Friday, August 22, 2008

I punched a bloke in face once

...for saying Hawk the Slayer was rubbish."

-- Bilbo Bagshot, comic book store proprietor, Spaced

In my off-and-on quest to find the worst sword and sorcery film of all time, I'd somehow completely missed 1980's Hawk the Slayer until this random mention of "defending the fantasy genre with terminal intensity." Headliner Jack Palance struts through the usual faux-medieval settings as the villain Voltan, who wears a Darth Vader-like helmet (I'm sure that's coincidental), kills his father in a scene that perversely reminded me of Gladiator, and howls his lines to the point that they're hard to understand.

As Hawk, neophyte actor John Terry (his only previous credit was a minor character on the sitcom Soap) plays a mostly expressionless and oddly passive hero. After all, his evil brother killed both Hawk's wife and their father, but Hawk doesn't take any action until a one-handed stranger enlists his help to rescue an abbess Voltan's holding captive in a big bird cage. Maybe having a magical "mind-sword" that flies into his hand just by thinking about it makes him less prone to exertion.

Today, Terry is probably best-known for playing Matthew Fox's shifty surgeon Dad in the flashbacks on Lost, so he's obviously improved with experience.

The cast's real draw, though, is William Morgan Sheppard in the role of Ranulf, the plot-driving one-handed man who seeks vengeance against Voltan for pillaging his village. We all know Sheppard for playing Blank Reg in the Max Headroom television series; the IMDB startled me by declaring that Reg and his partner, Dominique (who've been listed as two of my "heroes" almost as long as I've had a MySpace page), only appeared in five episodes. I'd have sworn it was more, since the characters and the Big Time TV station they operate out of a van on the fringes is such an integral part of the show.

Despite his inexplicable rapid-fire crossbow, Ranulf manages to be Hawk's most dignifed character. Oh, yeah, and they're not rescuing that abbess, exactly, but stealing some gold to pay her ransom, even though they think Voltan doesn't really intend to release her. This circuitous plot might seem a little illogical, but not to somebody who's watched Jack Hill's Sorceress in its entirety.

With the help of a whispery-voiced witch (played by Rocky Horror's Magenta) and a set of magic, glowing hula hoops, Hawk tracks down some old comrades-in-arms. There's a giant named Gort ("Klaatu -- barata -- nikto"); an elf named Crow (and nope, neither bird name seems to have any particular significance); and a dwarf named Baldin, who does have hair, and gets one of my favorite speeches, maybe of all time. Hawk finds him about to be executed by a group of priests, and Baldin explains his predicament thusly: "Too much wine, a friendly fight or two. You know how it goes. A crack on the skull from a salty wench, and I wake to find myself at the mercy of these chanting fools."

The actor says these lines with such flair -- especially the part about the salty wench -- he's got to be enjoying the absurdity. He also refers to a place called "the Pit of Gimli," in case anyone's wondering if this was all intended to evoke some sort of, oh, maybe Lord of the Rings ambience.

Since the movie was almost completely forgotten by the time the CD era dawned, the soundtrack is sadly out of print. Its style is sub-Mannheim Steamroller fake medieval disco , with some twittery "futuristic" sound effects. That, combined with the numerous glowing effects in the film, gives it a peculiarly roller-disco feel for a sword and sorcery film.

Besides the glowing mind-sword (which has a fist on the hilt, something I've actually never seen before) and the hula hoops, there's a climactic battle involving magical green glowing ping pong balls and a whole blizzard of fake snow. Plus a dark forest swathed in those green phosphorescent cobwebs that I never buy at Halloween, because they look so much more unrealistic than the white.

Without a doubt, this movie is rubbish. But I might buy the DVD anyway.

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