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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 – together these warriors will end Voltan's reign of terror forever, or die trying. (Taken from the press release.)

Ah, Hawk the Slayer; the stuff of nineteen eighties playground legend thanks to the proliferation of Betamax and a higher threshold for dross. I must have watched this film a dozen times as a kid and re-enacted scenes over and over with my friends. It enjoyed the same level of reverence shown to other fantasy features like The Beastmaster, Krull and Dragonslayer, but unlike those films Hawk has not aged well (and in all honesty it wasn’t a very good film to begin with).

The story, such as it is, concerns the evil Voltan (played here by a snarling, wild-eyed Jack Palance) and his plan to overthrow his father and claim the power of the last elven mind stone for himself. He is opposed in his endeavours by his younger brother, Hawk, who wields a magical sword that responds to his very thoughts (courtesy of said mind stone). For reasons that are never really explained, Voltan kidnaps the Abbess of a local convent and holds her for ransom. Quite why a guy who spends most of his time pillaging every village he encounters needs to ransom someone is beyond me, but I’m not an evil warlord so what do I know?

Luckily the nuns had recently nursed one of Voltan’s many victims back to health, and he enlists Hawk’s help in rescuing the Abbess. Together with some of Hawk’s old friends—a giant, a dwarf, an elf and a sorceress—they steal gold from a slaver to pay the ransom and generally cause a nuisance of themselves by killing a bunch of Voltan’s men. Oh, did I mention that Voltan also killed Hawk’s wife? Well he did, because he’s evil and stuff…

If the above sounds like a very generic fantasy picture, it’s because it is. All of the genre stereotypes are present and correct, but there is little to elevate Hawk above its contemporaries. The film looks like it was shot in a park in the home counties (presumably because it was), the effects stretch the credibility of the word ‘special’ to breaking point, and the quality of the acting is highly variable to say the least. Palance has the haunted look of a once respected actor praying that the film will only see release in Japan as he alternates between hamming it up and chewing the scenery. Lead John Terry (no not that one) is a total charisma vacuum, whose on-screen appearances are heralded by an invisible set of omnipresent pan pipes accompanied by a close-up of his eyes as he stares down his latest opponent like he's in a spaghetti western, rather than a sword and sorcery flick.

Hawk’s compatriots are largely drawn from a roster of ‘I know that guy’ British acting talent like William Morgan Sheppard (or Sam Witwicky’s granddad to you younger readers), Patricia Quinn ( Rocky Horror) and Bernard Bresslaw (the Carry On films), the latter of which would go on to play another giant (well, cyclops) in the far superior 1983 feature Krull. Indeed, if you keep an eye out you’ll also see the likes of Harry Andrews, Roy Kinnear, Patrick Magee and Anette Crosbie, who delivers the best performance in the film by a country mile.

When taken at face value Hawk the Slayer is a pretty awful film with few redeeming qualities, but when viewed ironically its unintentional comedic traits make for the sort of experience best enjoyed with friends after a few beers, or while reminiscing about one's younger days. Highlights include:

  • A father who looks to be (at most) three years older than his eldest son.
  • Bows equipped with infinite ammo and auto-reload mods.
  • A 'magical' sword clearly held aloft by wires.
  • Multiple Sergio Leone inspired 'Action Man' close-up shots that go on far, far too long.
  • A teleportation device seemingly made from recycled Kryptonian technology.
  • Robotic elf voice.
  • Poorly integrated matte paintings.
  • Jabba the Hutt’s stand-in gets a mace to the face.
  • Silly string used as on offensive weapon.
  • Poorly drawn animated hawk.
  • Vooooltaaaaaan!

Video


The press release mentions that the main feature was transferred from the original 35mm cut negative, but it’s clear from the proliferation of film artefacts that little to no restoration has been performed. Aside from the frequent black and white specks, there is obvious print damage and vertical blue lines are evident throughout. Colours are muted, possibly as a result of the original photography, and blacks are murky. With that said, it does have its merits, with a surprising number of scenes exhibiting a reasonable level of detail. Indeed, on the occasions where there are relatively few artefacts on show the image actually looks quite respectable. Network doesn't look to have applied any overt filtering to the image either, so grain looks natural if not as finely resolved as with better restorations. Compression is acceptable, if not exemplary, and for some reason the image is window boxed at around 1.74:1, although it is barely noticeable during normal viewing. It's a pity that the image wasn't cleaned up a bit before release, but while it's not bad per se the score reflects the sub-optimal nature of the presentation.

Audio


The film’s perfunctory LPCM 2.0 stereo track gets the job done, but is unlikely to live long in the memory for anything other than its crazy disco soundtrack. Dialogue is generally intelligible and there are no horrifically obvious artefacts, but the presentation lacks both directionality and weight. Of course these are limitations of the source material and as such are not entirely unexpected. As I alluded above the stand-out element is the film’s soundtrack, which despite sounding like a poor man’s reworking of Jeff Wayne’s 'War of the Worlds' (seriously, it directly rips it off at 20:17) is a bizarrely good fit for the wacky material.

Extras


Network includes the bonus material found on its earlier DVD release of the film (some of which are now presented in HD), along with a couple of new features.

  • Clapperboard: Revenge by the Sword
  • By the Sword Divided: Candid on-location interviews
  • Sharpening the Blade: Behind the scenes
  • Original theatrical trailer (HD
  • Raw textless elements (HD)
  • Image gallery (HD)
  • Original script PDF

Most of the extras a vintage television pieces filmed on set during production. They're very quaint by today's standards, with a solitary well-spoken interviewer addressing the actors with the sort of deference usually afforded to royalty. The combined material totals more than an hour and includes interviews with the cast and crew, who cover a variety of subjects. The rest of the extras are pretty self-explanitory.

Overall


Let’s be perfectly honest here, Hawk the Slayer’s rubbish. Its story is needlessly confusing thanks to the ill-judged non-linear structure, the effects are laughable, and the majority of the cast does its level best to convince the viewer that they’re watching an am-dram production in their local village hall. With all of that said, it’s still strangely watchable. If you grew up in the seventies and eighties it’s likely you’ll have fond memories of the film and as such it is almost critic-proof. Certainly it’s highly unlikely that anything I say will dissuade long-time fans from picking up a copy. Thankfully the Blu-ray, while imperfect, appears to offer the best available presentation of the film yet seen on a home video format. If you're the sort of person who defends the fantasy genre with terminal intensity this release is definitely for you, but everyone else should tread cautiously.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Hawk the Slayer
 Hawk the Slayer
 Hawk the Slayer
 Hawk the Slayer
 Hawk the Slayer
 Hawk the Slayer
 Hawk the Slayer
 Hawk the Slayer



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