a hero with franchise potential, and it isn't really Terry's fault that he doesn't work - his performance may be wooden, but most of the supporting cast can barely manage chipboard. Director Terry Marcel, whose first three films were made back to back before anybody realised how hopeless he was, seems to be working at the full extent of his powers just to keep the actors in frame, and the closest thing they get to assistance with their performances is the chance to gaze meaningfully into the camera as the final showdown approaches.

Other aspects of the technical work here are equally bad. The film is lit like a soap opera, with no sense of which direction light is or could be coming from. Ambient sound is present or lacking at random, and the score, which was probably supposed to sound mystical, would be better suited to a mineral water advert. The sets don't do too badly in comparison with other genre films, but the special effects looked terrible even at the time, and the mixture of fantasy styling with what were then considered science fiction effects (i.e. glowing things and laser bolts) make the whole thing look like a Children's BBC special - just when it's trying to be tough and dangerous.

Hawk The Slayer may have been low-budget but more professional looking films have been made for 50 quid. All this is, of course, rather endearing in its way, and it's understandable that the film has acquired some devoted fans - just don't mistake that for evidence of hidden genius.

Reviewed on: 27 Jul 2015
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After his father and girlfriend are killed, a swordsman sets out to challenge his evil brother's reign and save an imprisoned abbess.
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Director: Terry Marcel

Writer: Terry Marcel, Harry Robertson

Starring: John Terry, Jack Palance, Bernard Bresslaw, Ray Charleson, Peter O'Farrell, Patricia Quinn, Catriona MacColl

Year: 1981

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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