Review: Hawk the Slayer

John Terry stars as the title warrior who gathers a band of varied adventurers to help out an Abbess kidnapped by the evil, helmet-mask waring Voltan (Jack Palance). Voltan happens to be Hawk’s older brother, who murdered their father (Ferdy Mayne) after he refused to give Voltan his secret powers (which included a sword). Instead, those powers have been inherited by Hawk. Bernard Bresslaw is the ‘giant’ Gort, Ray Charleson is Crow the Elf, and Peter O’Farrell plays dwarf Baldin. Morgan Sheppard plays wounded warrior Ranulf, whilst Shane Briant plays Voltan’s vile son Drogo. Harry Andrews (as High Abbot), Roy Kinnear (as a petrified inn-keeper), Warren Clarke (burning a witch and picking a fight with Hawk), and Patrick Magee (as a priest) all have bit parts.


An early sword-and-sorcery effort with a large debt owed to Tolkien, this 1980 fantasy flick from Terry Marcel (“Prisoners of the Lost Universe”) and co-writer/producer/composer Harry Robertson (“Prisoners of the Lost Universe”) is somewhat disappointing. Jack Palance is all kinds of medieval Darth Vader evil as the reptilian villain, and the cast is peppered with well-known character faces from British cinema and TV, but it’s all a bit cheap even for this kind of pre-Peter Jackson thing. It’s no “Beastmaster” or “Ladyhawke” that’s for sure, and most of those great British character actors are pretty poorly wasted, Roy Kinnear, Patrick Magee (who is at least hilarious in his bit role) and Harry Andrews especially.


It’s all very choppy and clunkily told, sadly with far too much emphasis put on flashbacks that, after the first one or two, really aren’t necessary. All they end up doing is taking away screen time that could’ve been afforded to other characters. Also, did we really need to spend so much of the finale thumb-twiddling at the abbey?  It’s a real shame because the cast is full of talent, some more so than others but still game nonetheless. In fact, the supporting cast was the big drawcard here for me, I’d been wanting to see it for a decade or so.


Obviously Palance is the big acting standout here, fitted with an absolutely hilarious medieval helmet used to cover the supposedly horrific side of his scarred face. It really needs to be seen, it’s a wonderfully silly and almost as much of a scene-stealer as Palance’s snaky, hoarse-voiced, thoroughly evil performance. American actor John Terry never really made it big (he’s best remembered as Matthew Fox’s father on “Lost”), and this was just his third screen role. He’s not the most interesting presence on screen, he’s neither a great actor nor a great physique like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Marc Singer. It says a lot that unlike the Arnolds, the Marc Singers, and the Miles O’Keeffe’s, Terry is always fully-clothed in the film. However, so far as stoic heroes go he’s alright, even if I think the director is far more enamoured with his eyes than I was. What was with all those close-ups? He’s teamed with a pre-Peter Jackson trio of Tolkien sidekicks, and to be honest they’re a tiny bit crap in comparison. Bernard Bresslaw made for a decent Cyclops in the similar “Krull”, but here cast as a ‘giant’ he’s…medium-large. A big, hefty bloke, but hardly Andre the Giant or The Mountain. Performance-wise though, he’s probably the best of the three companions. Worst of the lot is the strangely robotic performance by American actor Ray Charleson as the supposed Elf archer, Crow. Holy fuck, where do I begin with this guy? He looks the part, but every time he opens his mouth he sounds like an alien speaking English for the first time as translated by an Apple II computer. It’s clear that either the actor or the filmmaker had no idea what an Elf was supposed to be like. Also, points off for the cheesy trick photography used to show off his supposedly quick archery skills. Even for 1980 that’s some lame bullshit right there. Then we have Peter O’Farrell as Baldin the opportunistic dwarf. He’s obviously not as good an actor as Bresslaw, but the character of Baldin is easily the most interesting and most effective of the lot. Equal parts Gimli and Tyrion Lannister, he’s good fun. Also on the side of the ‘good guys’ we have character actor William Morgan Sheppard, as a wounded warrior named Ranulf, who gives the second-best performance behind Palance. He, like any good British character actor given a chance, brings authenticity and gravitas that the director should’ve been very thankful for. British-born long-time Aussie resident Shane Briant has a suitably odious, imperious-looking Malcolm McDowell vibe about him as Palance’s odious, loyal son. However, his performance is at the service of a character who is frankly not needed in an already overpopulated, undernourished story.


On the technical side of things, the matte drawings are beyond obvious, but the cinematography by Paul Beeson (“The Scapegoat”, “Crescendo”) is really nice. On the downside, the director should’ve fired the composer, as Robertson’s synth-pop music score is every bit as problematic as the one for “Ladyhawke”. Perhaps the problem was that the composer also happened to be the producer and co-writer, and they obviously outnumbered the director three to one. All joking aside, the Alan Parsons Project crap really doesn’t belong here.


The cast are mostly game, and Jack Palance is particularly terrific as the villain. Unfortunately it’s overpopulated, rather underdone, and full of too much padding for such a short film. This could’ve been really good, that it’s not is a real shame.


Rating: C+


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