Hawk the Slayer (1980)
By: Mr Intolerance on September 5, 2009  | 
Hen's Tooth Video (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.55:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 2.0. 90 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Terry Marcel
Starring: Jack Palance, John Terry, Harry Andrews, Annette Crosbie, Roy Kinnear, Catriona MacColl, Patrick Magee, Ferdy Mayne, Graham Stark, Bernard Bresslaw
Screenplay: Terry Marcel, Harry Robertson
Country: UK
External Links
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This is a story of Heroic Deeds and the bitter struggle for the triumph of Good over Evil and of a wondrous Sword wielded by a mighty Hero when the Legions of Darkness stalk the land.

Our intro is not only grammatically incorrect, it kind of sells the movie short, too. There's a great moment in the TV show Spaced where comic store owner Bilbo Bagshot (my hero, Bill Bailey) tells his assistant Tim (Simon Pegg) that he once punched out a man – turns out later it was his father – for dissing Hawk the Slayer. I would do the same thing. The intro should have said something like that – love this film or punch out your dad.

Fantasy films? These days I can take 'em or leave 'em. Back in the early 80s when I was growing up and hadn't got my head fully around the horror thing though, they were my prime source of entertainment, after science-fiction. Hawk the Slayer was a pretty cheap entry in to the field, kind of like The Magnificent Seven meets The Lord of the Rings (I'll explain that cheap-laugh analogy later), but it always held a kind of charm for me, despite the awful effects, terrible dialogue and dreadful acting.

So, we have two brothers – Hawk (Terry), who is a force for good, and Voltan (Palance, who positively chows down on the scenery), a nasty bastard. Both are sons of the King, and Hawk is the favoured one – he's going to get the girl (and considering the girl is the amazingly gorgeous Eliane (Catriona MacColl – possibly the most beautiful woman whoever lived) that's prize enough) and the kingdom, and Voltan, the elder brother, is kind of jealous. That's kind of like saying that Jabba the Hutt is a little overweight. Voltan is so pissed off that in the opening scene of the film, he kills his own dad. Hawk inherits his father's sword, complete with its Elvish mindstone, which allows it to fly to his hand by the power of the mind. This becomes an important plot device at later points of the film.

Voltan (who is the agent of the Devil, and who has been hideously disfigured by something we don't get to see until much later in the film, and is an important plot point) amasses an army of evil, with his troublesome son Drogo as his right-hand man and generally charges about the land doing bad things, simply because he can. For example, after raping, pillaging (what exactly is that?) and murdering, Voltan kidnaps the Abbess of Caddonbury – a nun; he is a complete rotter – and demands ransom, which the Church aren't prepared to pay (bastards!). Things look grim for the Abbess, but help is on the way, in some extremely unlikely forms.

Our man, one-handed crossbowman Ranulf, has escaped from Voltan's destruction of his village, and now has a new mission – find Hawk, get a crew together and fuck Voltan's shit up! Oh, and save the Abbess, of course. He's up for the task. Especially since he's discovered how to make a magazine for a crossbow, and basically turn it into a machine gun. Now, that's inventive! Off Ranulf rides – quick, ride towards that obvious matte painting of a castle! Ooh, did I say that, or just think it?

Hawk comes across a witch who's about to be burnt alive and saves her, she in turn becomes part of his posse in payment for her life – and we get a glimpse into the wonderful dialogue this movie has to offer:

Witch: By what name are you called, Lord?

Hawk: Hawk.

Witch: Ahh, yes, many times I've heard it spoken. You fight for good.

Hawk: It's the way I've chosen.

Brilliance. Anyhoo, Hawk and Ranulf meet up, go back to the witch and round up the rest of Hawk's posse. (We do get to see one scene of Voltan's nastiness in the meantime – and it's a casual bit of slaughter, featuring Roy Kinnear, a favourite of UK TV). Hawk and Ranulf ride back to the witch, via the Forest of Weird, where they nearly get set upon by something that looks like a mutant badger, but maybe I'm just too drunk and being critical. No, I don't think so – it's certainly an awful bit of special effects work. What the hell is it? Someone thought that this was a good idea – they were wrong. And the whole Forest thing is a bust, it ends up being about as threatening as Alice In Wonderland. It's over in less than a minute and a half we're back on track with the story. Back to the witch, and trying to get Hawk his compadres.

Enter Gort, the giant – don't expect anything enormous, he's about 6 foot 7 tops, but he makes a mean mess of those who try to fuck with him. He fucks up anyone who tries to mess with him via a great big fuck-off warhammer.

Enter: Crow, the elven bowman, who also makes a fool out of anyone who fucks with him. And that's including the Doctor Who regulars in the cast who try to make a chump of him (hello Christopher Benjamin, AKA Henry Jago from the DW ep "Talons of Weng Chiang") – bad idea. Stay away from elves with bows. I thought The Lord of the Rings had taught us that much.

Enter: Baldin, the dwarf. He's a dab-hand with a whip, and has a pretty disreputable dietary intake. He's an appetite on legs and therefore needs to be given a swift lesson in learning to live with nuns, as the boys have to do. Also the Tolkien-esque reference to the Iron Hills in his introductory speech was a bit much – what, like I hadn't read The Silmarillion before?

The second in command of the abbey, Sister Monica, is completely convinced that Voltan will keep his word, because of course that's what SHE would do, but then again, she's not Voltan. And given Palance's rather…umm…flamboyant performance as Voltan, I wouldn't believe him for a second either, as Hawk suggests. She becomes a distinctly unlikeable character as the film progresses, pig-headed and blind to the possibilities of what the evil might do.

So, anyhoo, the director invites us to the River Shale, where the hunchbacked slave-trader Sped works, and lets us see Hawk and his friends' abilities. And even though we've seen part of their work, we haven't seen all they have to offer. Action fight-fest begin! Hawk's men do their best against the slave-trading bastard and his men, and prevail, easily. Voltan's forces will be a different kettle of fish altogether – but after this raid, Hawk and his boys have the 2000 pieces of gold Voltan wanted as ransom for the Abbess in the first place.

Speaking of which, Voltan's son Drogo (wait a second, isn't that Frodo's father's name? Hmm, another Tolkien rip-off…) wants to prove himself to his dear old dad and do some meanness – but it doesn't end up the way he expects and instead, it just gives Voltan one more reason to hate Hawk. Voltan, on the other hand, has to head back to his sorcerer with the glowing fingernails to have his face healed for the meantime – this is a sporadic event, this being the third time or so that we've seen him do so – the cure never being permanent, hence Voltan's Darth-Vader-esque mask (well, that and obviously the exploitation of a rather prominent brand name at the time).

Hawk and the boys decide to tip things in their favour by paying Voltan and his gang a bit of a visit, with a little help from the witch, in order to even the odds a bit more. There's an all-too-brief and by no means gory enough action scene, which is good fun, but where was the blood? As a big fan of the chambara film, I'm used to sword-play resulting in geysers of fire-engine red krovvy, and having been briefly involved in a medieval re-enactment society in my youth, and one which only used real weapons, not the kendo staves many of these groups use, I have a fair idea of what these weapons can do (let me tell you, it's an odd scene when a group of half a dozen fully armoured fellas with swords, axes and maces come running into a 24-hour medical centre with one of their number having being literally speared through the leg – a spear was actually thrust through this guy's thigh – an inch away from his femoral artery at 8 o'clock on a Tuesday night). You don't just groan and clutch yourself, as we see here, let me tell you – there's a fuck of a lot of blood involved.

The raid is kinda successful, but this is where Sister Monica proves herself to be a right cunt (she later redeems herself admirably). Still stupidly believing that the whole shebang can be settled without bloodshed, she rats out our heroes and drugs them, letting Voltan into the church they are supposed to be protecting. The boys are chained up and tormented, but gain a little help from the witch before the final showdown. Hawk's flashbacks to the past, as well as the beginning of the film, let us see why Hawk needs to have his revenge, and make us want even more than we already do, to see Voltan dead. Who lives? Who dies? Well, guess what – you're going to have to watch the film and find out – it's not quite as cut and dried as you might think. And while we're set out to believe there might be a sequel (that never eventuated), the movie does sit well as a stand alone.

Despite its made-for-TV sensibilities, terrible special effects (as when the bad guy is frozen by the witch with funny-foam), awful "epic" dialogue and over-the-top acting (I'm looking at you, Palance), there's still a fair amount to recommend this film. The intertwining stories of vengeance, both Hawk's and Voltan's are interesting in terms of their moralities – who wouldn't want to kill the bastard who killed their father, wife or son? Wouldn't you want vengeance on the fella who usurped what you believe to be rightfully yours? And in such instances, to what lengths would one go? Is Voltan any more of a terrible bastard than Hawk? Well, yes, he is, but do you get what I'm saying? Any revenge film, whether it's a B-grade cheapie like this, peopled with extras from Doctor Who and Carry On films, or the likes of The Unforgiven or Oldboy carries with it a weight of moral dubiousness in terms of where our sympathies lie, and, as is explicitly asked in this film, as to whether the end justifies the means.
If you're a video-phile, this probably ain't the film for you. It's not the worst picture quality you'll ever see, but it ain't the best either. It reminded me very much of when I saw this on TV for the first time when I was 10. Well, okay, it's a little sharper than TV, and generally presentable, but I've certainly seen a whole lot better. Plus, the aspect ration is 1.55:1, not the 1.78:1 the back cover states. And for those with 16:9 screens, it's non-anamorphic.
For what appears to be a kind of oddly non-official release (though apparently it is), this is surprisingly crisp and clear, if a little flat at times. The score, on the other hand is altogether fucking great - a sort of Goblin-meets-Morricone synth-Western soundtrack. Nice!
Extra Features
Bugger all – from the back cover, *ahem*, "Chapter Search, Interactive Menus, Original Theatrical Trailer and Photo Gallery." Yep, a real, no-holds barred presentation that one.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Great fun, if a little light on in the gore department for some (i.e.: me) – this is a bit of a cult classic featuring some fine turns from some B-list actors, hamming it up for all they're worth, entertaining the audience with an enjoyable popcorn-muncher – matter of fact, you can munch popcorn while the actors munch the scenery! Oddly enough, the target audience for this film on release would have been 13 year old boys, now it's mid-30s men with a bad case of nostalgia.

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