The story follows the age-old struggle between good and evil, personified here by siblings Hawk (Terry) and Voltan (Palance). No prizes for guessing which is which, and it’s made perfectly clear in the opening moments as the latter kills their own father in an attempt to gain ultimate power. Vowing revenge, Hawk takes a moral path, and is the natural person to help out when a nun (TV regular Annette Crosbie) is taken hostage by his nasty brother.
Banding together a group, consisting of a giant (Carry On star Bresslaw), dwarf (Peter O’Farrell), an elf (Charleson) and a crusader whose hand was maimed by Voltan and subsequently removed to save his life by the nuns (William Morgan Sheppard). They are guided by a blind sorceress, played by Rocky Horror’s Patricia Quinn and cross many perils on their quest to save the nun and vanquish Voltan.
Sword and sorcery films never really took off the way they should have, and following the adaptations of Tolkien’s works that have come since, one would be expecting this slice of ‘80s fantasy to be a wooden bore, but there’s so much to enjoy in Hawk that it’s actually hard to knock it. Sure, it’s certainly ‘of the time’ and those who were young when it was released and saw it the first time around will certainly get a blast of nostalgia, but its timeless story ensures even the most demanding of viewers will be entertained. If not for that, then it can easily be viewed as a work of high camp, much in the same way Flash Gordon (1980) is revered today.
As scarred baddie Voltan, Palance hisses his way through every scene he’s in; he's a truly compelling presence, his face half-hidden behind a medieval helmet not dissimilar to Mr Vader’s and twice as nasty. It’s also fun playing ‘spot the famous face’ throughout the rather star-studded cast.
If there’s anything that feels out of place when viewed today, it’s the techno-score by co-writer Harry Robertson (billed as Robinson, fact checkers!). Having been an accomplished musician and composer for several latter Hammer films, he certainly had good pedigree, but often the motifs here sound like outtakes from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds and, while still exhilarating, are at odds with the visuals at times. It does, though add to the campness for those who wish to enjoy it that way.
Network’s Blu-ray release presents the film well, far from the old VHS releases we grew up with, and not betraying the inventive special effects to any detrimental degree. The film is supplemented by an array of vintage footage. Mostly interview rushes from contemporary TV shows, the highlight is surely an on-set report from ITV kid’s show Clapperboard, in which Chris Kelly chats to cast and crew, and shows modern TV film programmes how it should be done (we’re looking at you, Ms Winkleman!) What does come across from this footage is how wry Palance was; he clearly enjoyed being there, but certainly didn’t enjoy being interviewed!
A brilliant release of a piece of British film history, with a sequel in the works, there’s no better time to catch up with Hawk and have a rollicking fun time.
HAWK THE SLAYER / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: TERRY MARCEL / SCREENPLAY: TERRY MARCEL, HARRY ROBERTSON / STARRING: JOHN TERRY, JACK PALANCE, BERNARD BRESSLAW, RAY CHARLESON, SHANE BRIANT, HARRY ANDREWS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW