Hawk the Slayer (1980) – Directed by Terry Marcel – Starring John Terry, Jack Palance, Bernard Bresslaw, Ray Charleson, Peter O’Farrell, Morgan Shepherd, Patricia Quinn, and Patrick Magee.
HAWK THE SLAYER is a piece of crap, but it’s the kind of piece of crap that gets people to say things like, “It’s so bad it’s awesome!”
If you grew up watching this as a Saturday afternoon movie 10 times a year I can understand “liking” this movie, and there is a certain bit of charm in a movie that feels like you and a bunch of pals decided to make your own Dungeons and Dragons movie, complete with your own aerosol-snorting uncle who happens to look like Jack Palance, but since I didn’t grow up watching it, I’m not going to spend much of my adult life re-watching it.
Because although it’s heart is in the right place, it still sucks pretty hard.
Slamming a movie like this is sort of a fool’s proposition. Of course it’s bad, but is it bad bad or enjoyable bad? I lean more towards the former for things like this: HAWK THE SLAYER is the kind of movie that, despite obviously being a fantasy movie, nonetheless opens with a title card that reads:
“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.”
Even better, someone reads that card to us, just to make sure we get it, because without that card we might think what follows was a modern crime drama.
The plot of HAWK involves two brothers who look to be about 47 years apart in age. One is evil and called Voltan. One is heroic and called Hawk. Voltan (Palance) kills his father, who looks, age-wise, like his brother. Hawk (John Terry) is daddy’s favorite so he gets the magical Mindsword, which is the ugliest sword in the history of movies. The key to the sword’s power is the glowing green rock of the last elvin mindstone which, I cow dung you not, floats through the air and into the palm of a metal hand that serves as the sword’s pommel. The sword gives Hawk the power to call the sword to him (because by now everyone has seen Star Wars) and ..
Something something blah blah blah something something whatever the movie needs it to do in a given moment.
Where I give HAWK credit is that it’s exactly the kind of movie I would have made when I was 15 if someone had given me a camera, a wardrobe full of costumes, and $4.83 to spend on special effects. The high-concept pitch of the low-budget HAWK THE SLAYER is this: Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings and has a Dungeons & Dragons adventure.
Just look at that DVD cover for the Star Wars influence. John Terry is wearing Han Solo’s shirt and vest and Jack Palance’s helmet looks like someone popped the front of Darth Vader’s mask off. The Tolkien influence comes in the form of the setting, as well as assembled crew that Hawk puts together. There’s a dwarf (who acts more like a hobbit), an elf who shoots arrows (who talks like a 1950s Disney animatronic figure), a giant (who acts more like a dwarf), and a magic user (who’s female).
They call this movie HAWK THE SLAYER but the 15-year old moviemaking me would have called it THE FELLOWSHIP OF HAN SOLO.
Which isn’t to say John Terry is the equivalent acting talent of Harrison Ford. (I should add that this is not the John Terry who would go on to play centre back for Chelsea and sleep with his best friend’s wife; this is the John Terry that would grow up to play Christian Shepherd on LOST and father an Australian kid.) Look, I think John Terry has become a fine actor; he was fantastic on LOST and great on 24, but in this, his first movie role, he’s so bad I’m amazed he kept going.
No, really, I am honestly surprised he could be this awful and not only keep going but actually get better. It’s a complete, non-ironical, achievement.
Because he’s terrible. Look at that DVD cover. See that expression on his face? That’s the expression he has on his face the ENTIRE MOVIE. It’s hard to say if he looks more bored than stupid, or stupid than bored, but he delivers his lines as if he gets electro-shocked every time he shows the barest trace of emotion.
Jack Palance plays his brother and poor old Jack looks like he needed a quick whatever-they’re-paying gig. Pro that he is, however, Palance throws everything into this role. He sneers. He shouts. He shakes his fist. He makes ominous threats. He threatens. He swings a sword. If Terry is getting shocked for showing emotion, Palance is getting an extra nickel in his paycheck for every time he finds a top to go over.
Bernard Bresslaw is probably the best part of the movie. He plays a giant (who’s not really a giant) who’s strong and fun-loving and delivers lines like, “I’d rather eat cow dung.” In what amounts to the best scene in the movie, he fixes a dude’s wagon by picking it up with one hand and reattaching the loose wheel with another, and then when the man refuses to pay, Gort picks up his hammer and knocks the fixed wheel back off the wagon. It’s a legitimately good scene.
There’s more cheesy effects than you can imagine and depending on your POV, that either adds to the charm or makes it even more unwatchable. Count me in the charm camp as I can look past the effects to read the plot, which is terrible, so I go back to the effects to appreciate moments like when you hit the glowing hula hoop/teleportation bit and realize if the movie had $38 to spend on effects, they must’ve blown $29 right there.
The best line in the film comes from Voltan’s adopted kid, Drogo, who says, I cow dung you not for a second time, “I am no messenger, but I will give you a message. The message of death!”
The most respectable thing about HAWK is that it actually kills off the dwarf (who’s really a hobbit) and encases him in what looks like a big soap bubble.
That really happens.
Just like this movie really exists. And then I watched it. And then I wrote about it. And now I’m going to bed.