Review by David Paul Hellings
“When his father is mortally wounded at the hands of his brother – the evil wizard Voltan – Hawk is bequeathed a magical sword which responds to his thoughts. Swearing vengeance on his brother, he gathers together a trusty band of giants, dwarves, elves and witches and, together, these warriors will end Voltan’s reign of terror forever, or die trying”.
– via Network on Air.
Director Terry Marcel’s 1980, low budget, British fantasy film “Hawk the Slayer” remains a cult favourite and rightly so. The story is a simple tale of revenge, greed, heroism, and lost love, played out by an engaging cast with a wealth of ideas. The film is fun and entertaining, pitching the dashing romantic lead John Terry against the always enjoyable Jack Palance as his evil brother.
As with Mike Hodges’ “Flash Gordon”, released the same year, “Hawk the Slayer” in a post “Jaws” and “Star Wars” world, would be met with a negative response from critics and mainstream audiences now used to bigger budgets and growing epic scale. Compared to the cinematic giant of “Lord of the Rings”, most fantasy films of the 80s now appear dated, kitsch, and lacking. Yet, “Hawk the Slayer” has seen its fan base grow since its original release and with good reason: it is a film that doesn’t always take itself too seriously, yet doesn’t allow itself to become a parody.
“Hawk the Slayer” takes a simple storyline and works it well. The magic sword may not be a “Stormbringer” with its twisted and tragic resolution, but it does seemingly have a life of its own and it works for the purpose of the story. The film was aimed at a young and teen market, but has attracted an older fanbase of fantasy followers and gamers also as time has passed. It is a story well told as Hawk gathers his gang of misfits and outsiders to take out the brutal Voltan (Hollywood legend Palance, clearly relishing his role as the villain of the piece), aided by witchcraft and sorcery. The multiple, quickfiring crossbow may not have made it into other fantasy films, but it retains its charm in a film that has both darkness and humour.
“Hawk the Slayer” retains a sense of atmosphere and was unfairly judged by the highbrow critics on its release (no, the giant isn’t particularly giant, but still has the essence of one). Yet, it was a rare British outing in the genre at a time when the UK was already beginning to lose itself in well-dressed period pieces. The global success of “Chariots of Fire” (1981) and “Gandhi” (1982) would begin a seemingly never ending production line of worthy costume dramas before the romcom age of the early 90s and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994), and gangster films that decreased in quality, but increasingly filled the rest of the British production list.
For a decidedly low budget fantasy film with an electronic soundtrack (a choice also taken by the makers of “Ladyhawke” in 1985), “Hawk the Slayer” is an engaging piece with characters that are both entertaining and sympathetic. The misty lands have a certain Hammer Films geography to them, but this adds to the appeal, creating a sparse landscape full of bandits, witches, deluded cults and more, that our band of heroes must encounter before the final conflict with the dreaded Voltan.
“Hawk the Slayer” is from a time before directors began unnecessarily dragging out stories into nine-hour plus trilogies; a period in which there were no $200m + budgets; an era in which you worked with what you had and the results were often more imaginative. The fact that thirty-five years after its release, Terry Marcel’s fantasy piece still has such a firm following is testament to the film. Whether the long mooted sequel (Marcel has again recently tried to gain financing, this time through a failed Kickstarter) materialises, remains unlikely. At least he has the original to look back upon, as do we all. Enormous fun for audiences of all ages.
The Blu ray is excellent and should be a welcome offering to fans and new viewers alike, as are the illuminating behind the scenes special features. Highly recommended.
“An undoubted pop culture classic, Hawk the Slayer continues to amaze viewers with its fearless combination of swords and sorcery, bloodthirsty revenge and brotherly violence – all topped off with a disco-style soundtrack! Starring Jack Palance, John Terry and a host of British character actors, Hawk the Slayer is presented here for the first time as a new High Definition transfer from the original 35mm cut negative, in its original theatrical aspect ratio”.
Original theatrical trailer (HD).
Raw textless elements (HD).
Clapperboard: Revenge by the Sword.
By the Sword Divided – candid on-location interviews.
Sharpening the Blade – behind the scenes.
Image gallery (HD).
Original script PDF.
Catalogue Number : 7958042
Number of Discs: 1
Picture: 1080p HD 1.75:1
Sound: Stereo / English
Time: 93 mins approx.
Hawk the Slayer is available in both Blu ray and DVD from Network at:
This review originally appeared on SFFWorld at:
Limited edition 24″x36″ screen print by Nathaneal Marsh available at: