In the long and colourful annals of cult movies, few are cultier than HAWK THE SLAYER, directed and co-written by Terry Marcel and released in 1980. Fans of this lively, cheap’n’cheerful sword-and-sorcery romp have been crying out for a sequel ever since and it finally looks as if – after years of promises and false starts – they’re finally going to get their wish. Last month, Terry announced that a deal has been struck with Rebellion, the leading games developer and publisher, to move forward with the long-awaited sequel HAWK THE HUNTER – with a TV series to follow - which will be part-funded by a Kickstarter campaign. STARBURST recently met up with Terry Marcel to find out more about the history of Hawk... and his future...
“The slayer returns...the hunt begins…”
STARBURST: It’s been thirty-five years since Hawk the Slayer first appeared in the UK. What’s the story behind the long wait for the sequel?
Terry Marcel: What happened with Hawk was that it was released in the UK where it did extremely well. Then (co-writer) Harry Robertson and I went to the US where it was going to be released. We were in the US for about a week and then ITC, our distributors, went bust. So it never got released in the US and it disappeared. But interestingly enough, as we’ve recently discovered, it’s not stopped selling worldwide all this time. We had a list from ITC and I couldn’t believe it because every country in the world still buys this film. Harry and I wrote a sequel which I’ve reworked since and we were thinking ‘How can we get this sequel made?’ We’ve been looking around for people to get involved and we did a deal with Baltic Films in Lithuania – I worked there for two years on The New Adventures of Robin Hood and got on very well with them – so they came on board because there’s a nice tax deal there. We were nowhere near getting the money we needed so we said ‘Let’s go for a Kickstarter and see if we can raise some money.’ In the interim, Rebellion had contacted me and said that they were very keen to get involved – subject to the Kickstarter working out – and they have been very generous with what they’ve given us in terms of their investment, so as it stands at the moment we’ve got all the pieces in place if the Kickstarter works.
How would you anticipate the project moving forward in the immediate future?
The Kickstarter launches in August after a screening of the original film and a Q&A at FrightFest. If we get the money – we need to raise 20% of our £5 million budget – we would start preparation immediately in October. We would shoot in Lithuania in November and based on what the response is to that we would then go into a TV series.
Spoiler time! Tell us everything about Hawk the Hunter...
I’ll give you some little hints! It’s a direct sequel to Hawk the Slayer in that Voltan returns and this time he’s after the Dark Sword which was made before the Mind Sword, The Dark Sword is evil and has been hidden away by a troll. If Voltan gets his hands on it, we’re in deep trouble so there’s a race to find the Dark Sword. We also see the development of Hawk beginning to understand the power of the Mind Sword. We’ve just put up a prologue on YouTube which gives away a little bit about the stones. There were three stones and one of them ends up with the wizards, who are in fact elves and one ends up in the Sword – the other one I can’t disclose! They were discovered by a rock-finding troll who’s digging away in a tiny tunnel. He breaks through into this gigantic cavern where he finds this skyscraper-sized crystal buried in the ground. Around the crystal are three shining stones, the Three Sisters. He grabs them and runs but as he does so the giant crystal bursts into life and that’s when magic is born in the land. It’s all to do with crystal magic and in the sequel we begin to see how it all works, why it works and I had to reinvent everything to give a reason for the Mindstone.
How does the sequel feed into the proposed TV series and how advanced are you in planning for the series should it happen?
The sequel is very much the sequel to the original film and it’s really the beginning of the saga, moving it in a totally new direction. The series arc is all about trying to find the final stone and what happens when we get all three together. Planning it all required a lot of work and it took me about six or seven months to actually create the whole arc but I think that’s what Rebellion like about it. Their plan is to release a game, books and comic books and we’re in talks about releasing a soundtrack album. It’ll be a long haul, five years of the series I hope. Whereas a lot of series don’t know where they’re heading, I’ve already done the ending – which is going to be locked up in secret with the Coca Cola formula!
What’s your target audience for the sequel and the TV series?
We’re going for the same target audience as the original film – young, old, male, female. I’m not into horror, I like doing family stuff but it’s very difficult to put together. TV is the big market today and we’re constantly keeping our eye on the ball and the only thing like us coming along is The Shannara Chronicles series for MTV which is a big (ten-episode) ‘event’ series. That’ll be big and we can’t compete with that. But I’m aiming for family 8pm slot for Hawk, and I believe that a good sword-and-sorcery series can fit that slot. Rebellion are of the same mindset as me; we want to really show all the stuff you’ve read with Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance. So while we’ve done the overall arc we can still have closed-end stories every week. Our characters are ‘Star Trekking’, they’re going out there every week. It’s the sort of thing that’s never been done properly on television; I attempted it in a small way with Dark Knight which was based on Ivanhoe, but this will be pure sword-and-sorcery.
Can we rewind a bit and discuss how Hawk the Slayer came about in the first place?
I’d always been a sword-and-sorcery fan – I loved Fritz Leiber and Robert E. Howard, and I particularly loved Solomon Kane which, incidentally, I thought was a great movie. I was working on turning two Ray Cooney plays into films and my writing partner Harry was doing the music for them. We got chatting one day and both said that we loved sword-and-sorcery and I said ‘Funnily enough, I’m working on an idea at the moment’ and I told him that I wanted to do something about a medieval warrior set in the fourteenth century much in the way that A Fistful of Dollars was a virtual remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. I was taking a two-week break in Spain, so while I was there I knocked out a seventy-page draft and came back and sat down with Harry and together we finished off the script.
Why do you think the film’s remained so popular for over three decades?
I have no idea whatsoever! I am as surprised as anybody else! I was amazed when it suddenly became a cult classic. When did it happen? Did STARBURST do it? People say that what they love about it is that it isn’t a ‘men in tights’ film, and that’s right because I was totally against that! We filmed at Pinewood – I’m a Pinewood boy – and they were very kind to me, they did an all-in deal for butkus; told us we could help ourselves to anything we could find, so we went around looking at props and pieces of set and whatever we could use! But I used to get stuff in the post from fans all the time – books to sign, old vinyl soundtracks which someone had found. They just kept coming. One guy was continually asking me if I’d sell the original sword which I’ve still got and it never crossed my mind, of course! I was busy writing other things and I’d done this series Dark Knight and a couple of other series which are potentially going ahead, so I was really concentrating on all those. But Hawk kept nagging and nagging and eventually I sort of fell in love with the fans. I thought ‘well, if they love it so much, now it’s a cult classic, perhaps we should do it again in memory of my old partner Harry.’ . We’ve got Rick Wakeman on board to provide the soundtrack, that’s a real coup. We just contacted him, found out he was a Hawk fan and he said he’d kick himself if he didn’t get involved!
Sadly many of the cast of Hawk the Slayer are no longer with us, so presumably you’ll be looking at an all-new cast. What will the casting process be like this time?
As you probably know, Rebellion do an awful lot of casting for their games and one of their principal casting guys has already started looking at various people. The main characters – Hawk, Gort, Crow are all going to be new people. It’ll be difficult to cast Voltan ; we’d like a ‘name’ but we don’t have a lot of money. But what we want to do is what we did on Hawk: finding the very best character actors we can get for all the small ‘one day’ parts because everybody loved that in Hawk. There’s a new lunatic character which we think Ade Edmondson would be perfect for, but whether he’s going to come out and work in Lithuania for a week with the sort of money we’ll have I have no idea! But we will aspire to the very best people. We were so lucky in Hawk because we had people like Roy Kinnear, who came in to do a few lines as the Innkeeper and Graham Stark, who I’d worked with on the Pink Panther films, playing Sparrow; you always get extra from those sorts of people because they’re such distinctive character actors. But we’ve got to look to the long-term. We want to know that whoever’s going to play Hawk is going to come and stay with us for the series. I think we’ll probably end up with complete newcomers for all the main parts. There is one troll who’s about twice the size of a human and I’ve always wanted Brian Blessed for that, he’d be perfect.
Obviously visual effects have moved on a bit since 1980. Will your new Hawk be able to rise to the heightened expectations of a modern audience?
Well actually, the fans always say the same thing – ‘don’t change it, make it exactly as it was’ – but of course, these days we’ve got to do the CGI. When we wrote the sequel back then, we put things in which nobody could have conceived of ever being able to do, but we still put them in. We had changelings and creatures which in our mind’s eye we never thought anyone would be able to do, but of course today it’s simple. If we’d attempted these creatures back then, they’d probably have been stop-motion, but now we’ll be able to do it properly. We actually homage the great stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen in a sequence where there’s this indestructible army of bonemen. Ray was the grandfather of us all, so if anyone says ‘you nicked that from Ray Harryhausen’ then I’ll just say ‘Yes we did, we nicked from the master – and why not?’ There’s another sequence at the beginning where Hawk, Crow and Gort are attacked by flesh-eating creatures. I was going to use stuntmen, but Rebellion said ‘we’ll do these’ and they’ve shown me the CGI creatures and I’ve been licking my lips so we’re already getting far more than we could ever have got doing it with stop-motion or stuntmen!
Will you be back in the director’s chair for the sequel?
No, the new film will be directed by Keith Claxton who worked with me on Dark Knight. It’s a tough shoot, but he understands exactly what I’m looking for. Creatively, though, I’ll be in complete control although there’ll be a few producers including Rebellion’s CEO Jason Kingsley and director Chris Kingsley.
Do you think initiatives like Kickstarter are the way forward for low-budget movies?
Middle-of-the-road movies are very difficult to put together and I think all you can do these days is make a low-cost movie and hope it hits home. Crowd-funding in a superb way of going if you can raise the money. It gives filmmakers a fabulous opportunity to get films out there, and then it just depends on whether the public like them or not. Funding was a lot easier in the old days so nowadays you have to take advantage of any tax incentives you can get and you have to try to find people like Rebellion who are willing to pitch in. It’s very difficult. This has been hard work, but I think Kickstarter is fantastic. If they come up with the money we’re up and running, but if they don’t then we start again. We won’t stop; if Kickstarter fails, we’ll have to look elsewhere and find some other generous person out there. It might end up as a musical on ice!
The director tasked with bringing HAWK THE SLAYER back to the screen after a thirty-five year absence opens up…
STARBURST: How did you find yourself working with Terry Marcel?
Keith Claxton: Terry had this cracking little sword-and-sorcery show called Dark Knight which filmed in New Zealand. I’d been doing a lot of scriptwriting until that point, and I branched over into directing. Terry and I got together, I wrote a couple of scripts for the series and then on the back of my showreel Terry said ‘I’m going to give you a break and send you over to New Zealand to see how you go and I’m going to be watching you like a hawk’ – which was slightly unnerving! It all went fantastically well, I felt like a fish in water and I knew that directing wasn’t something that was going to phase me. In the end, I stayed there for months and ended up doing the epic series finale. We had some great times on that, great fun and it was doing well for Channel 5 – as it was then – but then Kevin Lygo came along and it was a case of ‘new commissioner, out with the old’ and even thought the ratings weren’t phenomenal, the audience percentages were great - but that’s television; if they want to get rid of you, they’ll get rid of you!
Did you establish an immediate rapport with Terry?
Terry and I go back over ten years and we hit it off because we share a love of science fiction, fantasy, Ray Harryhausen. He was one of the only people I’ve ever come across who knew immediately what I was talking about when I said ‘Have you ever read any of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, so I knew I was on solid ground!
Why do you think the world of HAWK THE SLAYER is so appealing to audiences?
Hawk is so brilliant because it’s nostalgia; it’s revisiting those early wonderful days of sword-and-sorcery where it was very much uncharted territory. Everybody’s done it since – Kull the Conqueror, Ladyhawke, even Flash Gordon was a bit of a science fiction/sword-and-sorcery mash-up.
How involved have you been in realising Terry’s vision for the sequel?
Ever since we discussed the idea, I’ve been riffing with Terry. But this is very much his project and I feel like I have a responsibility as the custodian of this wonderful world. But I get to take his world and play in it! He’s done all the hard work in many respects in terms of imagining it, building up the whole backstory which supports the structure of the storytelling which just sits there. But it’s all there and I get to run around in this universe! It’s just a wonderful opportunity.
What can you tell us about the look you’ll give the new film from a directing perspective?
It’s early days yet, so I don’t want to commit one way or the other. I always reserve the right to completely change my mind and decide to do things completely differently!
The Kickstarter campaign for Hawk the Hunter will be launched on August 30th following a screening of Hawk the Slayer at Film 4 FrightFest in London. Among the rewards on offer will be T-shirts (see the design above) and a unique ‘Fan Day’ in which you can get the chance to be a credited background extra in a scene in Hawk the Hunter that will directed by Terry Marcel himself. The scene will involve a massive barroom brawl, so should be a lot of fun!