Best remembered in today’s popular culture as the punchline to a Bill Bailey joke in Spaced, Hawk The Slayer remains a cultural curiosity.
Ostensibly displaying all the trademark conventions of a sword-and-sorcery epic, in reality its influences are more disparate – think The Magnificent Seven by way of Tolkien.
Telling the story of the eponymous Hawk (John Terry), who leads a band of warriors against his evil brother Voltan (Jack Palance), Hawk The Slayer isn’t the type of movie that would get made nowadays.
The dialogue is unapologetically hammy, the effects are so cheap that they are virtually non-existent (nowhere is this best shown in the fight scenes, where Crow the elf fires arrows so quickly that it doesn’t actually show them being fired), and the discotheque soundtrack is as incongruous as it is possible to get. This is more Troma than Tolkien.
This may sound like a criticism, but it isn’t. Troma’s films are low-budget and schlocky, but they have real heart, and so does Hawk The Slayer. Director Terry Marcel’s faith in the film’s premise is never diminished, and it becomes nigh-on impossible to not be swept up in the story, regardless of the arrow-between-the-armpit style effects.
A big part of the reason for this success is Palance’s performance, who steals every scene as the none-more-even Voltan. Half Darth Vader, half Skeletor, he is the quintessential fantasy villain.
The best genre flicks give the impression of being just one story taking place in a bigger world, and Hawk The Slayer has aspirations for this. From the brigands they encounter to the tales of wider woe, Hawk has its cake and eats it.
It doesn’t have the effects to quite do itself justice, but it deserves points for trying. If nothing else, this is an example of a filmmaking vision seen through to the end.
Hawk The Slayer deserves to be more than a punchline; it’s not a shiny-clean cinematic spectacle, but we’ll take it over Seventh Son any day.