Hawk the Slayer is one of those movies I have heard a little about over the years, but have until now not seen. Now I have seen it – as has Jamas, but you’re here now, so listen up.
Hawk comes from 1980, and is an oft-maligned movie by purists of the fantasy movie form. It’s cheap, filmed in a non-movie ratio (at 4:3 it was apparently shot for TV and made it into cinemas instead) and is in some places cheesier than Cheddar county. And yet, it’s not as cheesy as you might think, and not as slaved to tropes as popular belief would have it. The story is basic – underwritten, arguably: two brothers, the older and wicked Voltan (Jack ‘what am I doing in this movie?’ Palance) and the younger, slightly less wicked titular Hawk (John ‘what’s my motivation?’ Terry) are caught in a blood feud after Voltan kills Hawk’s woman (previously Voltan’s), the brothers’ father, and in search of ill-gotten spoils and power, kidnaps the head of a fortress nunnery. Enlisting his allies Gort the Giant (Bernard Bresslaw!), Ranulph the Bowman (Morgan Shepherd!), Baldin the dwarf and Crow the Elf, and the occasional services of ‘Woman’ the Witch (Patricia Quinn!) Hawk seeks his revenge before Voltan gets his. And then Voltan gets his, if you see what I mean.
The world isn't under threat, there's no great evil rising over the horizon - Hawk's often likened to a Western, and I can dig that. It’s low fantasy and a lot of fun, partly in its execution, and partly in intent; it doesn’t take itself too seriously, although it’s not crafted quite well enough to be all that self-aware, and so for a discreet audience it’s become a somewhat guilty pleasure. The Darkness lifted some of its fruitier dialogue from the movie to open a recent single, Bill Bailey’s comic shop owner Bilbo was a fan in Spaced, and Hypnogoria's Jim Moon is, too, and I don’t think too many contortions have been pulled in their enjoyment – it is what it is. But what it is should be mentioned, too – or rather, what it has. An Elf and a Dwarf looking reasonably non-Tolkienesque, a Giant who isn’t really that tall (though he is the tallest of the gang), and some cracking quotable lines. Fan press and websites have had their fun over it for years – I recall an SFX back page article that launched into it for Bresslaw’s marginally greater height, Crow’s moccasin slippers and the dreaded bouncy balls and silly string magic cast remotely by Quinn’s sorceress. Palance isn’t so much chewing the scenery as crashing through it giving it a terrier-sized worrying.
As I say, the story is light, and though there aren't plotholes per se, it does leave some questions unanswered, a world goes largely undetailed, and there's a definite attempt at teasing for a sequel at the end (there were plans for more - a trilogy or pentalogy, depending on whom you believe). For what's on show there's probably enough for an entertaining 90 minutes and some overenthusiastic fan fiction in there, and as I said before, though the protagonists tend towards tropes (the sneaky comic relief dwarf from the Iron Hills, the unearthly Elf - last of his kind, the noble Giant), they don't cleave explicitly to the styles or character types so worn down by years of RPGs, video games, fantasy trilogies and various knock-offs. In fact, as Jim Moon posits in his defence of Hawk for the 'Witless for the Defence' podcast, the movie manages to be contemporaneous with early Dungeons and Dragons style stories without being part of the tired, late 80s cash-in malaise. And so Bresslaw escapes his Carry On roots to give a mannered performance, and pairs well with his dimunitive partner; Crow is a different kind of Elf from the kind we've seen in Peter Jackson's movies - short-haired, a little bit feral and antisocial, and Quinn's 'Woman' is kinda sexy with her blindfold and hissing delivery.
Maybe we'll get lucky and someone will remake this with a better budget, crew and lead. In the mean-time there's this, a punchline to some, certainly not a patch on fantasy movies that followed it, but ahh, who cares. Hawk the Slayer? Lovable rubbish!