Yes, I’m well aware that Hawk the Slayer is NOT in fact, a Dungeons & Dragons movie. However, it IS more like actual D&D (at the time at least) than that weird movie we did get. A Wayans? Really? Anyway, this isn’t about that movie where we all secretly hoped we’d get to see a topless Thora Birch riding a dragon. No. This is about something far, far….better?
Hawk the Slayer is one of those odd little films that managed to catch your eye while you were perusing the genre racks at your local video rental store (when they were still around). It had an epic-looking poster that looked more like the popular “Choose Your Own Adventure” style books. You were just drawn to it. I was drawn to it. But then, I was a young, impressionable lad at the time, and just learning the ways of the world. Thankfully, the heyday of Sword & Sandal films was just getting into swing and I had a legion of warriors with magic and sharpened steel to lead me. Hawk, however, was just the door man, a “gateway drug” type of movie….clean enough for kids, dirty enough to give them urges towards long hair, leather pants, and Manowar records.
Originally shown on TV in the UK, Hawk the Slayer was picked up for a limited theatrical distribution in 1980. At that time, yes, movies like this were shown theatrically, it was the end of the “good ol’ days” when just about anything could get a theatrical release. A short while later it would end up on VHS and into my grubby little mitts.
I was completely enamored. Here was everything I wanted to see: a stoic, steely-eyed hero with a cool name, a group of friends made up from different races and classes, a giant, a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, and a grizzled, but wise old soldier. Yes, here is what I’d only yet seen in badly animated cartoons. Here my fandom was made flesh for the first time. I had no idea how bad the acting or effects were, I just figured, well, that’s the way they talk, that’s how it’s supposed to look. Thinking back, I still don’t know how I managed to never work at the Renaissance Faire.
Hawk is a simple tale. Two brothers, one driven by good (Hawk, played by John Terry who you may better know as Jack’s father Christian Shephard on JJ Abrams’ LOST), one by evil (Voltan, played by the legendary Jack Palance), are set upon the world after the MUCH OLDER, evil brother kills their father for not giving him the secrets to an ancient power. There was also a bit of animosity between them after a beautiful woman spurns the older, battle hardened Voltan in favor of the younger Hawk. Voltan attempts to kill Hawk and steal his woman, but gets his face burned and now has to get laser rock treatment from some weird black magic wizard and then the girl is killed and vengeance is sworn on both sides and their father, I *think* was a king? Making them princes? Maybe? Anyway, it looked like they were in a golden castle when Hawk was given the Elven Mind Stone/Sword (the hilt of which I swear I’ve seen and shuddered at, cast in rubber, hanging at a “romantic accessories” shop), and then Hawk leaves and seems to just sort of ride around helping people, and Voltan who is now a sort of medieval, magic mob-boss runs an “army” of about 30 guys and robs everyone and…and….an…okay. It’s not really that simple. It doesn’t even make much sense, but BOY is it fun to watch!
All odd flashbacks aside, the premise is this. Voltan hates Hawk. Voltan is a sort of mean thug boss who goes around beating, killing, and robbing people. Hawk just farts around the forest and helps people who are being abused by the endless supply of assholes this world coughs up. He helps a witch (played by none other than Patricia Quinn, aka “Magenta” in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) who informs Hawk that he needs to head out to an abbey in search of a one-handed man, Ranulf (played by William Morgan Sheppard, prolific actor and father of Mark Sheppard who is well known in “the fandom” as Crowley on CW’s Supernatural, or Canton, during the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who where, incidentally, William Morgan Sheppard, played his son’s character’s older self! Follow all that? Good.). Ranulf, who was recently two-handed until a run-in with Voltan, had been in search of the great warrior known as Hawk to help save the Abbey from Voltan. Hawk enlists the help of his new friend, the witch, known affectionately as “Woman”, to help him gather his party er…team, of cohorts. Hawk’s a-team is comprised of the Giant (played by Bernard Bresslaw who would soon after play the Cyclops in Krull), the elf, and possibly coolest guy on the team, Crow (played by Ray Charlson, who would go on to rejoin Patricia Quinn soon after this in the Rocky Horror “sequel”, Shock Treatment), and the dwarf, though to be honest more of a halfling, Baldin (played by Peter O’Farrell, who would later have an appearance in Harry Potter, but more importantly played Pox in Legend). The team rallies together to save the abbey and defeat the evil Voltan.
Along the way we meet an interesting collection of denizens from the foggy land. We see Hawk and crew do some good deeds utilizing questionable methods (which lead one to question just how “good” our hero is. Perhaps more of a chaotic good? Another way D&D and Hawk go so well together). We see Voltan terrorizing people and cavorting with his healing-laser-rock-wielding black wizard buddy who, despite saying he’s bugger-all at it, keeps trying to heal Voltan’s 3rd degree burns, which evidently never healed or just hasn’t healed yet, the timeline of all this is a little foggy.
Look. This isn’t some Oscar-worthy must-see film. It’s not. The acting is awful, the effects are awful, the sets are awful, every neck of the woods has its own fog machine. I mean, Crow’s fast shootin’ longbow style is really just a quick edit of him drawing and releasing back to back that might give someone a seizure to watch, the witch’s “hold” spell is green silly string, her “magic missile” is a bunch of glowing super-high-bouncers, but this was made in the late 70’s on a budget that was thin even for that time. But it has it’s charm. It’s more of a “should-see” film. There’s just something about Hawk the Slayer that leads you to have an affection for it. Nothing you can say will be able to express what it is about this movie is so good that you and countless others not only still get the urge to watch it, but also still hold out hope for the long-anticipated and longer teased sequel!
Oh…I didn’t mention that yet, did I?
Yes, purportedly, there are two sequels planned, one of which has been mentioned to be in the works as recently as 2011, by writer and director Terry Marcel himself! Yes, he’s 71 years old, and STILL wants to make Hawk the Destroyer and Hawk the Hunter the latter of which even has an IMDB page!! (Hunter may just be a renamed Destroyer)
All said, Hawk the Slayer is one of those movies that you just can’t help but love. You don’t know why, you don’t care. It’s in that stack of films, between Godzilla Vs Megalon and Real Genius. Just sitting there waiting for you on a day when you’re sick, hungover, or just too plain tired to get off the couch, but you still want to go on an adventure.
Go you will, with Hawk as your expressionless guide.
Keep an ear open for Baldin’s quick nod to Gimli of the Iron Hills. I think they’re saying that this might be taking place in Middle Earth. Perhaps long after the events of LOTR? Hmmm?