Hawk the Slayer (1980)
When given the opportunity to spotlight a film “that’s so bad it’s good” as part of a blogathon kindly put together by Rebecca of Taking Up Room, I immediately thought of a small handful of films and settled on this sword and sorcery foolishness for one and only one simple reason. Jack Palance!
Yes Jack slices the ham heavy on the thick side while dressed in black armor, half of his face covered up due to damage done by a burning torch that we’ll see in a convenient flashback. The plot of this Terry Marcel directed effort unfolds in a very Magnificent Seven (minus two) like fashion that sees the title character portrayed by John Terry leading his small band of specialists into battle against the scenery chewing Jack who just happens to be his brother.
In a medieval setting Jack in full costume corners his father played by Ferdy Mayne demanding “the power” that should be rightfully his. When old Ferdy denies him that privilege, Jack mortally wounds him with a thrust of the sword and storms out of his chambers before brother Hawk enters finding his father barely alive. Before falling to his wound, Mayne bestows upon Hawk a glorious sword and a talent for summoning it that Star Wars fans might find mighty familiar.
Let’s get this straight, Jack Palance born in 1919 kills his father Ferdy Mayne born in 1916. That math just doesn’t compute but hell, this is the movies and the world of make believe so get over it Mike.
Palance who’s character is named Voltan The Dark One in all his evil wickedness decides to storm into an abbey and take the Mother Superior as a hostage for two thousand gold coins. Fortunately a bowman played by Morgan Sheppard is on hand to see Jack’s nefarious deed and travels to meet the church’s High Abbot, Harry Andrews who suggests that Hawk be summoned to organize a rescue party. Sheppard is quickly on his way and in little screen time at all will be rescued himself from a trio of highwayman by ………. yes sir it’s Hawk.
Time for what might be the best scene in the movie. Jack going over the edge breathing heavy, playing it broadly and widening that one eye that we can see through the nifty design of his Darth Vader helmet, gritting his teeth and scaring the absolute hell out of Roy Kinnear portraying a weaselly bar keep. Yeah I do love me some crazy overacting as only Jack can deliver playing the bully threatening to kill and maim all those about him.
Can someone please cue the song, “Nobody does it better.”
Two major plot points are going to be front and center for the balance of the film that will see our two combatants slated to meet each other on the battlefield. Hawk is going to put together a team of fighters to take on all of Jack’s nameless soldiers (nameless means expendable and sure to meet their deaths) and through the use of running flashbacks strategically placed throughout the film, we’ll see how these two brothers turned against each other.
Joining Hawk is the aforementioned Sheppard, a giant who wields a Thor sized hammer played by Bernard Bresslaw, a dwarf enacted by Peter O’Farrell, and an Elf with Spockian ears, Ray Charlston. I must say that the comical routines between Bresslaw the giant and O’Farrell the dwarf are fun as the little guy has an appetite twice that of the giant. Hawk will also befriend a witch who’s powers come in handy at various points in their adventures. Like Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven, Hawk will locate each warrior just as they are in a conflict which allows them to show off their skills. The clearest nod towards the famous western is when the Elf warrior faces off against an outlaw just like James Coburn does when facing down Robert J. Wilke. Knife vs. Gun. This time it’s bow vs. bow.
Those flashbacks I was speaking of bring to mind two separate films. One of which also happened to star Palance. In this case the flashback serves to tell us that Hawk won the love of a woman who Palance believed was his. His jealousies drive him beyond the edge of sanity and it’s here that he’ll suffer the half burned face as he attempts to kill Hawk but only ends up killing the woman they both love. The other film I’m referring to with Palance is his first rate take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula from 1974. In that film we get a very similar scene when learning of just how Palance’s Prince becomes the king of vampires.
The other film that I’m thinking of that Hawk kind of mimics in it’s flashback sequence is Leone’s classic Once Upon a Time in the West though let’s get this straight, these films are on two totally different plateaus. I think what Hawk The Slayer easily caters to best would be fans of fantasy television shows like Xena or Hercules. Or for fans of Jack like yours truly.
Totally useless piece of trivia to share. I first saw this film on the big screen while on a student exchange around 1982 in Costa Rica. Can you remember when you first saw it? WHAT? You haven’t seen this campy case of swords, sorcery and Jack Palance? Then you’d best get at it and be sure to follow that link above over to Rebecca’s site to see what other odd treasures of bad cinema are being shared and celebrated.